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Introducing: Your Computer (Part 1)

Task Manager & DirectX Diagnostics

2/16/2024 | Bits & Bytes

If you consider how integral computers are to our modern way of life, it’s pretty amazing that so many people find them so daunting to interact with. Over the years, I’ve learned that many people share the same hesitation to explore what their computers can do because they’re afraid they’ll break something, or they’re afraid they’ll click something they’re not supposed to. If you’d place yourself in that group, don’t worry – you’re not alone! Computers are amazing things, but in my opinion they are needlessly complicated and obfuscate some of their most useful features. So, if you’re like me and you like learning new things, I hope this next series of Bits & Bytes articles will appeal to you, because we’re gonna introduce you to something you’ve already met: your computer.

Task Manager

One of the most useful features of Windows that many users are painfully unaware of is the Task Manager. You can access the Task Manager by pressing the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + Shift + Esc, or by typing “task manager” in the Windows search bar. Go ahead and pull it up now so you can see what it looks like.

Task Manager is like looking at an MRI scan of your computer that’s being updated every second. The default “Processes” tab lets you see every app (e.g. program) and process that’s currently running on your computer, as well as the percentage of computer resources being allotted to each. (Note: if you don’t see any tabs, press the arrow that says “More Details” to expand the tool to its full view). By looking at the values in each column, and by clicking the column header to sort by that column, you can easily determine which apps are taking the most CPU cycles or using the most memory.

Task Manager is an essential tool for troubleshooting computer slowdowns or program lockups. If a program is locked up or has become unresponsive, or if it’s taking up too many resources and causing your computer to drag, you can right-click it in the Task Manager window and select “End Task” to quit out of it directly. You can also right-click to kill any rogue processes associated with that program that may be hanging or causing problems. Note that some tasks are system-level processes that Windows needs in order to function properly, but Task Manager will warn you if you try to stop one of these, so don’t let any fears of breaking something stop you from exploring this tool!

Windows computers tend to have lots of extraneous programs running in the background, such as Skype, Microsoft Edge browser, and Microsoft OneDrive. Ending them via the Task Manager can help free up some of your computer’s resources, but annoyingly these types of programs may get reloaded again every time you restart your computer. Luckily, the Task Manager window has another useful tab labelled “Startup”.

On the “Startup” tab, you can view a list of all programs that your computer will load whenever it boots up again, as well as the impact they have on the startup procedure. If there are programs here that you don’t use or use infrequently, you can right-click them and select “Disable” to prevent them from being loaded on any subsequent startups. This can help improve the amount of time Windows takes to load fresh, especially if your computer isn’t equipped with a Solid State Drive.

DirectX Diagnostics

“What type of computer do you use?”

How would you answer that question? Would you be able to give the details of what’s running under the hood? Or would you shrug and say “It’s rectangular”?

If you’d answer the latter, then I’m pleased to introduce you to the DirectX Diagnostic Tool. Available on most Windows computers by default, you can view this tool by typing “dxdiag” in the Windows search bar.

The DirectX Diagnostic Tool is a great tool for quickly gathering information about your computer and its devices. The default “System” tab of the DirectX window provides a helpful summary of your computer’s essential specifications, information about your processor, the amount of RAM, what version of Windows is running, and more. The other available tabs show details regarding your graphics card(s) and your input devices such as mouse, keyboard or headphones. Everything you need to know about your computer’s tech specs is all in one place! And if you ever need to provide this information to someone else – say, while looking for technical support online – there’s a handy “Save All Information…” button at the bottom that will export a summary of this info to a text file.

Task Manager and the DirectX Diagnostic Tool are just a few of the hidden gems you’ll find on every modern Windows computer, but there’s a whole treasure trove of open secrets to discover. Stay tuned for the next article in this series to learn more!


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