Stop background processes slowing you down

Sometimes the biggest drains on your system resources are things you don’t even realise are running. Robert Irvine explains how to detect and disable the hidden hogs

The simplest way to find out what’s happening in the background on your PC is through the Windows Task Manager. To launch this built-in tool, either right-click the taskbar and select Start Task Manager or press Ctrl+Shift+Esc on your keyboard. Click the Processes tab for an overview of everything that’s running on your system, then click the Memory column to sort entries according to the amount of memory they’re using. To stop a specific resource hog, click its name in the list (the Description column tells you which program is responsible, so you don’t close anything important), then click the End Process button.

Although Task Manager is a useful tool, especially the more advanced version in Windows 8+, you can save yourself the hassle of terminating troublesome processes manually by installing the excellent Process Lasso (bitsum.com). The latest version of this free system tool offers a useful feature called SmartTrim, which automatically releases memory from programs that don’t require it. You can decide when SmartTrim should terminate processes by specifying a minimum level for processor use in Options, ‘SmartTrim settings’.Equally useful is Process Piglet (bit.ly/piglet375), which monitors the memory usage of running processes and alerts you if something suddenly starts consuming too much RAM (called “pigging out”). You can then forcibly restart or terminate the resource hog. If you find you are seeing too many alerts, you can add certain processes to an exclusion list.The System Configuration tool is the obvious place to disable programs from running on startup – just press Windows key+R, type msconf ig, then press Enter and click the Startup tab. If you want more control over which services run alongside Windows, many of which do so without your knowledge, download Easy Services Optimizer (bit.ly/easy375). This brilliant free tool is much simpler to use than Microsoft’s own Autoruns and usefully offers three settings – Safe, Tweaked and Extreme – so you don’t accidentally disable services you might later need. There’s also a Default button that instantly restores your PC’s settings if anything goes wrong. You can quickly review all services that are currently running; terminate them by clicking the ‘Stop selected service’ button; and change their start-up type by choosing ‘Edit selected service’. The latter option explains what the service does, and lets you select automatic, manual or disabled startup, as required.When you’re focusing on blasting zombies or constructing fantasy worlds, the last thing you need is your PC slowing you down or disrupting what you’re doing. Fortunately, you can prevent interruptions, freezes and crashes by switching your system to gaming mode, which shuts down unnecessary background processes to squeeze more power from your processor. Windows doesn’t yet offer its own gaming mode, but lots of other programs do, including Process Lasso (see our first tip). Just go to Main, ‘Gaming mode enabled’, then Options, ‘Gaming mode settings’ to activate the feature, which automatically detects when you start playing a game and adjusts memory usage accordingly.Even better is Game Fire from Smart PC Utilities (bit.ly/gamefire375), which turns your PC into a gaming machine by optimising your processor and memory for maximum performance. This includes disabling unnecessary programs and services; defragging system memory to free up resources; and suspending non-urgent scheduled tasks (such as security updates) so they don’t disturb your game. You can use the Game Advisor tool to perform specific tweaks based on Game Fire’s recommendations, for example to disable network throttling, and set up a Gaming Profile to always apply the same settings and end the same processes when you click the button to switch to Gaming Mode.The Search Indexing tool in Windows catalogues all your files and folders so you can find them more quickly, but it also uses valuable system resources. You can speed up your PC by disabling indexing, although obviously this will make searches slower and less thorough. Press the Windows key+R, type services.msc and press Enter. When the Services box opens, scroll down to the entry for Windows Search, right-click it and choose Properties. On the General tab, click the drop-down ‘Startup type’ menu and choose Disabled. Click OK and restart your PC to confirm the change.Alternatively, if you’d rather not completely disable Windows search indexing, you can simply reduce the number of files that are indexed. Go into the Control Panel, search for Indexing Options and click the Advanced button. Click the File Types tab and deselect any entries that you’re sure you’ll never need to find (you can select them again in future if you need to). For example, there’s not much point in indexing XML files unless you’re a web designer. You can also tell Windows to only index the properties of files (names, sizes, dates and other attributes) and not their contents, though this means you can’t search your documents and emails for specific words and phrases.Chrome and Firefox tabs continue to use resources in the background, even when you’re not viewing them, so if you have lots of tabs open, your browser’s memory usage will go through the roof. One solution is to install OneTab (www.one-tab.com), an ingenious add-on for Chrome and Firefox that claims to reduce memory use by up to 95 per cent. It does so by converting all your tabs into a list on a single tab, which frees up RAM and makes tabs easier to manage. You can then click to reopen pages individually or restore them all in one go.Another good option is rather grandly named The Great Suspender (bit.ly/suspend375). It reduces Chrome’s memory usage by letting you ‘suspend’ idle tabs to release resources for the benefit of other programs and processes. The add-on retains tab titles so you can reload them with a single click, and also lets you suspend tabs automatically after a set time, while always keeping essential ones active. Suspend Tab (bit.ly/suspendtab375) does a similar job in Firefox.Google’s browser opens a new ‘process’ for each open tab and active extension, which places a big strain on system memory.The more files you store in Dropbox, the more memory it consumes, so it’s worth exiting the service until you need it.Although Apple’s media software isn’t as bloated as it used to be, it’s still a massive memory hog, even when you’re not playing anything.It’s essential to keep your antivirus software running at all times, but AVG is often cited as using more resources than it should.The popular ad blocker has become notorious for its excess memory usage, especially in Firefox, and is currently working on a fix.

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