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Process Explorer – A Must have Utility for Advanced Windows Troubleshooting

process explorer
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The Task Manager built into Windows is the utility many of us use to find and eliminate active applications on our PCs, especially when things go wrong and we need to close a program. But there are a number of instances where Task Manager just doesn’t provide you with the information you need to find and stop a given application. For example, the Descriptions section in the Processes tab often doesn’t provide us with useful information about what an application actually does. For instance, we recently had a running process titled “hkcmd.exe” with the description of ““hkcmd Module.” What to make of that? Microsoft offers a Process Explorer utility on its TechNet website that provides many advanced features to help you understand and manage the programs running on your PC.

How to Download Process Explorer

Process Explorer can be easily downloaded from Microsoft TechNet website.Go to the website, type Process Explorer into the search field. Select the link titled Process Explorer and download the application. The application comes in zip format and needs to be unzipped. You will get a procexp.exe file that you can copy to anywhere on your PC. Since this is a single self-contained executable file, it can be easily copied to a flash drive or to some other computer and also can be run from any location inside your computer.

The Process Explorer Explained

Process Explorer utility displays everything broken down within a hierarchy of related items. For eg, when you open Internet Explorer, you open a IE windows, then another automatically opened pop-up ad windows, the process explorer displays all of the items running under the process. You will be able to see all individual process which comes under the master process which is iexplorer.exe (internet explorer process) But In Task Manager, each individual process shows up in one long list, so you have no idea which one is the master process. Similar to Task Manager, you have the ability to end applications that are having trouble, but you can end a complete group of processes—rather than just one at a time. Let’s say that Internet Explorer is bogged down with 20 pop-up windows. You could simply select the top hierarchal Internet Explorer option, right click it, and select Kill Process Tree to close all the windows.

The various items listed in Process Explorer each display the icon that you’d see on a Windows’ Desktop, so may be able to distinguish the application even without referencing the description on the right side. We also like that the various processes are color-coded to make it easy to determine which ones were started by you (a light blue color, by default settings), and which ones Windows starts on its own (a light pink color, by default settings). This way, you can avoid selecting Window services that could cause issues when shutdown. One of the best ways to see how a program was started is to add the User Name and Image Path category to the Process Explorer columns. You can do so by selecting the View menu, clicking Select Columns, and adding a checkmark to the User Name and Image Path checkboxes. This way, you’ll see which user opened the application and the file path for the process.

Resource Usage Data

You can double-click an item to see more information about CPU usage percentage, memory Performance, network activity, storage transfer rates, and the GPU usage percentage an individual program uses. The main window also displays a CPU usage percentage tab where you can see in realtime which services and applications are using up the processing power on your computer. This is a

good idea for those who find their PCs are bogged down and want to discover the culprit. You can see resource usage data for multiple components by selecting the View menu and clicking System Information—while still within an item’s Properties page.

File Info

Select the Image tab on an item’s Properties page, and you’ll be able to see where the files for a given process are stored. This is particularly handy if you believe that there’s a virus hiding on your computer and you want to root out where the malware is keeping its files. For example, let’s say that your PC still seems to be displaying signs of a virus, even after you’ve removed some viruses using the security software on your PC. You can use Process Explorer to look for questionable processes and discover files that may have been hidden by a virus.

You can also use the Process Explorer tool to unlock files. This feature is useful when Windows indicates that a file is in use, preventing it from being moved or deleted. Generally, Windows will lock a file during transfer, or if an application is currently using it. But in some cases, the file will continue to be locked  down, even after you have closed the application using the file. To help unlock files, Process Explorer can use the Find feature to determine which program or process is causing the file to be locked. Click the Find menu and select Find A Handle Or DLL. Then, search for the name of the file or folder in question. If you still wish to remove the lock, right-click the process and select Close Handle.

We recommend that you give Process Explorer a try, and see if you like using it better than the Task Manager utility built into Windows. If so, you can choose to swap Task Manager with Process Explorer. Just open Process Manager, click Options, and select Replace Task Manager

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About the author: Anup Raman A Tech Enthusiast|Blogger|Tech Trainer with 10+ yrs experience in the field of IT. My expertise are in Operating Systems, mainly Windows and Computer security which comes from my experience, working as Tech Support and Trainer for Microsoft, Symantec and McAfee. Loves blogging about Technical Troubleshooting, discussing latest Gadgets, Games and doing Reviews.

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