Best Free Process Viewer

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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.

 

Rated Products

System Explorer  

This application has many useful tools to help keep your system under control


Our Rating: 
5
License: Free
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.
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Process Hacker  

A feature rich application to terminate pesky processes that you are not allowed to kill in the Windows Task Manager


Our Rating: 
4.5
License: Free (Open source)
Hidden Process Detection. Can forcibly terminate hooked processes. Ability to pause processes.
Some stability problems reported on Windows Vista.
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Process Explorer  

A solid choice for anyone looking for a little more than the Windows Task Manager offers


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free
Very stable. Good support.
Not a lot of features.
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AnVir Task Manager Free  

Offers a ton of features to monitor processes, services, startup programs, CPU, HDD and more.


Our Rating: 
3
License: Free (Limited features)
Ton of features. Detailed information on files and processes. Start-up manager.
Unorganized GUI. No support for free version. Performance issues.
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Auslogics Task Manager  

It has all basic attributes of a task manager and tells you if known processes are trustworthy


Our Rating: 
3
License: Free (Private/Educational use)
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.
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Editor

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

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Comments

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.

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

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

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)

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

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.

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

Thanks a lot :)... now corrected.