Geek alert: Process Explorer is back for Windows PCs

A mainstay of IT's working class, Microsoft's Process Explorer update is available, with even more PC troubleshooting tools

I can't imagine troubleshooting a Windows PC without Process Explorer. Users frequently compare Process Explorer to Windows' built-in Task Manager, but I tend to think of Process Explorer as what Task Manager should've been. There's so much more to Process Explorer that it's hard to put the two in the same sentence.

Process Explorer tells you which files are currently open by what program. That feature alone has saved me half a head of hair because, once identified by Process Explorer, the process that's locked up your file can be killed.

Process Explorer also gives you full information on all of the svchost processes running on your PC. That accounts for the other half a head.

Mouse over a process, even a generic svchost, and you can see the command line that launched the process, the path to the executable file, and all of the Windows services being used. Right-click and you can go online to get more information about the executable. It'll show each executable's handles (believe me, that's important), let you search for an executable based on the handle, and show you the percentage of CPU being consumed, not only by a process, but even by thread within the process.

If you drag the cross-hairs icon over a window, Process Explorer shows you every conceivable detail about the program that's controlling the window. Process Explorer also shows marvelously complex graphs of CPU usage, memory commitment, and I/O activity. It's spectacular, even if you've never ventured beyond the "what's my handle" stage.

What's new in this version? The official TechNet blog says you should expect a "slew" of enhancements and new functionality. I couldn't find such a bounty, but the new stuff I did locate looks quite useful.

The best new feature is called Tree CPU usage. In the past, Process Explorer would show you the percentage of CPU usage for each process or subprocess. If you bring in the Tree CPU Usage column, Process Explorer will additionally show you the total CPU usage for all subprocesses.

Easiest way to see it: Crank up Google Chrome, which uses lots of subprocesses. In Process Explorer's Process view, right-click on any of the column headings and choose Select Columns. Click on the Process Performance tab, and check the box marked Tree CPU Usage. Click OK. You see a new column called Tree CPU Usage. Drag it over next to the CPU column and watch. You can see how much CPU all of Chrome takes, not just the individual subprocesses.

There are cosmetic improvements, too. The System Information window now has tabs, giving some breathing room to a previously cramped layout, with a few more memory statistics. By and large, though, if you're familiar with Process Explorer 12.04, you'll be right at home with Process Explorer 14. (Yes, in true triskaidekaphobia fashion, PE skipped version 13.)

Get Process Explorer now, free from Microsoft, at its home on TechNet.

Not yet sold on Process Explorer? This little earworm, sung to the tune of "Let It Be," may convince you otherwise: When I find myself in times of trouble/Mark Russinovich comes to me/Speaking words of wisdom/"Run PE, Run PE."

This article, "Geek alert: Process Explorer is back for Windows PCs," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog.

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