Windows Server 2003 Task Manager – Taskmgr

Introduction to Windows Server 2003 Task Manager

When it comes to checking a Windows Server, do not neglect the trusty Task Manager.  There will be occasions when you just need a quick piece of system information, calling for your task manager can be just as effective as creating performance logs but much faster.

Taskmanager tip for Windows Servers  Let us start with a flashy way of executing the Task manager with: CTRL +SHIFT +ESC.  If you have long fingers, try launching it with just your left hand.  (As ever Microsoft provide at least 3 ways of doing everything, thus in addition to Run taskmgr,  you can also right-click the grey bar at the bottom of your screen and select Task Manger.)

Each of Task Manager’s five tabs has it’s own personality, I recommend that you get to know the capabilities of each one.  An application tab for zapping programs, a process tab for checking for viruses, a performance tab to calculate pagefile and now a network utilization tab to see how much activity there is on the LAN or WAN.

Topics for Task Managerin Windows Server 2003


Applications Tab

No doubt you have already used task manager’s Application Tab to end process for programs that hang or do not respond.  Assuming that your group policy allows users access to this tab, why not send out an email reminding users of how to use this Applications tab when their machine hangs and programs are ‘Not Responding’. 

I admit that this tip may not work if Group Policy prevents the users launching Task Manager.  However, in Vista there is a trend to empower users where the task has no security implications.

Another use of the Applications Tab is to discover the underlying Image Name of a program, simply right-click and then select: Go to Process.

Taskmanager tip.  Always on top One of the joys of using any new program is setting the preferences.  With Task Manager (taskmgr) I like to remove the tick which says ‘ Always on top’. (Option Menu).

Processes Tab

The Process Tab is a key place in the Task manager for the support professional to investigate, in fact the more ‘Image Names’ that you can identify the better techie you are.

By matching Image Names more processes to programs, the easier it is detect impostors such as viruses.  Moreover, by identifying the ‘good guys’ you will learn how applications such as Exchange and SQL interact with the operating system.

At first a process called svchost seems suspicious.  Could you have been infected 7 times by a strange virus?  No, svchost is the generic name for an image shared by the operating systems services, for example, Alerter, Net Logon, Print Spooler.  The interesting fact about all these svchost is that certain services would fight if put together in the same Image Name process, therefore, the operating system separates incompatible services and puts them in separate svchosts.  Incidentally, PowerShell can identify which processes are in which svchosts.

Returning to the theme of identifying rogue programs, what would think if you saw Avgserv and Agvcc32 amongst the image names?  When I saw these processes, I must admit my heart missed a beat.  At first I thought my machine has been infected by a virus, but no, it was actually my virus checker which had installed itself as a process.  Naturally I left that running!

How about msblast.exe?  Was this a game that my nephew had installed on my XP machine?  Well I tried a search in Google and up came W32/BlasterA virus.  Here was a case where I needed to check the registry as the blaster virus cunningly re-infects those who are not diligent.  Other viruses have more innocuous names like Tlntsvr.exe and Wina.exe, so this is why I urge you to know the  Processes Image names.Task Manager Processes Tab Windows 2003

View Menu, Select Columns

When using the Processes tab to troubleshoot be aware that you can add extra columns, for example Virtual Memory, IO Reads and Writes.  Again, my idea is to use the Task Manager to display information quickly without resorting to setting up the System Monitor and Log Counters.

Adjust Priority, Set Affinity

If you right-click any process then you can adjust Priority, typically if you have a spreadsheet calculating in the background, you may want to give a foreground application like Outlook more CPU time slices.  Note, never set programs to Real Time, it will cripple your machine and require a reboot – you have been warned!

Affinity means that one program can be associated exclusively with one processor, naturally you need a multi processor machine for this setting to even appear.  In truth, Affinity is a case of ‘Mother knows best’.  Guy says leave alone, unless someone has got in before you and incorrectly set affinity, leave it to the operating system.

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Performance Tab Task Manager Performance Tab Windows 2003

My main use of this Tab is to check memory.  In particular, to check on the size of the pagefile.  Now I have read many articles about how big to set the page file.  Experts say use RAM x 1.5 whilst others say RAM x 2.  Guy says suck it and see.  By that I mean compare two figures: Commit Charge (K) Limit with Peak.  You may have already guessed that the Commit Charge (K) is the sum of RAM + Pagefile.

In the Diagram above the Limit is 1280032 (I wish Task Manager would add commas!)
Whilst the Peak is 617564. My interpretation is that this machine has a big enough page file.  However if the Peak was 1MB (1000000), then I would declare that the pagefile was not big enough and I would take action in the System Icon.  If the Peak was below 400000 and I was desperate for the disk space, then I would even reduce the pagefile.

Leaky Memory

Keep your eye on Kernel Memory, Nonpaged.  These days servers need rebooting less frequently, if you have a ‘leaky app’ then over time, Nonpaged memory will gradually increase.  Confirm any suspicions with View, Select Columns, Non-Paged Pool.  See more about the pagefile in Windows 8.

Users Tab

Call me a ‘Luddite’ but I have never had much use for this tab on my Windows 2003 Server.  When I want to check which users connected to the server, I prefer the Shared Folder snap-in.

Another reason that I do not use the Users Tab is that with XP you only see this machine if it’s part of a Workgroup and you are using ‘Fast User Switching’.  Therefore in a domain, this Users Tab is absent.

Networking Tab

This is a great utility to view network utilization.  This Networking Tab is a new Task Manager interface in XP and Server 2003.  In fact it is difficult if not impossible to create performance logs to measure % Network utilization.

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Even when all servers and routers are available, sooner or later you will be curious to know who, or what, is hogging the precious network’s bandwidth.  A GUI showing the top 10 users makes interesting reading.

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Task Manager Trap

When I was a ‘greenhorn, (many, many years ago) I fell into the trap of carelessly double clicking inside Task Manger, as a result the top menu with File, Option, Help disappeared.  I could not understand what had happened until I double clicked near the top, and lo and behold, the menu reappeared.  It was a beginner’s mistake; I mention it because there are about 3 or 4 other Microsoft programs that display the same menu behaviour when you double click on their title area.

Summary of Task Manager (taskmgr)

The number of Task Manager tabs is steadily increasing.  On Windows Server 2003 we have Applications, Process, Performance, Networking and Users.  Press CTRL, Shift, Esc and launch Task Manager, in particular get to know the Processes, what you are looking for is viruses in among the regular programs.  To be successful you have to become a minor expert on svchost and the other processes.

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