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How to use Windows 10 Task Manager to kill processes that drain resources

The Task Manager is an advanced tool that comes with Windows 10, and it provides a number of tabs that allow you to monitor the applications, processes and services running on your computer. However, you'll likely find yourself using the Processes tab more than anything else, because it lets you quickly see how system resources are utilized, which can be very helpful when trying to troubleshoot applications or find out why your computer is suddenly slow.

In this Windows 10 guide, we'll walk you through the steps to use Task Manager to identify and stop processes that use excessive system resources, to keep your computer at top speeds.

How to use Task Manager to manage high-resource processes

Opening Task Manager

If you want to use Task Manager to view and stop processes with high-resource usage, you first need to know how to open the tool. Here are a few ways to open Task Manager:

  • Right-click the Taskbar and click on Task Manager.
  • Open Start, do a search for Task Manager and click the result.
  • Use the Ctrl + Shift + Esc keyboard shortcut.
  • Use the Ctrl + Alt + Del keyboard shortcut and click on Task Manager.
  • Use the Windows key + X keyboard shortcut to open the power-user menu and click on Task Manager.

If this is your first time opening Task Manager, the tool will probably open in compact mode, which only lists running applications. Click the More details button to access Task Manager in advanced mode.

Task Manager compact mode (left), Task Manager advanced mode (right)

Understanding the Processes tab

When you're in advanced mode, you'll see a number of tabs, including "Performance", "App history", "Startup", "Users", "Details", "Services", and the one we're interested in, the "Processes" tab. Typically, the Processes tab is the first place you want to go to detemine which process is draining your computer's resources. This tab lists all the running processes in a single view grouped by "Apps", "Background processes" and "Windows Processes". On Windows 10, you can also find multiple instances or other processes under the same process, which helps you to better understand how they're organized and how they use system resources.

You can always expand a group to see all the processes by clicking the chevron-right icon or by right-clicking the item and selecting Expand. Usually, you'll see groups for Windows processes when opening multiple tabs on your web browser or multiple File Explorer windows, for example.

Identifying processes with high-resource usage

If an application is not responding, a website is taking a long time to load, or your system fan starts getting loud, you can quickly use Task Manager to troubleshoot the problem. In the Processes tab, the first thing you want to look at is the percentage of the total resource use for the processor, memory, hard drive and network. You can click the column names to sort the list and bring to the top the ones using the most resources. If you see any of these resources running high (90 percent or higher), you might have found the problem.

Task Manager also uses colors to highlight processes that use the most resources. You'll notice that as a process starts to consume more resources, the color begins to change from a light- to a dark-shade of orange, making it easier to tell which one is causing the problem.

Typically, when you're not actively using applications and your computer isn't working on anything specific, such as maintenance, your total CPU usage should be less than 30 percent. Applications that are running, even if you're not using them, and processes use part of your computer's memory, and that usage will increase as you use or launch more applications. Memory usually won't be an issue unless you run out of it, in which case your computer will start using virtual memory, and that can cause your PC to slow down. Generally speaking, depending on your system configuration, your total memory usage should be below 60 percent. If you're not copying files or rendering videos, disk usage should be below 5 percent.

Network connectivity is almost never the reason your system is slow, but there could be a problem in the network causing web content to take a long time to load. If you're having problems downloading files, and you see "Network" stuck at 0 percent, you may have an idea of what's going on.

Stopping processes with high-resource usage

After you identify the problem, right-click the process, and select End task to terminate it. Alternatively, you can simply select the item and click the End task button in the bottom-right corner.

While stopping a process using the Task Manager will most likely stabilize your computer, ending a process can completely close an application or crash your computer, and you could lose any unsaved data. It's always recommended to save your data before killing a process, if possible.

If you're not sure about how the process you're trying to terminate affects your PC, you can right-click it, and select the Search online option. This action opens your web browser and displays a search result with more information about the process. Windows 10 is also smart enough to let you know if you're about to end an essential system process that can crash your computer.

Wrapping things up

Although there are many other ways to troubleshoot system performance, Task Manager gives you an easy way to find out at a glance why your computer is slow or if an app is not responding, and then quickly act on it. You can end an application that isn't responding using Task Manager in compact mode, but the advanced view gives you more information about processes that are acting up in Windows 10.

More Windows 10 resources

For more help articles, coverage, and answers to common Windows 10 questions, visit the following resources:

Mauro Huculak is technical writer for WindowsCentral.com. His primary focus is to write comprehensive how-tos to help users get the most out of Windows 10 and its many related technologies. He has an IT background with professional certifications from Microsoft, Cisco, and CompTIA, and he's a recognized member of the Microsoft MVP community.

26 Comments
  • My biggest and only gripe with programs that uses resources is Wondows Defender. Not sure if my hard disks RPM is a co-conspirator, but Windows Defender often goes up to 100% disk usage, paralysing my laptop. Wish there was a long term solution to this.
  • I checked online but could only muster a few pages suggesting I remove Windows Defender's own files from the scanner, or disable WD altogether. First didn't work, second works but I don't see it as a long term solution. Wonder if there is some kind of malware or virus causing it... Tried killing windows defender via task manager / resource manager, only caused my system to hang
  • Great article though!
  • Windows Defender (antivirus programs in general) scan data files as *other* programs access the files. The only times you should see Windows Defender with 100% disk usage is when it's updating it's virus definition files, or when it's doing a full scan of your hard drive. You can clearly see both of those happening by opening the WD app. The problem you describe is likely not caused by Windows Defender, but caused by something else that's accessing the files. What else do you see with disk usage at the same time? Do you have another Antivirus package installed? Like Norton or Kaspersky for example. Try disabling the other antivirus package.
  • I don't have any other antivirus installed. The disk usage usually has "MsMPEng", "system", "runtimebroker", and some times edge running simultaneously. No other 3rd party applications/software do that. I forgot to clarify that the disk usage 100% scenario is always at start-up, if left alone it becomes smooth in approximately 30 minutes. Occasionally using edge with too many tabs open causes the disk usage to spike via WD.
    @JotaKa Thank you for the clarification, and taking the time to reply :)
  • I also noticed multiple instances of this process svchost.exe followed by some different things in brackets like (netsvcs) adding to disk usage when edge is on
  • install windows 7. Directx is not worth all the crap you have to accept with win x
  • My system came with Win 10 and at the moment I can't spend more on Windows 7. But I agree. By the way, this is the first time I have come across someone calling it Win X instead of Win 10, and I kinda like it! Except when I think about OS X and it stops being special. Still pretty cool!
  • Don't know why you get downvoted for that (because you are dissing Microsoft software?) but I can agree. I experienced the same on a mid range laptop, HP was cutting costs by putting Windows and their own bloatware on a slow and cheap Seagate HDD. Often the system becomes completely unresponsive because trivial background tasks were waiting in line to hammer the disk at a constant 100%. Defender is indeed the main suspect, along with Windows Update and some useless "Compatibility Telemetry".
  • Yes! Fortunately my Acer didn't have too much bloatware. The downvotes are okay, guess people have had different experiences. And they probably missed the fact that I want Microsoft to improve on the problem, I didn't say it's **** or compare it to another OS. Heh, gotta love fandoms
  • I always try to do a clean install of Windows 10 with least bloatware. But I cant get that why Compatibility Telemetry sucks so much resource. Its really disgusting.
  • Good article.
    I also use task manager for a very important thing and it's to know if a system update or app update is stuck when its download percentage is not changing.
    I simply go to performance section in task manager and see my network usage and the "send" and "receive" speeds and then I know from download(receive) speed whether my download is stuck(not downloading) or not.
    And there's a link in the bottom of this section called "resources monitor" from which you could see what exactly is using your bandwidth, the system for updating? Or other programs.
  • I use this with Edge...all of the time.
  • I had to do it more with Edge than IE...
  • True!
  • This is common news...
  • Not to everyone... I look like a wizard at work when I 'fix' someone's PC by killing a locked up process. Although I doubt those kind of people are reading this article, as actually trying to fix their own problem is somehow beyond them
  • Those mundane articles are not meant to let recurring readers learn something new, they are filler content to make Mobile Nations websites more visible in Google search rankings. People do Google their problem or question, and because the cleverly written titles and invisible metadata those articles end up high in the results. The unsuspecting user is then being tracked, profiled and bombarded by more than ten ad-networks and trackerservices on this site, but hey...the user has his solution and MobileNations has some income. It ain't pretty, but that's how SEO and content farms work these days .
  • Opening Task Mnager, option 4 should be "Ctrl + Alt + Delete", right?
  • No. That was keyboard shortcut for task manager in windows xp (not sure about vista, never used it) and with windows 7 and later combination ctrl+alt+del opens security options (change password, lock computer, log off, task manager). To open task manager you use ctrl+shift+esc.
  • Oh, sorry man, you're wright. I didn't check in the article what is option 4😂. Indeed, it should be ctrl+alt+del instead of win+alt+del.
  • Using an SSD and 32GB of system RAM with no page file, CPU is 2-5% at idle and rarely above 40% under load. Memory and disk access is not an issue either.
  • I do not want to sound critical but I think this is not useful. Even Microsoft advises users that its good that Win is using the available computing power to the fullest. It would be lots better if you write articles on issues like dealing with BSOD, driver installation procedure especially for older systems, troubleshooting WiFi connection issues, understanding registry settings on windows etc.
  • How can I kill the Cortana process permanently? Always find that's a big resource hog for me and I never use it.
  • What you say about the stupid runtime broker that ALWAYS at some point ends up on top eating my cpu and ram, and when you kill it stabilizes for a while and eventually goes back up? Look for that process online and see that everyone is having the same problem with that stupid process. This OS is still in beta, this same problem goes back to the first build of W10 and is still around causing headaches, but hey, downvote me all you want if you don't find no one online having problems with this process.
  • I used this process once for Force Close the Edge Browser . Otherwise, the latest public build is better till date.