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.

 
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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/
4.2.2.
1.96 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

v4.2.2 released 16 May, 2013

Process Hacker
4.5
 
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.
2.30 (r5267)
2.4 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

v2.30r5267 released 14 January, 2013

Process Explorer
3.5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Very stable. Good support.
Not a lot of features.
15.31
1.15 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows All

v15.31 released 04 June, 2013

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.
?
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
Auslogics Task Manager
2.5
 
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.
2.2.1.0
4.98 MB
Unrestricted freeware
A portable version of this product is available from the developer.
Windows 7/Vista/XP

Warning: Downloads from Cnet (Download.com) now require the use of a proprietary installer.
v2.2.1.0 released 25 February, 2012
View the changelog here

 
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Tags

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

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Comments

by tonyh (not verified) on 24. August 2010 - 8:24  (56619)

Ah, now I get it.
I was not concentrating last night. In fact the download links ARE there on the download page , it's just that they're not wonderfully clear and they are completely dwarfed by large buttons redirecting you to other sites.
I always regard this kind of site as suspect and wonder how many people are misdirected to download something they don't want. I tend to avoid them.
I downloaded ProcessHacker instead.

[Moderator's Note : Mention of redirected site removed, as the site name is unnecessary.]

by mikecorbeil on 18. September 2010 - 18:10  (58071)

SE 2.3.6 is available, btw.

I just downloaded this new version of System Explorer released Sept. 16th by using the Product Homepage option in the Help menu of SE and this loaded systemexplorer.net, where I only saw SE and nothing about other applications. So it seems that only the systemexplorer.mistergroup site is not only for SE.

by mikecorbeil on 18. September 2010 - 18:17  (58072)

If mostly all Process Priority provides for functionality is being able to view active processes or processes loaded in memory and their priority, then System Explorer provides a LOT more functionality and is to be able to see what priority each selected process has. A user of SE simply needs to click on a process in the System | Processes view to select the process, right-click, and then select the Process Priority option, which opens a list of priority levels, including which priority is assigned to the selected process.

by mikecorbeil on 18. September 2010 - 19:16  (58075)

Here's review on System Explorer and it includes images of SE in use.

"Monitor What’s Really Going On With Your PC With System Explorer"

by Ryan Dube, Aug. 13th, 2010

www.makeuseof.com/tag/monitor-pc-system-explorer

It's not a thorough review and is for SE v2.2.5.3087, while v2.3.6 was released Sept. 16th, two days ago. It's a fair enough review, but SE provides considerably more than covered in the above review.

There might be a lacking or limited feature or two, but SE provides plenty. One feature I'd like the app. to provide is the ability for a user to add more virus checking websites to the list of those that come with SE, which uses VirusTotal and Jotti; unless that's changed with SE v2.3.x. I'd like to add virscan.org, f.e.

Another feature that might be good is to permit users to set delays for Windows start-ups, instead of only being able to view and disable, as well as delete, them. SE provides the latter functionality, but apparently not the ability to set start-up delays.

That's not a problem, for I use WinPatrol and it permits setting start-up delays of 10, 20, and 30 seconds; and I'd continue to use WinPatrol anyway. But all apps or tools that permit managing Windows start-ups should also include the ability to set delays on individual or selected start-ups.

Sort of like SE permits uploading a process shown in SE's process viewer(s) (for Tasks, Processes, Modules (DLLs), Services, Drivers, Connections, Windows, Opened Files, Startups, MS IE add-ons, et cetera) to VirusTotal and Jotti, a user who wants to know what a particular process, .exe or .dll, f.e., is can use SE's File Info look-up feature. SE permits checking at SystemExplorer.com, ProcessLibrary.com, and to do a Google search. The File Info look-up option is in the right-click menu when a user right-clicks on a process or file.

But there's still a lot more that SE provides for functionality. A person really needs to install and run it, and then go through all of the menus and their options to be able to see for themselves everything SE provides.

by IronPlatypus on 30. September 2010 - 20:21  (58728)

Process Hacker has gone through some changes since its review here. It's quicker and lighter than before, it does not require the .NET framework, and wj32 is expanding the features of Process Hacker by means of plugins. One such plugin adds the ability to upload files to Virustotal. If you download the latest version (2.6 as of this writing) and look at the changelog, you can see all the fixes and additions (and plugins) that have been made since the 1.x branch.

The one downside that I see is that there is no installer, so there is a little bit of manual copy/paste needed to set up the program folder.

by TwistydMorticia (not verified) on 4. December 2010 - 13:57  (62025)

I love Process Hacker but I am confused as to why you have put that is needs the .NET framework?

If you go to the site it says:

".NET Framework is NOT required."

I run windows xp and do not have .NET framework installed and it works perfectly!

Thanks for the list though, I come here regularly for recommendations. Maybe I should join!

by Jojo Yee on 5. December 2010 - 1:13  (62043)

Thanks for pointing this out TwistydMorticia. It's now updated. You're welcome to join us and give us more feedback :)

by Dragonscribe on 31. March 2011 - 20:31  (69192)

No argument with your comments on System Explorer, but their website is very frustrating. The last two updates I literally have not been able to figure out where to download the updates. There are "Download," "Download Here" and download Now" buttons. 3 and 4 to a page in red, blue and green. Trouble is none of them all of them are for downloading some other software.

by J_L on 19. April 2011 - 23:28  (70565)

Process Explorer is not for average users lol. They don't even understand task manager.

The no updates for a year part is also false. The last update was in March 15, 2011.

by Jaikrishna on 22. April 2011 - 12:58  (70694)

Tried both System Explorer and Process Hacker. Found both of them unique in certain aspects.
But if only Process managing is considered, I find Process Hacker as the superior. I think it is also open source and so it will develop a lot in future.

btw, I clicked the Process Hacker download link and it doesn't seem to give the portable version. This link gives access to portable, install and also source code versions - http://sourceforge.net/projects/processhacker/files/processhacker2/

by MCDMOU (not verified) on 21. May 2011 - 23:32  (72465)

How about this one?

http://yaprocmon.sourceforge.net/

Nothing new in the of way development though since 2009. A real pity.

by Anom (not verified) on 21. June 2011 - 18:51  (74111)

It confounds me how high System Explorer is on the list! ...Sure has a lot of functions built into it, but most of it is unrelated to actual 'Process management'.

Real men use Process Explorer/Process Hacker. (period)

by MidnightCowboy on 21. June 2011 - 20:21  (74117)

... and what would you recommend for ladies?

by Mike C on 21. June 2011 - 22:55  (74128)

what a great comeback !

by syntax_error on 21. June 2011 - 23:51  (74130)

... and what about us men that the ladies consider unreal!

by George.J on 16. August 2011 - 7:26  (77725)
by Rocky (not verified) on 29. August 2011 - 12:27  (78555)

I have tested all the above top 3 applications. The System Explorer as the name suggest is more about more information from the system apart from the Processes. I really found tough fight between the Process Explorer and Process Hacker. I often used process hacker as it claimed to detect the Hidden process, i was not able to find any Hidden process using the process explorer, the GMER/Tizer was able find the hidden processes for me. I have again switched back to latest version of Process Explorer, but since Process Hacker is a Open source, i am expecting much better imporvements in it, hopefully when it adds the rootkit detection technology, the Process Hacker will be THE BEST!

by deetailed on 2. October 2011 - 13:15  (80740)

Somewhere around version 3, System Explorer has become bloated and uses more memory (around 20MB, with VM size up to 60MB). As I'm on an old laptop with just 512MB RAM, that's unacceptable. Rolling back to an old version in the mean time.

by so bad ...... (not verified) on 30. October 2011 - 16:00  (82412)

Process explorer and Process hacker are the best.
your first choice have nothing compare to them.
no threads no ... no ....
very bad article.

by Australia (not verified) on 26. December 2011 - 1:21  (85987)

Downloaded System Explorer ...
Nice program without too much colour and information overload on-screen - which I prefer
Note - this program, even the portable version, connects to the internet to complete 'an installation' without any prior warning. A little creepy :(
But I chose and like the program for its simplicity, a few useful extra features over Task Manager - including File information and scanning Registry snapshots.
But I would prefer if this program didnt "phone home", why on earth does the program need to connect to the internet to install if it is portable !!!!

by Dragaan (not verified) on 13. January 2012 - 19:47  (87137)

I have to agree... Process Explorer has always been the first program I install on Windows when I build a computer, re-install the OS, or fix a computer. Well, that is until I discovered Process Hacker. My #1 free program. The only program that I will always allow to run each time I log in to windows.

by Dragaan (not verified) on 13. January 2012 - 19:48  (87138)

It could have something to do with uploading files to VirusTotal, as the author states in the review.

by FWHunter (not verified) on 22. February 2012 - 0:36  (89214)

Still love the good old autoruns. Despite a bit cluttered tabbed interface for me the most comprehensive.
http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/bb963902

by Rocky (not verified) on 30. May 2012 - 14:35  (94188)

Guys, we still have the old 3 stuff listed in here, Has anyone tried the Kill Switch from Comodo Cleaning Essentials, This can be a great pack for Security purpose from the process viewers point of view.

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.

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 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 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

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