How to keep Windows XP stable

Using the task manager to make Windows XP perform better

Wednesday, October 22, 2003 by Draginol | Discussion: Personal Computing

My work machine stays up for weeks and often months at a time. In fact, the only time it gets rebooted is when our office loses power (which is too frequently, yea I should get a UPS).

People are often shocked at this. How do I keep my system running for so long, especially given how hard I push it day in and day out while running all the major components of Object Desktop? On Windows XP, it's actually pretty easy -- once you know what affects stability.

It all starts with the task manager.  To get to that, hit CTRL-SHIFT-ESC. When you do that, the task manager in Windows XP will come up.

Whenever you have a problem with your system, whether it be acting slow or saying it's out of memory or just acting weird, you'll want to pull up the task manager.

Once you do that, go to the Performance tab.  Check and see how much RAM is in use.  A lot of young techies get obsessed with the amount of memory committed. Don't.  Check to see if your CPU meter is pegged too high, check to make sure you're not using a ridiculous amount of memory (I have 1 gig installed so 419MB in use is no biggie).  But most importantly: Check the handles in use.  This is what slows down your system.

The # of handles in use should never grow much beyond 12,000.  When you get to 15,000 handles, weird things can start to happen and you'll feel your system slow down. This is where most people just reboot. They'll throw up their hands and say "Well, time to reboot." But that's unnecessary because the task manager can tell you what program(s) are using up those handles.

So now click on the processes.  You'll want to go to View->Select Columns and choose the items that are chosen here.  You want to know things like the handle count, the GDI objects, and the User Objects.  If any of those numbers are >2,000 on a given item, that item is doing something bad.

Once you have that set up. Look at the column headers. Sort by the ones I've highlighted in yellow first. Is something using up most of your CPU? Then kill it if it's not supposed to. Is something using more than 2000 handles? If so, you should probably kill that too. Same for User Objects and GDI Objects.

And then finally, sort by memory usage and then VM size. Don't worry too much about those numbers unless you're running low on RAM. The VM Size column isn't terribly useful anyway because it double counts libraries being loaded (i.e. a program that needs to read .PNG files will load a library that uses that but another one that uses the same library will get that counted too. Mem Usage is the one to keep an eye on.  But again, even there, don't sweat that number too much unless it's using a signficant percentage of your installed memory.  Internet Explorer is using 21 megs of RAM. Sounds like a lot right? But that's only 2% of my installed memory.  Back in the old DOS days of 640K 2% would be just over 12K of memory.

CPU, Handles, GDI Objects, User Objects, these are the things to keep an eye on. If you kill processes that are using up an unusual amount of these resources, you can keep your system up indefinitely.

 

First Previous Page 1 of 3 Next Last
KarmaGirl
Reply #1 Wednesday, October 22, 2003 4:16 PM
This is a great article, Brad. This is the type of thing that I use all day but take for granted. I know that a lot of people never bring up taskmanager or even know what to do with it when they do. I hope you continue to write these as I think they will be very informative.
GrfxGuru
Reply #2 Thursday, October 23, 2003 7:43 PM
Great little article, appreciate the info. I'm an avid user of task manager but never bothered to look at all the other columns you can choose from.
Phoon
Reply #3 Thursday, October 23, 2003 11:02 PM
Very informative article indeed. Thanks for the insight!
Vagelis
Reply #4 Thursday, October 23, 2003 11:30 PM
Great article Indeed.
One unrelated question: What WindowBlinds skin is that? It is from Object Desktop WindowBlinds Right?
Bill
Reply #5 Friday, October 24, 2003 1:30 AM
Thank you for this write up. It has helped me alot, now I know what I'm looking for.

Thank you very much.

Bill.
TasT
Reply #6 Friday, October 24, 2003 1:00 PM
Nice article,

You must get permissions so you can distribute that skin.
Adrenochrome
Reply #7 Friday, October 24, 2003 4:42 PM
Good overview of managing processes with Task Manager. You recommend killing apps that appear to be overtaxing the system, but it would be even more helpful to discuss not only killing those apps but tracking down the specific program, dll, module, whatever, that might be causing the problem and then, if necessary, uninstalling or reinstalling the offending apps. It's also wise to look for possible conflicts between the misbehaving item and other programs. Another tip is to do a Google or MS Knowledge Base or other search on the problem item. I've often found great information about possible conflicting programs on my system; as a result, I was able to take proper action and eliminate the problem forever, rather than simply killing the program that appeared to be the cause. Further, it's sometimes necessary to disable certain Windows XP Services in Computer Management if they are unnecessary and burdening your system or conflicting with other programs. If you merely kill them and you don't properly disable them for good, they may start up again automatically and cause the same problems again at the next reboot.

Brad, I bestow great praise on you for being so active outside of your regular Stardock activities and freely contributing so many great articles to the user community over the years. Your articles are highly welcome. I also liked the one you wrote about alternative Windows shells and GUI dressings.
Adrenochrome
Reply #8 Friday, October 24, 2003 4:43 PM
Good overview of managing processes with Task Manager. You recommend killing apps that appear to be overtaxing the system, but it would be even more helpful to discuss not only killing those apps but tracking down the specific program, dll, module, whatever, that might be causing the problem and then, if necessary, uninstalling or reinstalling the offending apps. It's also wise to look for possible conflicts between the misbehaving item and other programs. Another tip is to do a Google or MS Knowledge Base or other search on the problem item. I've often found great information about possible conflicting programs on my system; as a result, I was able to take proper action and eliminate the problem forever, rather than simply killing the program that appeared to be the cause. Further, it's sometimes necessary to disable certain Windows XP Services in Computer Management if they are unnecessary and burdening your system or conflicting with other programs. If you merely kill them and you don't properly disable them for good, they may start up again automatically and cause the same problems again at the next reboot.

Brad, I bestow great praise on you for being so active outside of your regular Stardock activities and freely contributing so many great articles to the user community over the years. Your articles are highly welcome. I also liked the one you wrote about alternative Windows shells and GUI dressings.
Einstein
Reply #9 Friday, October 24, 2003 6:05 PM
Very insightful - I knew that there was something up with my PC and now I know it is my Java IDE that is killing performance. IBM's WSAD is just a hog with handles and memory. But I am glad to see all the Stardock apps are so low on the "hit list".

Thanks again Brad, you continue to out-do yourself for helping all the little guys.
Dr. Lewis M. Fulkerson
Reply #10 Friday, October 24, 2003 8:05 PM
Sure wish I'd found this site a long time ago. Valuable beyond rating! Thanks for the information on how to keep XP stable.
Draginol
Reply #11 Saturday, October 25, 2003 11:49 AM
Thanks guys.

Sometimes the strangest things can leak resources. For example, SpamPal leaks handles sometimes. I'll notice my system getting slower and slower or I'll notice that programs won't launch anymore or dialogs won't come up. When I do the check I list in the article, I see that SpamPak is using 9,000 handles or something and kill it, restart it and all is fine.
Tracy Wynn
Reply #12 Tuesday, October 28, 2003 5:52 AM
Excellent review and information. Many thanks.
Jim Hawley
Reply #13 Saturday, November 01, 2003 12:18 PM
A related question to both the original overview and your reply (and many, many other helpful hints over the years).
Brad recommended killing processes that were overtasking based on certain criteria. You mention disabling "certain Windows XP Services" if they are unnecessary.
Here is the question.
How the heck is the average user supposed to know whether killing a process will have serious repercussions? I (we) don't know what the process is or does (the names sure don't give much clue) and, so far as I have been able to find, its rare that extensive searches on Google, Microsoft knowledge Base, or any and all of the techie sites out there actually describe what the process does, what programs or functions it controls and/or effects, and therefore whether it is safe to remove.
I had some hopes for one of the lasest PC Mag utilities that claimed to be aimed at this information black hole - TaskPower. I even signed up for an annual subscription pretty much based on this one utility description. Frankly, while it does present some additional information, its minimal and doesn't present any of the obvious info (see above) that I would think someone would need in order to make a decision about killing or removing a task or process.
How does one go about gaining some of the basic understandings of the inner workings of XP without needing a graduate degree in CS?
Thanks for any leads.
Jonathan Jordan
Reply #14 Sunday, November 02, 2003 9:11 AM
Here are a couple of links to sites that explain a bit about what each service is and how to disable them.

http://www.beemerworld.com/tips/servicesxp.htm
http://www.overclockersclub.com/windowsxpservices.shtml
Keith Lea
Reply #15 Sunday, November 02, 2003 12:44 PM
That's a pretty disgusting Windows theme you've got loaded. It looks just like OSX but with everything misaligned and with mismatched colors. I'm pretty sure it's also illegal.
scott
Reply #16 Thursday, November 06, 2003 3:04 PM
Very nice. Tips like this makes it worth while to keep coming back to the site. Great job.
kthxbye
Reply #17 Saturday, November 08, 2003 11:02 AM
"How does one go about gaining some of the basic understandings of the inner workings of XP without needing a graduate degree in CS?"

Reading. Reading. And more reading. The last issue of Maximum PC had a good article for people wanting to learn the basics of what service does what, for example. Very basic, but it provides a good start for a list of "Services I need and services I don't need."

Books. They're those paper things you find in stores (Not trying to sound condescending - I realize it does.) They're a rare thing now - but there are still places that sell them.

And finally - websites. The Elder Geek is a -great- resource for all things Windows related. Know the site. Learn it. Love it. Make it your homepage. Well maybe not the last one.
Savannygranny
Reply #18 Monday, November 10, 2003 1:31 PM
wondering about my Stardock stuff hogging all my computer resources, I just used your article as I opened my Task Manager, only to find that nothing is hoggish....thanks a bunch for the article...my compliments from a grannygeekwannbee
Light_TAS
Reply #19 Wednesday, November 12, 2003 11:09 PM
Brad, I was just thinking, since you obviously know a hell of alot more about computers than your average user does, and you work at Stardock... and there are alot of skinners who really dont have any idea what is going on, I think that you should add a tutorials section to wincustomize... You have some wonderful insights, and it would be a hell of a great resource to be able to visit wincustomize, and not only download skins, but also have access to tutorials. Even little stuff, like what your article describes, is ridiculously helpful.. ANyways, thank you... and you really should think about that wincustomize thing....
Amen Brotha
Rab
Reply #20 Monday, November 17, 2003 1:57 PM
Good article. Probably tecahing granny to suck egss but have a look at www.sysinternals.com for a task manager replacement that gives a lot more information. - Process Explorer. cheers Rab

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