11.2 Processor Tricks
While today's microprocessors (also called CPUs) handle most tasks easily, certain activities like running computer-aided design software, CD-burning, and game-playing can make even a speedy system crawl.
The Task Manager (Figure 11-6) is a good way to determine how your CPU is holding up under the work you're asking it to do. Then you can make some decisions about when to launch certain programs ‚ or whether it's time to upgrade your PC.
11.2.1 CPU-Draining Programs You Don't Need
Oftentimes a single program causes your system to slow down ‚ kind of like an unruly child in a classroom sapping a teacher's attention. Want to identify which programs drain most of your CPU's power? Follow these steps:
Run the Task Manager by pressing Ctrl-Alt-Delete. Then click the Processes tab .
The Processes tab shows all the programs and services currently running on your computer and gives details about each one, including how much of the CPU each is using.
Double-click the CPU heading .
The Task Manager reorders the list of programs and services so those that most use the CPU are listed at the top, as shown in Figure 11-6. Frequently, the top listing is System Idle Process, which indicates what percentage of your CPU isn't in use.
| ADD-IN ALERT |
Getting More Out of Your Memory
It's a true fact: you can never have enough memory. And at a certain point, you can't buy more without investing in a new computer. If you're not ready for that kind of upgrade, here are two downloads that can help you get the most out of the memory you have:
Memory Boost Pro . This software automatically frees up unused memory when you need it, helps fine-tune how Windows uses RAM, and includes a "detective" that displays running programs and processes and how much memory they're using. It also warns you of system crashes before they happen. ($19.95 shareware; http://www.rosecitysoftware.com).
FreeRAM XP Pro . Like Memory Boost Pro, this software frees up unused memory to give your computer more usable RAM. It doesn't include as many bells and whistles as Memory Boost Pro, but hey--it's free. Get it from http://www.yourwaresolutions.com.
Look for any programs or processes that use a considerable amount of your CPU .
Don't touch anything labeled System or Network Service (look in the User Name column) ‚ killing those can lead to trouble. But otherwise , if you find any processor hogs, close them before starting any other CPU- intensive applications, such as burning a CD.
Tip: If you minimize the Task Manager, you can hold your mouse over its icon in the notification area for a quick way to see what percentage of your CPU is currently in use.
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Figure 11-6. The Task Manager's Processes tab lists the programs your PC is currently running, and reveals how much of your CPU each program uses. If System Idle Process is generating a high reading ‚ say, above 90 percent ‚ then your computer is really taking it easy.
11.2.2 Focusing Your CPU's Attention
Windows XP assigns every currently running program a priority level in order to determine how much CPU power each program receives. Should you ever want to give a particular program more processing power ‚ for example, CD-burning software ‚ you can change Windows XP's priorities so they match your needs.
In ascending order, here are the priorities Windows XP assigns:
The priority levels determine how quickly the processor responds to requests from the program. For example, if a Low priority program and a High priority program simultaneously ask your processor to perform a calculation, the High priority task always gets carried out first.
Windows XP automatically assigns most programs a Normal priority, but you can use the Task Manager to change these priorities at any time. Keep in mind that if you assign the Realtime priority to a program, Windows XP devotes an exceedingly high amount of CPU cycles to it, meaning there's little CPU power left over for other programs.
To alter a program's priority, run the Task Manager by pressing Ctrl-Alt-Delete, and then choose the Processes tab. Right-click the program whose priority you want to change, highlight Set Priority, and choose the priority you want as a replacement (see Figure 11-7).
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Figure 11-7. When you set program priority levels, don't set them all at High or AboveNormal. Doing so defeats the purpose of delegating more of your CPU's power to certain programs.
Your customized priorities will last only as long as the program is running. Once you close the program, its priority level returns to whatever Windows XP ordinarily uses.
Note: Too much meddling with priorities can lead to system instability. Change one or two at a time, not 40.
11.2.3 A Souped-Up Alternative to Task Manager
Windows XP's Task Manager works pretty well. But if you want something with more bells and whistles, download a copy of WinTasks Professional. Among other cool features, it shows you processor and memory usage graphs for the past day, as well as the same graphs customized per process for the past 24 hours. (A process is any service or program running on your computer ‚ anything from a word processor to XP's background program that lets you easily connect to a wireless network.) WinTasks Professional also displays all Dynamic-Link Libraries (Section 11.1.7) used by each process.
| WORKAROUND WORKSHOP |
Reducing the Size of the Task Manager
If you're only using the Task Manager to monitor your system and don't need its title bar, menu bar, status bar and tabs, you can view it in stripped-down mode, as shown below.
Just double-click the Task Manager anywhere except inside the box that displays the running programs. Now you can reduce the size of the Task Manager window for easy, unobtrusive reference on your desktop. To toggle back to the full view, double-click the Task Manager again.
WinTasks Professional even lets you create different system configuration sets that include different priorities for programs, so you can customize how your PC runs based on the tasks you want to accomplish. For example, if you sometimes use your computer mainly for games, and other times mainly for browsing the Web, you can create a game set that gives games and related programs the highest priority, and a browsing set that gives your browser the highest priority.
WinTasks Professional is available at http://www.liutilities.com. The standard version costs $29.95 and Professional version will run you $54.95.
| ADD-IN ALERT |
Automating Windows Tasks
While Windows' Task Manager keeps trac k of things for you, you may want to initiate a bunch of automatic processes yourself. Here're a few downloads that can help you.
If you perform a variety of repetitive tasks in Windows XP every day, like downloading files from an FTP site or cleaning up your hard disk, WinTask Lite can handle those chores for you. Think of it as having your own personal robot. ($99 shareware; http://www.wintask.com).)
But if you really want to automate Windows XP ‚ and you're willing to get your hands dirty with some programming ‚ using batch files is the best way to turn Windows XP into your private personal assistant. A holdover from DOS days, a batch file is simply a text file containing a set of commands. You then use a batch-processing program to execute one after the other, in the order they appear in the file. (You can spot batch files by their .bat extension.)
Windows XP has a set of built-in tools that let you create batch files to automate common tasks, like defragmenting or cleaning your hard disk. But if you're dying to experiment, here are some other programs that offer much more batch-power and batch-flexibility.
WinBatch has been around since the earliest days of Windows, and has gained a sizable cult following--with good reason. It includes more than 500 separate functions for automating your system that you can combine and recombine in any way you want. So you could, for example, use it to log into a database, do a search, and then automatically save the results. ($99.99 shareware; http://www.winbatch.com).
Batch File Compiler is a batch file program with a twist--it takes a batch file and turns it into an .exe file, so instead of running a bunch of commands in a batch file, you can run a single, compact program. What's the difference? Primarily, evildoers can tamper with a batch file but can't alter an .exe file, so it's a good option if you're worried about security. ($29.99 shareware; http://bdargo.dns2go.com.