Step-by-Step: CPU Usage Meter Using Task Manager
November  29, 2003

Ever wonder how much CPU time is being used on your computer?  Want to know if your computer is idle or maybe maxed out crunching data?  Most people check if their computer is busy by looking at the hard disk LED and seeing if it is blinking like crazy.  Sometimes this works since the hard disk activity involves processor usage.  But many times, the opposite is not true, i.e. the CPU load does not always correlate with hard disk activity.

It would be cool to have a little meter on the screen telling you if the CPU is busy or not, wouldn't it?  Well there's an easy way to do this for computers running Windows 2000 or XP.  Windows 2000 and XP have a Task Manager (taskmgr.exe) which also functions as a CPU usage meter.  All we have to do is set it up so we can have the meter automatically start and hide itself in the system tray when Windows boots up.

I have the CPU usage meter setup on all my computers and it is very useful.  I can see if the computer is busy doing something or if it is hung (100% usage with no drop).  I can see how much processor power is required to play a MP3 or scan a photo.  It may not sound like much, but having a CPU usage meter allows me to be in tune with my computer.  Kinda like a tachometer on a car.  Seriously.

For you system freaks out there, yes, having taskmgr.exe monitoring your system all the time does require more CPU usage than if it were turned off, but the amount of CPU time it uses is so small that I'd doubt you'd even notice.

Let's get started!

Start --> Search --> For Files or Folders


Search for "taskmgr.exe".  Click "Search".  You'll see these results or something similar.


Right click on the "taskmgr" that is located in "C:\WINDOWS\system32".
Then choose "Send to" --> "Desktop (create shortcut)"


You'll now have "Shortcut to taskmgr" on your desktop.


Now using Windows Explorer, navigate to:

C:\Document and Settings\All Users\Start Menu\Programs\Startup

Drag the "Shortcut to taskmgr" icon from the desktop into this "Startup" directory


Right-click on the "Shortcut to taskmgr" icon and select "Properties". 

At the "Run" line, change the selection from "Normal window" to "Minimized".  Click "OK".


Now go navigate on the start menu:

Start --> Programs --> Start Up --> Shortcut to taskmgr.

Taskmgr will start


In the "Options" menu:

  • Uncheck "Always On Top"
  • Check "Minimize On Use"
  • Check "Hide When Minimized"


Now click on the minimize button of the task manager to hide it.  Don't click on the "X" which will close the program.  When you minimize the taskmgr, you will see a CPU meter in the system tray. 


Make sure there is not a "Windows Task Manager" button on the bottom of the screen on the toolbar.  If there is, then you need to make sure "Hide When Minimized" is checked.

Having the Task Manager in the system tray is very useful.  Besides viewing the CPU usage, you can get a lot of useful information from the Task Manager.

Let's take a look.

Double-click on the minimized Task Manager to maximize it.

Go to the "Applications" tab.  Here you see which applications are running.  If the program is fine, it will have a "Running" in the Status column.  However, if you have a hung program, it will say "Not Responding".  You can then simply click on the program and click "End Task" to kill the program.


Go to the "Processes" tab.  Here you see all the processes running on your computer.

This is a good place to see if your computer has spyware on it.  If you find a process that looks suspicious, a very easy way to check if it is spyware is to type the process name into Google and see what turns up.

Actually, I think the CPU column is actually more interesting.  You can see how much CPU time each process is using individually.  If your CPU meter stays maxed out at 100%, you can come here and see which process is causing the problem.


At the "Performance" tab you see the CPU and memory usage.  If you have 2 CPU's or a processor with HyperThreading enabled, you'll see two graphs in the "CPU Usage History".  It is also good to check how much free RAM you have.  If you're always maxed out, you should increase the amount of RAM you have.


The "Networking" tab shows the network utilization of your network card.  If  you have 2 network cards in your computer, you'll have 2 graphs.  It's kinda fun to see the graph change as you transfer data across the network.  Okay, I guess that's just me.

Now you know a little more about Task Manager and how to use it to see how much CPU time is being used on your computer.  It's always good to know more about your system.  Yeah, I know, it's nerdy, but hey..

Note: For some reason, this trick doesn't work on some of the computers I've tried it on.  For those computers, the cpu meter never appears in the system tray.  I don't know what causes this, but sometimes the meter just won't show.  But this is the rare exception.

Have fun!


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