Best Free Process Viewer

 
Introduction

Since Windows 95, Microsoft has included the Windows Task Manager in all of their operating systems to help users troubleshoot problems or just see how much of their precious memory is being used. Easily opened by a combination of hot keys (ctrl+shift+esc, or ctrl+alt+delete), this small tool isn't good for much other than killing processes.

It is because of this that many developers started creating their own versions of this utility, many of which added new features or refined the features Microsoft had already set as standard.

For many years, the Windows Sysinternals crew has offered the best product in this category, but the last couple of years has brought some great free and open source projects that are very deserving contenders for the top spot.

 
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Go to details...  Go straight to the Quick Selection Guide

 
Discussion

System Explorer was referred by a site visitor and was new to me, although it has been around a couple of years. It did not take me long to appreciate all that this program has to offer, and I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to use.

This application has some truly useful features available, such as the ability to take and compare snapshots of your files and registry, to upload files to Virustotal, and to perform an online look up of files or processes straight from the GUI. This handy process viewer also gives you mouse over information on known files, as well as many options to further manipulate processes, files, and services. Everything you need to get to is organized in a left-hand column and you can view everything from your services and processes, Internet Explorer Add-ons, to protocol filters and handlers for Windows Explorer.

I admit a lot of this stuff you might not use very much and some software can get kind of bloated when there are this many features but it is no problem here, and everything fits together very nicely. In my opinion, System Explorer is absolutely the best free process viewer available even if it is missing a few of the more advanced features.

 

Process Hacker and Process Explorer share a very similar interface, the only difference being the drop down information bar in Process Explorer. However, this is the only feature that the SysInternal's crew wins at. Process Hacker is a feature rich application with the ability to terminate those pesky processes that you are not allowed to kill in the Windows Task Manager and even Process Explorer. It can also sniff out some hidden processes, allowing you to find some basic rootkits if you are infected. This tool offers loads more features than I have mentioned, and contains almost everything you will ever need in a process viewer.

 

I had a hard time moving Process Explorer from its top spot, and what it finally came down too was the lack of features. I'm sure some average users who just want to tame a process, kill a hanging program, or check on memory consumption will appreciate the lesser amount of features. The bottom line is that while this application did fall a few spots, it will remain one of the best and most solid choices for anyone who is looking for a little more than the Windows Task Manager offers.

 

Another tool that has been around for a long time is the AnVir Task Manager Free, which offers a ton of features. Unfortunately, by forcing all of these components into one unorganized interface it was very hard to figure out where everything was and I found it a little difficult to use. However, if somehow you can find a way to get familiar with everything and get past the clutter then you will soon realize the enormous amount of power, and possibilities that this tool has to offer.

 

Alternatively there is another choice for users who are just looking for a simple replacements to the Windows Task Manager. Auslogics Task Manager has all the basic attributes of a task manager plus it adds another column to the GUI that tells you if known processes are trustworthy or not. This program also has a component that gives a list of all open files and tells you if the open file is locked and which process or service has it locked, and it offers the ability to unlock the file. This application is good at what it does, which isn't much, but users looking for something simple and intuitive may appreciate this software.

 
Related Products and Links

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Quick Selection Guide

System Explorer
5
 
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Upload files to VirusTotal from GUI. Detailed information about files and processes. Take and compare system snapshots. Logs action history for monitoring processes activities.
Cannot detect hidden processes.
http://systemexplorer.net/
6.0.1.
2.01 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
A portable version of this product is available from the developer.
Windows 8/ 7/ Vista/ XP
Process Hacker
5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Hidden Process Detection. Can forcibly terminate hooked processes. Ability to pause processes.
Some stability problems reported on Windows Vista.
2.33 R5590
1.84 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Open source freeware
A portable version of this product is available from the developer.
Windows 7/Vista/XP
Process Explorer
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Very stable. Good support.
Not a lot of features.
16.04
1.16 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows All
Auslogics Task Manager
3
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Tracks disk load. Ability to unlock modules. Easy to use.
Barely offers more features than normal Windows Task Manager. No longer supported by the developer.
2.2.1.0
4.98 MB
Unrestricted freeware
A portable version of this product is available from the developer.
Windows 7/Vista/XP
AnVir Task Manager Free
3
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Ton of features. Detailed information on files and processes. Start-up manager.
Unorganized GUI. No support for free version. Performance issues.
7.5.2
6.6 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
A portable version of this product is available from the developer.
Windows 7/Vista/XP

 
Editor

This software review is copy-edited by Glyn Burgess. Please help edit and improve this article by clicking here.

 
Tags

process viewer, process manager, task manager, process monitor, task manager replacement

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Comments

by conceptualclarity on 27. November 2014 - 20:33  (119884)

I have also seen System Explorer not detect things running that Process Explorer. Nonetheless it has an absolutely fabulous set of features. I plan to use both on my next computer.

Process Hacker shows only virtual memory. I would want it also show the Working Set memory if it were going to be my task manager.

by Bill-R on 19. November 2014 - 20:09  (119728)

System Explorer 6.0.1.5281
ProcessHacker 2.33(r5590)

2. Please add a minimal change log to this and all other articles similar to the log Chiron has added to his articles.

Issue: "Updated 3. July 2014 - 11:31 by MidnightCowboy"
Was this a major rewrite (it wasn't), the removal of a no longer available selection (perhaps), an update of edition information, or a repair of a link.

BTW, why do the dates have one period after the day?

Suggestion: "Updated 10 November 2014 - 11:55 by SomeUser - Auslogics Task Manager free version discontinued (last free version xx.xx); updated System Explorer and ProcessHacker version details."

"Updated 20 November 2014 - 11:55 by AnEditor - Added new v6.0 features topic to System Explorer; documented 8.1 support for recommendations.

"Updated 30 November 2014 - 11:55 by NewAuthor - Complete rewrite: new products and recommendations.

This allows a repeat visitor to immediately understand what has changed and provides a new visitor insight into currency.

by MidnightCowboy on 19. November 2014 - 22:52  (119734)

Thank you for your input. This article is assigned to me as caretaker only and will not be revised until a new volunteer editor offers to take it over. I will update the version numbers ASAP. MC - Site Manager.

by johnvk on 31. October 2013 - 20:43  (111920)

reiterating, process hacker links is old, v1. There's a v2. Perhaps v2 has not been evaluated in the article. But it's download link is http://sourceforge.net/projects/processhacker/files/processhacker2/ and the .zip is portable (non-install) binaries, while the -setup.exe is regular full install.

processhacker-2.32-src.zip < 23 hours ago 2.6 MB
processhacker-2.32-setup.exe < 23 hours ago 1.9 MB

by BrollyLSSJ on 13. October 2013 - 14:19  (111460)

Maybe "Yet Another (remote) Process Monitor" can also be tested. It seems to also allow remote management.

http://sourceforge.net/projects/yaprocmon/ & http://yaprocmon.sourceforge.net are the web sites.

Maybe Extended Free Task Manager is also a look worth.

http://www.extensoft.com/?p=free_task_manager

by Rocky Scott on 14. August 2013 - 13:57  (110106)

System Explorer (SE) failed to list a DLL that was successfully listed by both Process Hacker (PH) and Process Explorer (PE).

I tested all three of the programs at least three times each, ensuring that only one of the programs was installed at a time. Yes, I repeatedly installed and uninstalled each program (although PE is never really installed, you just run the .exe.). I never closed Excel or Chrome (they are both running right now). The results were the same each time: SE failed to find the DLL, and both PH and PE worked perfectly. I was careful not to download adware at the same time.

Because SE is unreliable, I have settled on PH over PE for two reasons:
1. PH allows you to track more than one process at a time, e.g., I can track concurrently, and in real-time, in separate windows side-by-side, the modules used by both Excel and Chrome.
2. PH is open-source through SourceForge.net.

A little more background:
I tested the programs in two scenarios:
1) The DLL remained loaded for a minute or more.
2) The DLL was quickly loaded and then unloaded. (Deactivating the sheet with the UDF's that called the DLL triggered the VBA "End" statement).

Both PH and PE indicated the DLL being loaded and unloaded as expected. SE failed to see the DLL at all, ever. Even when the DLL was loaded for only a fraction of a second, PH and PE showed the DLL loading and unloading by highlighting the DLL green and then red and then gone.

Specifics:
Windows 7
Excel 2007
DLL that was not caught by SE: Refprop.DLL (a fluid properties DLL from NIST that is loaded via VBA Declare statements and called using VBA User-Defined (worksheet) Functions)

by Collier on 20. June 2013 - 17:14  (108624)

please remove System explorer link
I just downloaded and it was packaged with programmes which i cannot now remove!!!

by Anupam on 20. June 2013 - 17:54  (108625)

I just installed it on my own computer, and there is nothing bundled with it. Are you sure it came from this software? I think it might have come from somewhere else.

by ploubert on 19. March 2013 - 14:11  (106386)

Just an update for the top pick (System Explorer) seems to have moved to http://systemexplorer.net/ the above links no longer work. ;-)

by Anupam on 19. March 2013 - 18:45  (106396)

Thanks a lot :)... now corrected.

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