The Windows Task Manager is one of the very useful tools included in all versions of Windows, like Regedit and Command Prompt etc. When an application crashes or freezes and you can’t even close it, you can use the Task Manager to close the application end the process. It’s also used extensively by users to monitor and diagnose when programs are consuming too much memory or degrading the computers performance because by eating up all the CPU cycles.
Task Manager can also help tell you if there are suspicious programs running in the background which shouldn’t be there. Modern malware will often try to disable Task Manager from running because it’s such an effective and easy way of killing the malicious process. Although the standard Windows Task Manager is an effective tool, it sometimes doesn’t provide you with enough information or power to monitor and kill tasks effectively, there are third party task manager tools around that do though.
The useful thing about the Windows Task Manager is the convenience in launching it because there are several different methods you can use to open it up:
1. Right click the taskbar and select Task Manager.
2. Simultaneously press CTRL + SHIFT + ESC
3. Simultaneously press CTRL + ALT + DEL to bring up Windows Security and click Task Manager
4. Simply go to Run or Search and type taskmgr
Have you ever wondered whether it’s possible to use the above methods to launch a third party Task Manager program instead of the default Windows one? Well, in fact it is possible and a lot easier than you probably thought. Many of the third party replacement tools around today have the ability to replace the Windows Task Manager and all the ways you open it. Here are 7 third party task managers that you can use to replace the default Windows Task Manager. All have a built in function to replace Windows Task Manager either from a menu or options window.
1. Process Explorer
Sysinternals Process Explorer is perhaps the most well known Task Manager replacement around. What makes Process Explorer so popular is the sheer amount of information it gives you about a process while still being quite easy to use. You get a highly configurable color coded display to make things easier to read and there are literally hundreds of different columns that can be shown in the main window. Several monitoring graphs are on hand to show things likes CPU, memory, disk, network and GPU activity.
To terminate a process simply right click and select Kill Process or press the Del key, you can also suspend/resume and restart, while the search online option will open a Google search for the process name. Double click the entry to get a Properties window full of information about most aspects of what the process is doing with its open threads, network connections, security details, performance activity etc.
An optional lower pane can also be opened which will show what DLL files and handles are currently locking the the process and can be closed to help release it. While Process Explorer might not have the more advanced task killing functions of some other tools, it does often have enough for most users needs while being light on resources, portable and constantly updated. The replace Task Manager function is in the Options menu.
2. AnVir Task Manager Free
The free version of Anvir Task Manager has a few features missing compared to the shareware versions such as blocking processes, running programs as services, saving priorities and temperature/SSD monitoring. It’s still quite a feature rich utility though and has a number of useful options including extensive views and control over Startup items, a comprehensive system tweaking tool and even the ability to create a HijackThis log file which you can upload to one of the HJT online log file analyzers.
A process can be killed, restarted or suspended with additional options to free up its memory, search for its reference in Google or check online at VirusTotal. Double clicking on a process will bring up the detailed information view which gives you a quick security assessment and general process details, dll modules and files opened by the program, process performance for CPU, memory, disk and network activity and all open network connections and drivers.
The Services tab can be used to monitor, start, stop, delete and change the startup type of a service while the log window will record all process driven events. Hidden processes can be shown from the View menu. Watch out for adware in the installer version and also some ads for Uniblue software in the Options menu. The replace Task Manager setting is in Tools -> Options -> Properties.
Giveaway Note: Back in 2012, Raymond.cc hosted an exclusive giveaway for the Standard version of Anvir Task Manager 6.5.0 worth $29.95. Although there is no free update support anymore, the program still works perfectly fine and you get the added features in the standard version such as memory optimizer, descriptions for autoruns and services, and hardware monitoring functions. Simply download version 6.5.0 of Anvir Task Manager Standard and install it, watch out for the adware. Make sure to turn off check for updates as they aren’t free anymore, and register the program with the below details from the Help menu.
3. System Explorer
Users could be forgiven for thinking System Explorer was a web browser on first run because of its orange Firefox menu button and Chrome like tabs. Although it doesn’t have the more advanced options to end tasks that some other tools do, System Explorer is a much more complete all round process and system monitoring and management utility. It also contains a basic security scanner that can compare the running processes to an online database of over 17 million known entries and will offer to scan open processes on first run.
The process management tab has the standard options to end, suspend or restart a task with the option of sending it to VirusTotal or Jotti for a virus scan and searching Google or the online database. You can also set the processor core affinity and the process priority but with the added ability of making each setting permanent for every time the process is running. There’s also a “Processes memory usage cleanup” option in Menu -> System Utilities which drops the in use memory for all running processes.
The real power behind System Explorer is the huge amount of tabs you can display which can be added using add tab button. In addition to the Tasks, Processes and Performance tabs, you also get process/network/event/file history logging, dll modules, network connection/adapter monitoring, opened windows/files, Autoruns, Drivers and Services monitoring/control, WMI browser, before and after snapshots for files and registry, software uninstaller, Users, system security details and additional system information. Portable and installer versions are available and the replace Task Manager setting is in General Options.
4. Process Hacker
Process Hacker is similar to Process Explorer in many ways, but also has several useful functions that go that little bit further to help analyze and remove troublesome processes. The process list is color coordinated and there’s a Service tab with advanced information available with the ability to start, stop and restart services. The Network tab also has some colors to represent opened and closed connections while the Disk tab can tell you exactly what tasks are writing to and reading from the hard drive in real time.
There’s a dedicated window to find out which handles or DLL’s are attached to any process with the aim of closing any handles locking the file. On a simple level processes can be terminated, suspended, resumed or restarted or there are more advanced options to find out more about the process such as GDI handles and even the ability to inject a DLL into the process or reduce the Working set which drops its used memory to almost nothing. The Miscellaneous context sub menu also has the Terminator option which can throw just about every trick Process Hacker knows at the task to try and kill it.
Other useful options include sending the executable to VirusTotal, Jotti or Comodo for analysis, saving selected process priorities so the process priority will adhere to the custom level, a Windows Service creator, hidden process scanner, file signature verifier and an option to close all sandboxed processes. The option to replace Windows Task Manager is a bit hidden away in Hacker -> Options -> Advanced tab.
5. Yet Another (remote) Process Monitor (YAPM)
YAPM goes with the Micro Office ribbon style interface and isn’t just a task manager tool but more of a complete all round task monitoring, management and analysis tool with a ton of features. The program also boasts remote monitoring and shutdown features using WMI or a remote YAPM server. For support purposes there’s also a snapshot option which makes a complete record of everything in the program that can be viewed at a later time by more experienced users.
YAPM has some advanced task killing methods which can be optionally ticked using the “Kill task by method” option in the context menu. These include terminating threads, closing handles and windows or everything at once for stubborn or locked processes. There’s also options to search the web for a process, view its dependencies and also reduce its working set which drastically drops the used memory of the process. YAPM also has a separate hidden process viewer accessible by clicking on the green shield in the quick access toolbar.
There’s still a large amount of other functions available in the program including a TCP/UDP network monitor and control tab, Services information and control, advanced file information, a search facility and a digital signature checker. A powerful option is the Windows Service creator which allows you to make a service from a local or remote executable file. The .NET Framework v2 is required with portable and installer versions available.
6. Free Extended Task Manager
Free Extended Task Manager is as you might expect pretty much the same as the built in Task Manager but with a few more options added in to make it more useful. For example, the Ports tab will show the open network connections on the system so you can see what’s accessing the network, the Performance tab adds a disk activity meter so you can see what processes are reading/writing, and the Summary tab will basically merge what’s in the Application and Performance tabs to give system activity information at a glance.
In the Processes tab there are options to filter out system or current user processes and each task can be ended or frozen and resumed with the added context menu entry of searching Google for the name of the process. Another interesting right click option is the “Show locked files” which can display a list of all the files that have a lock on the process. There’s a basic function to release the handle on the file, sort of like a primitive Unlocker type ability. Replacing Windows Task Manager is in the Options menu.
Free Extended Task Manager hasn’t been updated since 2008 and has a bug that means it is unlikely to run on a Windows 7 system without changing to Vista compatibility mode, after that it works fine. Go to C:\Program Files\Free Extended Task Manager\Extensions\TaskManager. Right click on ExtensionsTaskManager32.exe -> Properties -> Compatibility, check the box to run in compatibility mode and select Vista from the drop down. It’s also recommended to do the same with ExtensionsFindFileLocks32.exe.
If you’re looking for a no frills task management tool without the fancy colors or unneeded functions, then DTaskManager is a very useful program to have around. In looks and layout, it isn’t that far away from Windows task Manager and is light weight, only a 150K single executable, and has a number of extra functions that could prove useful, one of which is the ability to select and kill multiple processes with the aid of Shift or Ctrl clicking.
A process can be terminated four different ways using the standard End or Quit commands, or for more stubborn programs you can force quit or even force quit while trying to bypass process permissions and protections. You can also suspend and resume tasks to temporarily free up the CPU, and a rather neat function in the Processes context menu is a “Trim RAM usage” command which behaves rather like the CleanMem utility and vastly reduces the used memory for selected or all running process.
In addition to the Applications, Processes, Network and Performance tabs, DTaskManager also has an opened TCP/IP network ports tab, and the User/Kernel Module tabs allow you to view which files are being run inside the kernel space. There’s also a function to auto lower all non system process to idle and an undocumented auto priority function in the Tools menu. Although updated in 2012, DTaskManager has a few issues such as an “error 5” popup on some systems and the Path column seems to not always show correctly. The Setting to switch default task managers is via a sub menu in the Options menu.
If Your Favored Tool Can’t Replace Task Manager Automatically
Most of the more popular task manager programs have some sort of option to replace the Windows one, but what if you have a program you like to use that can’t do it? Thankfully, most of the tools above simply edit a registry key which launches them instead of taskmgr.exe when you press the shortcut keys, so you can also launch other useful task management programs such as Auslogics Task Manager, Bill2’s Process Manager, SterJo Task Manager or Daphne if you want to instead.
You can change the setting by editing your registry. Go to Start -> Run and type regedit. Browse to the following location:
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT \CurrentVersion\Image File Execution Options\taskmgr.exe
Right click on taskmgr.exe and select New -> String Value. Name the new string value Debugger. Double click on the Debugger entry and enter the path to your third party task manager program.
Windows will now launch your favorite third party task manager whenever you hit Ctrl+Shift+Esc or right click on the Task Bar etc. If you don’t want to modify your Windows default Task Manager, but want to run your favorite third party task manager software using a combination of keys, then you can set a “Shortcut Key” on the program’s shortcut. Simply right click at the program’s shortcut and select Properties.