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What to Do When Background Tasks Are Bogging Down Your PC

written by: J. Edward Casteele•edited by: Bill Fulks•updated: 5/13/2010

Background tasks can be very useful, preloading information that is needed by some of the programs on your PC. Too many background tasks can slow things down, however. Fortunately, it's easy to shut down the background tasks bogging down your PC if you need to.

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    Background Tasks

    Background tasks can be ended using the Task Manager. A number of Windows programs have background tasks that run without appearing in the Taskbar or having a noticeable presence on your computer. These tasks can be used to pre-load information for programs so that they will load faster or to monitor whether hardware components such as webcams are running. When too many of these tasks are running, however, you may notice a noticeable slowdown of your computer because your active programs are having to compete with these background tasks for resources. This is especially troublesome when these tasks are for programs or hardware components that you don't intend to use, meaning that they are using resources even though they aren't serving a purpose at the moment.

    When you have too many background tasks bogging down your PC, the best thing that you can do is to shut down the ones that you don't plan on using. This will free up the resources that they are using and will prevent them from using more resources later on in your computing session. To access the list of running tasks, right-click on your Windows Taskbar and select the "Task Manager" item from the context menu. This will open the Windows Task Manager, showing you all of the current programs and processes running on your PC.

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    Finding the Tasks Bogging Down Your PC

    The Task Manager shows all of the programs and processes that are currently running. In the Task Manager, click the "Processes" tab and wait for it to load a list of the tasks and processes that are currently running. Click the "Show Processes from All Users" box to see all of the processes that are running, even those that belong to other users signed in to your computer. You'll also notice that the bottom of the Task Manager displays the total CPU usage and physical memory usage of all of the programs that you have running.

    Browse through the list, reading the descriptions of the tasks that you find. Look for references to programs or hardware that you have installed but aren't actively running, as these will be the background tasks that are monitoring or pre-loading data but not actively serving a purpose. Make sure that you take note of who the user that is running the task, however; some of the tasks will be run by "SYSTEM", meaning that they are important tasks for Windows itself. If you aren't sure whether the background task you're considering closing is vital or not, perform a quick Internet search with your favorite search engine for the file's name... the results will tell you what program it's associated with and whether it will crash your system if it suddenly stops.

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    Shutting Down Tasks

    End a process to shut down its related program. When you find the background tasks that are bogging down your PC, click on each task to select it. Once the task's process has been selected, right-click it and choose the "End Process" option from the menu that appears. A warning will appear, asking if you are sure that you want to end the process. Make sure that the program is the one that you want to close and check online to make sure that it's safe to do so if you aren't sure, then click the "End Process" button to shut the background task down.

    Don't shut down the Task Manager immediately after ending the process for a background task. Some processes will automatically re-launch themselves, often using more resources in doing so than they were previously. If this happens, select the process again and choose "Go to Service(s)" from the right-click menu this time. You will be taken to the underlying service that is running the background task, and you can shut the service down by right-clicking it and choosing "Stop Service." As with processes, you should check to make sure that the service can be closed without crashing your computer; perform a quick Internet search for the service before shutting it down. Once stopped, the service will remain in the list on the "Services" tab so you can start it again later if you need to.