Monday, October 25, 2010

Is My Computer OK? Or, How To Monitor What It's Doing Part 2 of 3

Now we get to the fun stuff related to How To Monitor If Your Computer's OK.

We learned in Part 1 how to monitor the amount of work the CPU is doing and how hot it's getting by doing that work. Now we're going to find out what programs (and their processes) are using most of the CPU time and causing all of that heat.

Top Process Gadget (TPG) To Monitor Computer Processes 

In Windows 7 and Vista, as well as other older versions, there is a program called the Task Manager which can show us the programs that are running, the specific processes those programs run, and which are the busiest, and it's very useful, but it's big and a little clumsy to have up on the Desktop all of the time for monitoring purposes, so we will use instead the Top Process Gadget, which displays that information in an abbreviated form.

Top Process Gadget
Showing Process/CPU Usage.
Memory Usage,
Process Disk I/O

In the top box of the 3 above in Top Process Gadget, you can see what I have been talking about. Since I am very busy with my Web Browser, Chrome, in this case, and have many, many windows and tabs open, while I write this stuff and gather info and pics to entertain, umm, educate, Chrome is indeed the busiest program with the busiest processes on my computer at the moment.

Now, what if the process using all of my CPU time was instead "RussianTrojanCreditCardScam.exe" you can imagine I'd want to know that, too. So I could kill it, kill it, kill it. Quick. Sadly, such files are not always so helpfully named, nor do they necessarily use the most CPU time. However, for that you can use Task Manager, and you may see bursts of activity. Anyway, that's for another post.

But let's say Picasa, or some other program, maybe Internet Explorer, is using lots of the CPU, but you are not using one of them. You can close or kill the rogue if it will not close by itself. It may have gotten off track, gone into a funk, or developed a memory leak, and it needs to die. That you can use Task Manager for.
Right click on the Taskbar at the bottom of your screen and select Task Manager or hit CTL/ALT/DEL and select it, go to Processes, or even better, hit CTL/SHFT/ESC which takes you right to Task Manager, go to the Processes Tab, select the offending process, and left click on the bottom right hand button for "End Process". Follow the dialog for killing the process and confirm.  You may need to investigate further to find out why the program misbehaved, but you may never know. Stuff happens.
What if there is no high CPU usage showing in Top Process Gadget, and no piggy program gathering all of those CPU cycles for itself? Well that's good info too -- if your computer is hot and it's not busy then you may have a fan or ventilation problem. Is the fan making noise; is the computer jammed into a closed space; or did somebody put a poster up against the air intake? Check it out. That grinding noise is probably the exhaust or CPU fan. It's not working. Fix it.

Don't go nuts killing programs left and right. With great power comes great responsibility, and besides, kill the wrong program and you may lose data, or hang, crash or reboot your machine.

But now with Top Process Gadget you have a tool for investigation and monitoring that you can use. It will be up on your screen all of the time and you will be able to look at it while you work. You can learn what processes run on a regular basis and be sensitive to departures from normal behavior.

There are a lot of options for the Top Process Gadget which I will not go into here, but rather encourage you to investigate on your own at the TPG website. You can have, as I do in the screen shot above, 3 instances showing different, but related info. I recommend that you install it from the link provided.

I will close out this 2nd part of "Is My Computer OK" and how to know what it's doing and Deal With It, and next time in Part 3 talk about the Network Meter Gadget and the Control System Gadget, which will cover shutting down your system when you can't get to the shutdown menu, and finding out what's going on with your internet/network connection, and also take a quick look at a couple of for-pay gadgets that tell you much more (than you wanted to know, maybe).

And, just for fun, although it's really useful, too, Real Time Traffic info for your Desktop! 

Don't Leave Home Without Looking At It!


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