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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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 Anonymous on 28. April 2008 - 2:54  (287)

what about process monitor?

by fabrizio on 30. April 2008 - 7:11  (302)

Can you please be more specific, i.e. giving me the web address?

Because I know at least two Process Monitor, the one from SysInternals and the one from G-Lock Software, but I'm sure there are more software with that name

Thank you

by Anonymous on 15. May 2008 - 0:40  (501)

Not the same anonymous guy from above but I was just passing by and know the program. ;-)

http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/bb896645.aspx?PHPSESSID=...

by Anonymous on 15. May 2008 - 7:17  (512)

The url you posted refer to the Process Monitor by Sysinternals (now Microsoft Sysinternals). That Process Monitor is not included because the function referred by this category is better suited for Process Explorer, even this by Sysinternals.

Bye

by Anonymous on 27. May 2008 - 13:41  (1225)

How do the following compare to the above please in your Process Viewer category. They are not free but sometimes even you mention that a commercial version (File Manager) is the way to go if you want the very best.

Security Task Manager 1.7f
http://www.download.com/Security-Task-Manager/3000-2094_4-10246545.html?...

Advanced Task Manager 4
http://www.download.com/Advanced-Task-Manager/3000-2094_4-10073849.html?...

by fabrizio on 29. May 2008 - 9:28  (1327)

As you wrote, freeware is not always the best solution. But remember that the main reason in this site there is only freeware is that it is "A Kind of WikiPedia for Freeware".

Anyway in the case of this specific category I think that for the purpose of "Process Viewing" - in terms of raw potential - no one can beat Sysinternals tool.

Better software, like the two commercial products you mentioned, are better becaus they add functionalities behind the process viewing.

A perfect example is Security Task Manager that include a sort of db of potentially dangerous processes.

To say in few words, in this category and similars there is nothing you couldn't do with one or more freeware tools. The fee you paid for a shareware product is only for more eae of use and support. You have to decide if the fee - for you - is worth it.

Bye

by Anonymous on 11. June 2008 - 6:24  (1912)

Process Explorer does not run properly on windows Me

by fabrizio on 11. June 2008 - 7:59  (1918)

Can you please elaborate? What exactly are the problems that you have with ME?

by Anonymous on 25. June 2008 - 13:06  (3074)

Sorry to day, but WinME is the worst piece of crap that ever came out of Micro$oft ... my 5 cent advice : change your OS.

by mikedutch (not verified) on 4. July 2008 - 14:30  (3558)

SystemExplorer is my favorite and it comes in a portable version.

Note that Process Explorer DOES show processes in a tree as well as a list.

by Anonymous on 8. July 2008 - 7:30  (3787)

Can you give me the url of SystemExplorer in order to evaluate it?

And thank you, I'll check again Process Explorer.

Bye

p.s. Sorry, I forgot to log in :-)

by JonathanT on 8. July 2008 - 7:44  (3788)
by Anonymous on 4. August 2008 - 23:01  (5557)

Once trying to get the Tree view (ctrl-T), it stops working in vista, not stable for vista
Processexp is very stable and can serve as real time monitoring on a machine with enough memory. The Procexp itself can consume 22M, nearly 3 as much as jetico 1 firewall used.

by jmaloney on 8. August 2008 - 6:12  (5792)

Fabrizio,

I can't get Process Explorer to run on Windows 98 SE. According to this page
http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/bb896653.aspx
"Process Explorer works on Windows 2000 SP4 Rollup 1 or above."

Similarly the SnapFiles page it's listed on
http://www.snapfiles.com/Freeware/system/fwmonitor.html
shows only 2000/XP/Vista.

Jon

by fabrizio on 10. August 2008 - 13:25  (5890)

Thank you for the errata :-)

bye

by yannlh on 13. August 2008 - 20:26  (6054)

AnVir Task Manager free is better than the two programs proposed here imho, and equally free. Well, I may be biased since it's the one I use and did not like much any of the two you are proposing in comparison. What do you think?

by Anonymous on 17. August 2008 - 12:22  (6233)

Fabrizio and all --

I just came across another FREE utility that I like a lot already. It is ProcessQuickLink from UniBlue. You can get it at http://www.processlibrary.com/quicklink/ .

It seems this utility adds to you TASK MANAGER process pane a description of each running process, plus a link beside each running process, such that when you click on the link it takes you to their website for a full description of that process.

Well, "Full Description" may be a bit generous. It only tells you, for example, things like "This process is not essential, but it is not recommended that you terminate this process unless it is causing problems." HUH? What good is THAT? What we NEED to know is what will happen if we DO terminate the process!? WHY is it "not recommended" that we terminate it?

Uniblue is a commercial site, and they are selling things, so it's to be expected thy would give only a limited product for free. Even so, it IS free, and it's not bad.

David in Mississippi

by kdyer on 17. August 2008 - 15:09  (6237)

David in Mississippi,

ProcessQuickLink seems OK, but must run in the System Tray as a background task - which I don't like unless I was to invoke the process-application. Just in an idle state, it is chewing up about 5MB of memory on a laptop with 512MB - sure if there was more memory it would not be a big deal. I think I am going back to Process Explorer as it much more feature rich.

Process Explorer, you can:
> Target an application
> Customize the column sets - memory, cpu, handle, etc.
> Search
> Replace Windows Task Manager
> Kill the process tree - in other words, kill the parent application
> Show CPU or Memory Usage per process

I think I remember you can set where you search for exe files, etc.

Thanks,

Kent

by fabrizio on 19. August 2008 - 8:21  (6287)

I'll test it, because I don't know it well.
But you don't have to be biased, in my opinion. In this review I try to list what - in my opinion - are the choices that can be the best for most of the reader. But I'm the first to have in other categories some preferred software that it isn't listed and and the some time don't like the listed ones. :-)

Bye

by yannlh on 10. September 2008 - 20:54  (7597)

What about Anvir Task Manager Free? It definitely should be mentioned here.

by fabrizio on 11. September 2008 - 7:08  (7615)

I'm actually using it in order to review it.

bye

by Anonymous on 18. October 2008 - 0:08  (9271)

Advanced Process Termination
http://www.diamondcs.com.au/advancedseries/apt.php
It's a good process viewer and, may be, the best process termination tool (exept very special ones, such as IseSword and Rootkit Unhooker).

Some other very good process viewing and termination software:
Ekinx 3.0
http://www.toocharger.com/fiches/logiciels/ekinx/9153.htm
ProcX
http://www.ghostsecurity.com/procx/

by Anonymous on 19. October 2008 - 17:57  (9335)

Hello everyone,

I just found out about this one:

MKN TaskExplorer 5.0 (http://www.mkn-software.de/en/software/desktop/taskexplorer/ )

I haven't had a chance to try it but it looks interesting.

Regards,

Bob N.

by fabrizio on 20. October 2008 - 6:59  (9359)

Thank you, I'll look at them.

by fabrizio on 20. October 2008 - 6:59  (9360)

I'll try it!

by Anonymous on 5. December 2008 - 17:32  (11499)
by fabrizio on 7. December 2008 - 18:18  (11589)

I'll check it, thank you.

by Anonymous on 20. December 2008 - 14:17  (12170)

I use the "Extended Task Manager"

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

by Anonymous on 3. February 2009 - 19:31  (15240)

here's one you could try and I don't think its been mentioned yet. its pretty small (exe only) and is pretty effective at getting things to shut down (scroll down the page to DTaskManager):-

http://dimio.altervista.org/eng/

by fabrizio on 3. February 2009 - 20:02  (15244)

I know Dimio's tools (expecially DSynchronize), I've not inluded his tool because Process Explorer beat it in functionality for the experienced user, and for the average user the poor UI adds complexity.

But it is only my opinion :-)

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