Q: When I go to my Windows XP “Task Manager” screen and look at the processes, there are usually 60 of them running. What really NEEDS to be running, how do I know what ones I should end process, and how do I find out what some of these things are? -Mia

A: No matter how powerful your computer is, having too many “processes” running in the background will dramatically reduce the performance of any system.

The fewer processes you have running in the background, the more power your computer can devote to the programs that you are attempting to run.

If your computer takes forever to start up or it seems lethargic when you ask it to do something, there is a good chance that your system is being asked to do too much.

The best way to see if your system is being swamped with extra processes is to restart your computer and bring up the Task Manager to see what it looks like after a fresh start.

In Windows XP, you can give your computer the “three-fingered salute” (Ctrl-Alt-Del) to open the Task Manager (Pro users will have to click on the Task Manager button when the Windows Security box comes up).

At the bottom left corner of the Task Manager window will be the number of running processes. We generally like to see less than 35 processes running on a desktop and less than 40 for most laptops.

If your computer is brand new and it has lots of extra processes running, you can thank the vendor of your computer for “giving” you lots of extra “trial-ware” programs that came pre-installed.

Since computer hardware margins are so thin, many national brands have resorted to “selling real estate” on your new computer so that software companies can pitch their programs to you through the practice of trial versions that are installed as “added bonus software” when you bought your computer.

This practice has gotten so bad that most folks need their brand new computers to be cleaned up right out of the box just to get rid of all of the needless software that is being forced on them.

The question about which processes are needed is virtually impossible to answer in general because every computer system is unique. There are thousands of optional processes that your machine could be running, but anything that is being loaded by “system” should be left alone (unless you really know your way around the Windows Registry).

If you are somewhat technical, you can look up any process listed through a Google search and get lots of information about what the process is for and if it is really needed.

Clicking the “End Process” button will only stop the process as long as you don’t turn off the machine. The next time you start your computer, it will reload the process, so getting it out permanently takes more steps.

If you can determine that you don’t need a process, you can either uninstall the program that is associated with it or change the setting in the program that tells it to start automatically when Windows starts (which is another variable in every program).

Too many people are buying new computers because they assume that their old computer is too slow, when in fact it is simply being overworked. Before you decide to put an old computer out to pasture, make sure it isn’t just being asked to carry too big of a load!

Ken Colburn
President of Data Doctors Computer Services
Host of the award-winning Computer Corner radio show
Author of Computer Q&A in the East Valley Tribune newspapers

[tags]ken colburn, data doctors, process, registry, clean, task manager, trialware[/tags]