How to Clean Up Computer Processes

By Michael O. Smathers

Pressing Ctrl+Alt+Delete will open Task Manager in Windows.
i keyboard #4 image by Adam Borkowski from

A computer process is the execution of an executable program's instructions. Processes require a portion of your computer's RAM--Random Access Memory--to run their respective programs, and many processes can run without you being aware. This can potentially lead to a lack of sufficient RAM to run your system and subsequent loss of virtual memory or system shutdown. Periodically checking your processes in the Windows Task Manager enables you to keep your computer from running too many processes at once, making your Windows Vista or XP operating system run more smoothly.

Cleaning Up Processes with Task Manager

Press Ctrl+Alt+Delete simultaneously to open Windows Task Manager.

Look at the list of running programs. Right-click on any you want to close and choose "Go to Process." This takes you to the Processes tab and highlights the system process associated with that program.

With the appropriate process highlighted, click the "End Task" button at the bottom of the Task Manager Window. A message will appear, warning you of possible system instability. Choose "End Now." According to Microsoft, you should save any data in applications whose processes you end, because the program ends instantly without opportunity for programs such as Word to create a recoverable copy of your document.

If you want to end the main process and any sub-processes, right-click the process and choose "End Process Tree."

Cleaning Startup Processes

Click "Start," then "Run." Type "msconfig.exe" into the command line. This opens the System Configuration Utility.

Click on the Startup tab on the far right.

Uncheck the boxes next to processes you don't want to automatically launch on startup. Before unchecking something, though, make sure you know what it is. ScanRegistry and SystemTray should be left as-is. Also, any "svchost.exe" or similar program, if you intend to listen to music or use audio. This executable controls your sound cards and drivers.