Windows Task Manager is an important system utility – it can be used to close programs that are not responding, check which processes are hogging your memory (RAM) or processor (CPU) and see how much total RAM is being used.
How To Open Task Manager
There are several ways to open Task Manager but the most common is to right click on an empty part of the taskbar and select ‘Start Task Manager’.
A quick shortcut to open it is to press the CTRL and SHIFT and ESC keys all at the same time.
This shortcut is particularly useful if you are infected by a virus that disables Task Manager – using the shortcut as soon as you login may start Task Manager before the virus becomes active – if you wait until the taskbar has loaded it is often too late…
How To Customize Task Manager
1. Overall Display
Click the ‘Options’ menu and select (to tick) ‘Always On Top’ if you want to keep Task Manager always on top of other open windows. Personally I find this annoying – clicking the ‘Always On Top’ option again (to un-tick it) will make Task Manager move to the background like most normal windows.
Tip: if you see no menu bar or tabs in Task Manager, it’s running in Tiny Footprint mode – this minimalist mode appears if you double clicked the empty space in the border around the tabs. To switch Task Manager back to normal full display mode, just double click in top border, next to one of the heading labels.
2. Applications Tab
From the View menu you can choose Large Icons, Small Icons or Details (the default view). I recommend leaving it on Details, to show the Status of each application i.e. whether it is Running or Not Responding – this makes it easy to find (and close) any application that is causing a problem.
3. Processes Tab
By default this tab displays Image Name, User Name, CPU and Memory Usage. However, you can add or remove columns in this display – from the View menu click ‘Select Columns’ and tick (or un-tick) any boxes for columns you want to display.
Most are quite technical but one I like to add is Peak Memory Usage – this shows the maximum amount of RAM consumed by each process and, when compared to current Memory Usage, can be useful to check if a processes has been eating up all your memory in the past.
4. Networking Tab
This shows your network connection(s) and total bytes history. Unless you are an advanced user and know what you are looking for I recommend leaving this one alone. For info, from the View menu you can change the Network Adapter History to show Bytes Sent or Received rather than Totals and use Select Columns to add extra columns.
5. Performance Tab
This shows a lot of useful CPU and memory information and is one of the first items I check if asked to look at a ‘slow’ computer – it is easy to see from this tab whether the computer does not have enough memory (a major cause of slowness, see will more RAM speed up my PC for details).
Again, unless you are an advanced user I recommend leaving this one alone although we will show you how to change its colors below. For info, from the View menu you can change the CPU History (for multi-core CPUs) or Show Kernel Times.
6. Set Custom Colors For Task Manager Grids and Lines
It is also possible to customize Task Manager grids, lines and colors. For example, the Performance tab displays usage and usage history graphs in a garish neon green…
We can use a tiny program called Task Manager Modder to set custom colors for these graphs – this may be helpful if you are color blind, or you might just want to create your own custom colors to make the Task Manager nicer to look at.
An example of it in action is shown below:
- Download Task Manager Modder from the developer here – it works on at least Windows 7 and XP (SP3).
- The download file is a compressed (zipped) file – extract it all and then run ‘Task Manager Modder.exe’ (you may have to confirm ‘yes’ if User Account Control is enabled).
- Once the program runs, you can edit the colors with the sliders, or check ‘hex item x’ and manually put 6 character hex color values in the input boxes.
- Pressing ‘Refresh Preview’ updates your changes in the Preview picture.
- Press the ‘Modify Taskmgr’ button and your new Task Manager is shown automatically.
If you ever want to restore back to Windows default colors, just press the ‘Restore Taskmgr’ button.