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.


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Reply #21 Thursday, November 20, 2003 4:55 PM
Hi, Interesting article, and According to Microsoft KB Article 327699, Windows XP restricts the maximum number of user Objects to 10,000. Is anyone aware of any tools that can peer into the User Objects to see what they are? Similar to looking into each handle in use?

Thank You

Red Rhino
Reply #22 Sunday, July 11, 2004 2:07 PM
When I first got my computer it was pretty slow. I had the bare minimum amount of ram for windows xp. I think its 128 mb. But it never crashed on me. I just had alot of temporary freeze ups. I then installed a 512 mb chip and I've had no problems since. I am actually surprised when people tell me their XP crashes. I think mine has only crashed or completely frozen up maybe 2 times. I only have a 1.8 ghz processor as well.
Reply #23 Saturday, July 17, 2004 1:27 PM
I dispute the handles guidance, I have 15,415 handles open just for MySQL-MaxNT 5a and my system is rock solid, it stays up for ages.

My PC Recommendations:

* Make sure your hardware is up to the task e.g. power supply (1), processor heatsink and fans. Many PC builders cut corners on components, so the PC can become unstable over time, when pushed hard (games,server) or when extra components/peripherals are added. (1) The power supply must be able to supply amply current on each voltage rail (at the same time) and provide quality voltage regulation otherwise your system may become unstable or suffer from intermittent faults, don't just rely on Watts.
* If possible, load the PC with enough RAM so that you don't need virtual memory (I use 1.5GB), PC's run MUCH faster with virtual memory (file) turned off. Windows, for some reason, continuously accesses the swap file, even when huge amounts of physical RAM is free, unfortunately the extra disk use slows down a PC via CPU interrupts, DMA or by increasing hard disk seek delays.
* Enable DMA for all drives, if possible, because DMA is often much more efficient at transferring data than the CPU.
* Regularly defragment your hard disk partitions, because scatter file fragments can cause see delays. I user Perfect Disk 6.0 ( currently, because it is very fast and can decompact file fragments bigger than free disk space/gaps.
* Don't rely exclusively on CPU Usage to spot slowdowns, DMA use (for disk, sound cards etc) can also slow down the CPU a lot if it wants to use physical memory at the same time, yet CPU usage can drop when this happens!
* Stop unneeded programs/services from auto-running, like the Indexer service.
* Make explorer.exe run separate instances, see (, so that it causes less annoyance when it crashes!
* Use a multi-threaded file browser instead of explorer.exe e.g Directory Opus ( Explorer.exe is primitive single threaded junk e.g. it can only do one thing at a time.
* Avoid using applications using Microsoft browser components. Microsoft are losing the security war (Berbew was just a taster), so it only a matter of time before some nasty malware silently installs (e.g. via IE,OE,Outlook) and messes up your PC. Better still minimise the use of Microsoft programs, period, you may find that you have more free physical memory and better security.
* Disable automatic Windows Update and only install the updates you actually need (even some security updates are gratuitous), excess updates may add new bugs, slow down you PC and install unwanted software e.g. the insecure MSJVM (Microsoft Java).
* Use a decent personal firewall (I assume you know that the XP firewall is junk) e.g. not ZoneAlarm (Pro) or Norton/Symantec junk. I use Agnitum Personal Firewall Pro 2.1 ( currently.
* If on dialup, use a serial port Modem, WinModems and USB modems can seriously slow down your PC, as can any USB device.
* If on broadband never use a USB Modem (too slow and VERY insecure), instead use a router with NAT (preferable a built-in firewall), via an ethernet cable, and avoid using DMZ, that way make it much harder for crackers to make your machine their bitch i.e. a zombie PC.
* Make sure that your device drivers are not causing problems/crashes e.g. use recent versions and seriously consider desposing of hardware/peripherals where the manufacture is too lazy to provide stable drivers.
* Use Firewire devices in preference to USB, they often work faster, with much less load on the CPU.

BTW: I prefer TaskInfo ( to task manager, it's like Task Manager on steroids (more graphs, resource alarms, cache flushing etc.) and often works better under load.

You can send comments to auto102767 {at} hushmail {dot} com. Note, you will have to confirm any email if not in my whitelist.
Reply #24 Saturday, July 17, 2004 1:47 PM
BTW I forgot to mention, Bush is an idiot, why else would he accept/push the bogus WMD propaganda and drag that 'bitch' Blair (UK) in and waste Billions pissing off many Arabs yet again! Do these politicos (Right, Centre and Left are equally as bad) realize that 11th Sept only happened because the US had already pissed off many Arabs and made themselves a target. Doesn't anyone learn from history, the US should have remembered Northern Ireland to know the folly of interfering in other countries affairs and the long term costs that result e.g. Northern Ireland is a basically a dangerous training ground in urban warfare, for the British Army now!

TTO network manager student
Reply #25 Thursday, August 12, 2004 1:14 PM
question pls, when you 'End process' on a item a box pops up " terminating a process may cause undesired affects, loss of data, etc etc" is there a way to go back and let that program close itself and save what ever it needs to be saved or is it even a critical part of the process and something to not really worry about

thank you
TTO student
corrine thomas
Reply #26 Thursday, March 17, 2005 1:42 PM
that was very interesting becuase I can't find actual numbers of what each one should be. it gaives you a little and you have to figure out the rest in reading and it's given me headaches trying to understand it and this one was more difficult for me than anything else. so thanks.
Reply #27 Monday, April 25, 2005 4:15 AM
I would like to Know if it's the same for Windows 2000?
I have a machine with Windows 2000 Server and Handles total it's around 3.000.000.
Thanks, Isabel
Reply #28 Friday, August 12, 2005 6:25 PM
thank you...a great article...i use task manger a lot, but not like this, and this is very useful...i appreciate you taking the time to write it all down...

it's very interesting to see what is using system resources like this...this only thing a have with over 2000 handles is the 'system' that normal? (it has about 2,730)
Reply #29 Thursday, November 17, 2005 11:52 PM
hey. thanks for that article. i've been trying to figure out why explorer.exe seems to grow like a weed with VM usage. mine starts at some value around 20 megs and then after a day or so the VM size is 135 megs + i have no clue why and can find no info on the net. i did notice (after reading your article) that it has 23,478 handles !!! ha. that's quite a bit more than the 2000 or so limit. again. i have no clue why. aside from explorer.exe i typically use about 100-150 MB of the 384 MB RAM i have. i have the page file set to 999 MB (just picked that randomly. i don't like even numbers). if anyone has any thoughts i would appreciate them. thanks again. also, the computer runs pretty well. i don't notice any major slowdowns. but it is definitely quicker before the explorer.exe VM grows. for now i just occasionally end task explorer.exe and then restart it.

and don't listen to infernoz... he'll have you believe women in short skirts created sexual harrassment.

Reply #30 Thursday, July 20, 2006 3:05 AM
Hey guys, can anybody tell me what the "SVCHOST.EXE" process is all about? It uses almost 2,000 handles and it has "sub-friends"!

Reply #31 Thursday, July 27, 2006 10:34 PM
My computer uses 302,218(that's big) handles and it still stays running for days without rebooting.
Reply #32 Friday, July 28, 2006 1:12 PM
Hey guys, can anybody tell me what the "SVCHOST.EXE" process is all about? It uses almost 2,000 handles and it has "sub-friends"!
Reply #33 Tuesday, August 8, 2006 12:22 AM
Tarkus, thanks for the link. Been fretting about just that very thing. Now have more tools and knowledge re:SVCHOST.EXE issues Draginol, thanks for the thread, too!
Reply #34 Wednesday, August 30, 2006 9:28 AM
First of all Thanks for all this info.

on my System when I started reading this and all the comments it was 2,800 NOW as I started typing it is at 3,018 for the handles for CPU , User Objects and GDI Objects are all at 0 (zero)
Memory Usage 240k, VM size 28k...
Now for my question. If I end the process of the System will it stop everything to where I will have to reboot. And how do I restart the system with out rebooting...

But this is just the tip of my problems that I have.
Please help if you can Thanks.

One day my computer runs grate another day it is slow ok, ok its slow everyday just some days its worse.
It will freeze opening a window or program I will go to TM (task Manager) and it dose not like to end process.

And most days when I Boot (start) my computer this one (svchost.exe) takes ALL memory well 97% there is 7 of them running but just one that dose it for about 5 to 6 minutes, if I don’t stop it .
Here is some info on my computer that mite help.

Microsoft Windows XP Professional Version 2002 Service Pack 2
Intel® Pentium® 4 CPU 1600MHz 1.59 GHz, 1.00 GB of RAM
Graphics card:
Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 128MB
On a Crappie Hewlett-Packard HP Pavilion xt948
Other then it being an HP this should be a good fast computer
Now for the Security: I have and use

Advanced Registry Optimizer 1.2.8
Avast! Antivirus Professional 4.7 build: Aug2006 (4.7.871) Xtreme Toolkit
CleanUp! 4.5.2
eTrust EZ Firewall I have the rest of the suit just do not use
Lavasoft Ad-Aware SE Professional builds 1.05. Have Ad-Watch SE Professional do not use
MSConfig CleanUp 1.0
Spy Sweeper
XoftSpy 4.22

Just these start on start up:
Avast! Antivirus Professional 4.7
eTrust EZ Firewall

If I move any window around it makes a ghost as I move it as though my G card is not good enough for all the graphics but have NO problem with Games... I have an old driver for my G card but the newer one dose not works as well (8.9.??)

Oh and my CPU clocks out at 100% a lot

Please, Please Help me
Reply #35 Wednesday, August 30, 2006 9:57 AM
and I had to re-install window more the ten times and it lookd like i will have to do it again
this is my first computer i got it 11/11/2001 even sent it back to HP to have it fixed when it was under waranty but all i seen that they did was take off the stickers that they put on it when it was made.. Made me mad that they did that to .

oh and i have upgrated my hard drive from 80GB to 160GB plus Have an 80GB hard drive
C:/ is 160GB Master F:/ is 80GB Slave ( storeage of all the stuff to reinstall with pix , music and download to

Took out C:/ 80GB to replace it with the 160GB why because so tech guy from a computer place told me that it sounds like my hard drive was BAD that is why it was always crashing .. But I found out that it was not true do to it still dose it
and i unpluged F:/ and pluged in the one that came with the computer and reformatted it and it work good well same as it did . so now i have a back up for a back up they just wanted my money but fooled them Best Buy got it $75.00 for 160GB hard drive grate price beings an 80GB was $99.00 plus
Reply #36 Wednesday, August 30, 2006 9:40 PM
Gawd. Or just disable process that are useless for 99% of the people, even power users such as myself. On system boot I only have 22 processes running, and that includes Windowblinds, two instances of Sysmetrix and Trillian. Nice an lite!
Reply #37 Thursday, August 31, 2006 11:32 PM

e help

Reply #38 Monday, October 23, 2006 8:22 PM
Here's a free handy tool for personal use that can be used to tell you what those processes are and whether it's safe to shut it down etc,if link fails goolge for uniblue processlibrary
look for " Quick Access" should be at top and clik on download

EDIT:forgot to mention don't panic it requires internet access to display web page explanation of what the particular process is
Reply #39 Saturday, December 16, 2006 1:23 PM
Wow just found this, hope someone is still reading this. it's a Great Article, like alot of people, though I use the task manager I didn't think about using the other columns. My biggest question is what's up with the svchost.exe... when XP first came out I would only have about 2 processes running now I have 7 running; 2 in network service and 1 on local service and the rest in system. I just reinstalled my OS, so i know it's anything that's shouldn't be there I guess. On top of all that svchost uses about 1500 handles (that normal?)
Reply #40 Monday, January 8, 2007 10:56 AM
Thank you for this informative article. What is funny is I DO use my Task Manager to check on the System, but I really didn't understand what I was doing. But Now I am learning. Thanks

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