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Windows Task Manager auto-started as an effective CPU monitor in your system tray

Task Manager special collapsed overview mode, obtained by click on 'Performance" tab, then double-clicking on 'CPU' icon in left columnmouse-over minimized Task Manager, and it'll pop-up CPU, Memory, Disk, and Network utilization
Overview:
You can use Windows Task Manager as an effective CPU monitor left running in the system tray as a notification icon. It’s light on system resources, and safe to leave running full-time. Discreetly shows you how busy your system is, at-a-glance. Moving your mouse cursor over the icon provides a surprisingly handy pop-up view of CPU, Memory, Disk, and Network utilization, seen at right.

This article will walk you through the exact process of getting Task Manager to start with Windows, automatically. So even if you reboot, you can count on this little system tray icon being there for you. The amount of color in the grey rectangle indicates CPU load, at-a-glance. Always visible when working at your desktop. Easy to locate when you double-click it, say, when you wish to bring up the Task Manager application for quickly killing a misbehaving app, for example. Also avoids the need to remember the Ctrl+Shift+Esc keyboard shortcut. Do remember to minimize (not close) Task Manager after using it, so it’ll tuck itself right back down into your system tray, ready for the next time, without cluttering your taskbar.

This guide was developed with Windows 8′s greatly improved built-in Task Manager in mind, but you can get much of the same CPU monitoring functionality all the way back to Windows XP. I’ve been using this handy auto-start technique for a decade, on hundreds of physical and virtual Windows systems. Figured it’s about time I document it, step-by-step. So what better place to do so than right here on Dan Stolt’s IT Pro Guru Blog? Text, video, and screenshot versions of the same procedure all appear below. Simply pick your favorite, give it a shot, then let us know how it goes by commenting at the end. Enjoy!

Step-by-step text:

    1. Be sure file extensions are visible
      1. open ‘Windows Explorer’ using Win+E keys, click on ‘View’ menu, ‘Options’
      2. click ‘View’ tab, uncheck ‘Hide extensions for known file types’, click ‘OK’ button
    2. Create a folder named C:\command
      1. open ‘Windows Explorer’ by typing Win+E
      2. right-click on your ‘C:’ drive
      3. choose ‘New’, ‘Folder’
      4. type ‘command’ then press your ‘Enter’ key (without the quotes)
    3. Create a batch file called StartTaskManager.cmd
      1. left-single-click on the ‘command’ folder you just created
      2. right-click on the empty ‘command’ folder, choose ‘New’, ‘Text Document’
      3. type ‘StartTaskManager.cmd’ (without the quotes), then press your ‘Enter’ key
      4. when asked ‘Are you sure you want to change it?’ click the ‘Yes’ button to confirm
      5. copy the following 2 lines of text into your clipboard by highlighting, then Ctrl+C
        start /min taskmgr.exe
        exit
      6. right-click on ‘StartTaskManager.cmd’, choose Edit
      7. paste the contents of your clipboard into your plain text editor by typing Ctrl+V
      8. close your plain text editor, which by default for most systems is Notepad
      9. when prompted about wanting to save changes, click the ‘Save’ button
    4. Create a shortcut and edit its properties to start minimized, making it more discreet at startup
      1. right-click and hold ‘StartTaskManager.cmd’ to drag it to your Desktop
      2. let go of mouse button
      3. a menu pops up, choose ‘Create shortcuts here’
      4. right-click on the new shortcut, select ‘Properties’
      5. in the Run option drop down menu, choose ‘Minimized’, then click the ‘OK’ button
    5. Move this customized shortcut to your Startup folder
      1. copy the following 1 line of text into your clipboard by highlighting, then Ctrl+C
        Shell:Common Startup
      2. press ‘Win+R’ to bring up the Run dialogue
      3. press ‘Ctrl+V’ then press your ‘Enter’ key, which opens your ‘Startup’ folder, the special folder where everything in it is automatically launched shortly after you reboot, login, and begin to see your desktop
      4. right-click and hold ‘StartTaskManager.cmd’ to drag it to your ‘Startup’ folder, choose ‘Move here’
    6. Tweak Task Manager settings to your liking
      1. double-click ‘StartTaskManager.cmd – Shortcut’ in your Startup folder, which starts ‘Task Manager’
      2. double-click ‘Task Manager’ in your system tray, which is the right-most section of your taskbar, near the click
      3. click ‘More details’
      4. click ‘Options’ then turn on all 3 checkboxes for ‘Always on top’, ‘Minimize on use’, and ‘Hide when minimized’
      5. close ‘Task Manager’ to save the ‘Options’ you just configured
      6. note that the ‘Options’ you just configured in ‘Task Manager’ aren’t always saved, sometimes disappearing after reboot
      7. double-click ‘StartTaskManager.cmd – Shortcut’ in your ‘Startup’ folder again, it should appear in your system tray, but if it doesn’t, step 6 below will fix that
      8. close the Startup folder
    7. Customize system tray to ensure the small Task Manager is visible at all time
      1. click the ‘Show hidden icons’ up arrow in the system tray, choose ‘Customize…’
      2. in the ‘Notifications Area Icons’ menu, locate ‘Task Manager’
      3. choose the ‘Show icon and notifications’ drop-down menu selection, then click the ‘OK’ button
      4. left-click then drag the ‘Task Manager’ icon over to the right, next to your clock, so your eyeballs will always know exactly where to look
      5. next time you reboot, you’ll see ‘Task Manager’ automatically launches
      6. when rebooting and first logging in to get to your desktop, ‘Task Manager’ shows up in both the taskbar and system tray, just click the larger taskbar icon twice, and it’ll then disappear from the taskbar, remaining only in the system tray, as it intended

Step-by-step* HD video:

Step-by-step screenshots:
each image has explanatory captions below

open 'Windows Explorer' using Win+E keys, click on 'View' menu, 'Options'

open ‘Windows Explorer’ using Win+E keys, click on ‘View’ menu, ‘Options’

click 'View' tab, uncheck 'Hide extensions for known file types', click 'OK' button

click ‘View’ tab, uncheck ‘Hide extensions for known file types’, click ‘OK’ button

open 'Windows Explorer' using Win plus E keys, right-click on C drive, choose 'New', 'Folder', type 'command' then hit Enter

open ‘Windows Explorer’ using Win+E keys, right-click on C drive, choose ‘New’, ‘Folder’, type ‘command’ then hit Enter

right-click on the empty area in the command folder, choose 'New', 'Text Document', type 'StartTaskManager.cmd' then hit 'Enter'

left-click on the new command folder, then right-click on the empty area of the command folder view and choose ‘New’, ‘Text Document’, then type ‘StartTaskManager.cmd’ and hit ‘Enter’

Rename warning, just say Yes

Rename warning, just say Yes

Are you sure you want to change it, just say yes

Are you sure you want to change it, just say yes

right-click on StartTaskManager.cmd, choose Edit

right-click on StartTaskManager.cmd, choose Edit

Close the batch file

Close the batch file

when prompted if you want to save changes, click the 'Save' button

when prompted if you want to save changes, click the ‘Save’ button

right-click and hold 'StartTaskManager.cmd' icon to drag it to your Desktop

right-click and hold ‘StartTaskManager.cmd’ icon to drag it to your Desktop

chose 'Create shortcuts here'

chose ‘Create shortcuts here’

in the 'Run' option drop down menu, choose 'Minimized'

in the ‘Run’ option drop down menu, choose ‘Minimized’

select 'Properties'

select ‘Properties’

right-click and hold StartTaskManager.cmd to drag it to your 'Startup' folder, choose 'Move here'

right-click and hold StartTaskManager.cmd to drag it to your ‘Startup’ folder, choose ‘Move here’

'Destination Folder Access Denied', just click 'Continue'

‘Destination Folder Access Denied’, just click ‘Continue’

in 'Task Manager', click 'More details'

in ‘Task Manager’, click ‘More details’

click 'Options' then turn on all 3 checkboxes for 'Always on top', 'Minimize on use', and 'Hide when minimized'

click ‘Options’ then turn on all 3 checkboxes for ‘Always on top’, ‘Minimize on use’, and ‘Hide when minimized’

close 'Task Manager' to save the Options you just configured

close ‘Task Manager’ to save the Options you just configured

click the 'Show hidden icons' up arrow in the system tray, choose 'Customize...'

click the ‘Show hidden icons’ up arrow in the system tray, choose ‘Customize…’

at reboot, taskbar will show Task Manager, just double-click slowly on the icon and it'll vanish

at reboot, taskbar will show ‘Task Manager’, just double-click slowly on the icon and it’ll then vanish

in the 'Notifications Area Icons' menu, locate 'Task Manager' and choose the 'Show icon and notifications' drop-down menu selection, then click the 'OK' button

mouse-over minimized 'Task Manager', and it'll pop-up CPU, Memory, Disk, and Network utilization

mouse-over minimized ‘Task Manager’, and it’ll pop-up CPU, Memory, Disk, and Network utilization

Task Manager special collapsed overview mode, obtained by click on 'Performance" tab, then double-clicking on 'CPU' icon in left column

Task Manager special collapsed overview mode, obtained by click on ‘Performance” tab, then double-clicking on ‘CPU’ icon in left column

Task Manager special collapsed view of Ethernet, obtained by click 'Performance" tab, then single-clicking on Ethernet at left, then double-clicking on graph at right

Task Manager special collapsed view of Ethernet, obtained by click ‘Performance” tab, then single-clicking on Ethernet at left, then double-clicking on graph at right


Known issues:

  1. After a reboot, Task Manager appears in both the taskbar and system tray, despite the chosen ‘Hide when minimized’ option. The workaround is simple, just left-click on the taskbar icon twice, and poof, it’ll disappear from the taskbar. But it’d be nicer to automate this. My attempts at adding ‘start /min’ and ‘start /max’ to the script seem to fail to get around this.
  2. The ‘Options’ you configured in ‘Task Manager’ aren’t always saved, sometimes forgetting your preferences after a reboot, for example.
  3. Administrative rights are required.
  4. For unknown reasons, after weeks of working fine, Task Manager’s ‘View’, ‘Update Speed’ spontaneously gets into ‘Paused’ state, stuck at a false maximum CPU busy indication. Workaround is to change back to ‘Normal’, then live monitoring immediately resumes.

Future improvement ideas:

  1. Find a workaround for “Known issue”  #1, outlined above.
  2. Due to habit, it’s common to accidentally close Task Manager when using it rather than merely minimizing it. This means you lose the system tray icon until the next time you launch Task Manager. Perhaps Powershell and Task Scheduler are methods I’ll explore, read more here.
  3. Some advanced users looking to squeeze every last bit of performance from their system may wish to tweak Task Manager’s ‘View’ menu, choosing ‘Update speed’, ‘Low’ to reduce impact on system performance. Unfortunately, this setting can also be lost, due to known issue #2 above.
  4. For the recommended ‘Notifications area’ tweak I demonstrate, I’ve discovered that you can also just drag and drop Task Manager straight from the list of icons seen here, to the bottom-right of the system tray.
  5. Make setting this up faster and easier.

Change log:

  1. Feb 24 2013*: Added prerequisite first step to the written and screenshot instructions, making sure ‘Hide extensions for known file types’ is unchecked. If this step is skipped, the batch file will be created with the wrong file type/won’t run. In the video, file extensions were already set to visible, prior to the production of the recording. Also added 2 more collapsed views that enthusiasts might appreciate.
  2. Mar 05 2013: You might also appreciate these related lifehacker articles:
    Windows In-Depth, Part 4: The Revamped, Vastly Improved Task Manager, Whitson Gordon, SEP 22, 2011
    How to Customize the Windows 8 Task Manager, Whitson Gordon, MAR 5, 2013

See also ITProGuru guest-author Paul Braren‘s blog at:

TinkerTry IT @ home
Efficient virtualization, storage, backup, and more…

TinkerTry.com/task-manager-resource-monitor-deep-dive-windows-server-2012-and-windows-8

TinkerTry.com/outlook2013inboxall

TinkerTry.com/recover-application-behind-taskbar

TinkerTry.com/category/alltopics/computer/productivity

TinkerTry.com/category/virtualization/hyper-v

TinkerTry.com/vmware-esxi-5-1-can-run-microsoft-hyper-v-server-2012-vms-nice

Additional References:

The Windows 8 Task Manager by Steven Sinofsky Oct 13 2011
Run the Task Manager on startup. How? by lefreeman on Aug 26 2012
How to Customize the Windows 8 Task Manager by Whitson Gordon Mar 5 2013
Windows In-Depth, Part 4: The Revamped, Vastly Improved Task Manager, by Witson Gordon Sep 22 2011

9 thoughts on “Windows Task Manager auto-started as an effective CPU monitor in your system tray

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  3. Great article Paul, thanks so much…
    I moved the shortcut into the startup folder, modified the shortcut properties (in the startup folder) to put the “c:\command” folder in the “Start In” field and changed the Target to “C:\Command\StartTaskManager.cmd” then changed the Run: to “Minimized” the task manager appears to reliably start minimized.
    Thanks a bunch

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  7. I really appreciate this walk through. I have been adding the task manager in the system tray since Windows XP and was not able to auto start it in Windows 8 until I found your blog. Thank you very very much!!

  8. Pingback: Windows Task Manager auto-started as an effective CPU monitor in your system tray | TinkerTry IT @ home

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