How To Identify What Processes Are Eating Up Memory in Windows

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winlogo.jpgIt's bad enough when your Windows computer slow down to a crawl. But it's even worse when Windows starts to run out of memory.

But is it really running out of memory?

Low memory does not necessarily mean that you need to add more memory. Instead it could mean that an application or program is using more memory than you expected, which could be caused by buggy software, memory leaks, or a virus.

And with those types of scenarios, fixing the problem will stop your System from running out of available memory, and save you some money because you thought you needed to add more memory (RAM).

The easiest way to see how much memory each process is using, is to use Task Manager. There are several ways to open Task Manager:

  • Just right click on an empty space in the Taskbar and select Task Manager (below screen shot is from Vista).

  • Using the keyboard, press CTRL + SHIFT + Esc (which will open Task Manager) or press CTRL + ALT + DEL, then select the Task Manager link.
  • in Vista, open the Start Menu, type taskmgr or taskmgr.exe in the search box and press Enter.

Now that Task Manager is open, click on the Processes tab…


… and make sure the Memory column is visible. If it isn't, you can easily view more System information in Task Manager such as memory, by selecting View \ Select Columns… from the menu.

For XP computers,select the Memory Usage check box, and for Vista computers select the Memory – Private Working Set . Click OK to save the settings.

Now that you have added the proper memory counter to Task Manager, let's go back to the Processes tab and sort the Memory column by clicking on the word Memory , so it displays the process using the most memory to the least. You may need to click on the column twice if it does not first sort highest to lowest.

As you can see from my Vista computer, Firefox is using over 114megs of memory. Looking down the column I can see each process memory usage. At this point, I will take a screen shot of Task Manager so I have a base (or starting point) of how much memory each process is using.

Later in the day, I'll check Task Manager again and compare the memory usage with the screen shot and make notes. I'll do this for a week (depending on my computer usage), then look over the numbers. You will want to look for any increases in memory usage by a process.

If you notice a small increase in memory consumption by a process, this is probably normal and not a cause for concern. If you notice a steady increase over time, even to the point where memory usage has doubled,  you will want to identify the process. Once you find out what the process is, check the software maker website and see if updates are available or if there is a support forum and search for your problem to see if other people have the same issue.

If you are having trouble identifying a process, there are several ways you can find out what the process is.

With VIsta's Task Manager, click on the Processes tab and look for the Image Path Name and Command Line columns. The Image Path Name will display the folder for the process executable and the Command Line column shows the the command that was used to launch the process. If these columns still do help with identifying the process, you can Google it.

With XP Task Manager, those two columns are not available. instead, you will want to download the excellent Process Explorer tool from Microsoft Sysinternals site. Or you can run Sysinternal tools directly from their website (which is what I do).

Once you have Process Explorer running, to identify processes, check out the article How To Identify Unknown Processes In Windows.

By monitoring memory over time, you will get a better picture of how memory is being used and if you really need to purchase more RAM. And if you find that you really do need more RAM, it'll be money well spent to really improve system performance.

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Comments on How To Identify What Processes Are Eating Up Memory in Windows Leave a Comment

November 16, 2008

ALL YALL @ 2:54 am #

There is also process explorer from sysinternals. I use it a lot

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