Is your system slowing down mysteriously? Slowdowns have a variety of causes, and you shouldn’t jump to conclusions. When you notice performance becoming sluggish, the first thing you should do is open Task Manager and see if a process is using up more than its fair share of your CPU’s muscle.
In Windows XP, press Ctrl+Shift+Escape to open Task Manager, and then click the Processes tab. This displays a list of processes running under the current user account.
I’ve highlighted three places to focus your attention.
- Start at the bottom of the dialog box, where you can see what percentage of your available CPU resources are in use. It’s normal for this value to change as processes start up and shut down, so keep an eye on it for long enough to see whether it changes.
- Just above the status line, make sure the Show process from all users checkbox is selected. This is especially important if you use Fast User Switching and another user is logged on at the same time. That user may have a running task (a music download, for example) that is taking up CPU cycles.
- Finally, click the CPU heading twice to sort the list by that column, in descending order. Now keep an eye on the values at the top of the dialog box and see which ones are using the CPU.
Don’t be alarmed if the System Idle Process appears to have taken over your computer. That’s a placeholder value that shows how much of your CPU is available to other programs.
It’s normal for some activities to place heavy demands on the CPU. Ripping or burning a CD or sorting a large database, for instance, can pretty much take over the CPU. Be concerned when you see a high percentage of CPU usage for a program that appears to be doing nothing. That’s an indication that the program is hung and won’t release the CPU resources unless you click the End Process button.