How Do I Check the Computer System Tray?

By Bonnie Conrad

The icons in your computer's system tray can tell you a great deal about your computer, but many users rarely ever look at this important part of the computer screen. If your computer is running slowly or freezing up, it is a good idea to take a look at the icons in the system tray. Each icon represents a running program--and if there are too many programs running at once, your system could run low on memory and begin to become unstable.

Examine the System Tray Icons

Locate the system tray and examine the icons it contains. The system tray is located on the lower right-hand side of the screen, next to the clock. Chances are you will be able to see only a few of the icons, but there may be additional icons hidden. To check for hidden system tray icons, click on the left arrow key beside the left-most icon. When you click that arrow, you will be able to see the remaining icons, and you may be surprised at just how many icons there are. Many programs are designed to start automatically when your computer starts, in order to make it easier for you to use them. The problem with this approach is that each service that runs will use memory and system resources--and after a while your computer may begin to run low on both.

Check Each Icon

Go through the list and determine which icons you need--and don't need. To identify each icon, simply hover your mouse pointer over the icon until you see the description. You will probably see an icon for your antivirus and anti-spyware programs--these will need to stay resident in order to keep your computer protected, so be sure not to shut them down. However, you may see icons for programs you are not currently using. Those can be safely closed by right-clicking on the icon and choosing "Close" from the menu. Keep in mind that in order to keep those programs from starting when the next time you start your computer, you will need to edit your system configuration file.

System Configuration Utility

The system configuration utility lets you dictate which programs and services start when your computer starts, and it gives you control over the system tray and the icons that appear there. To open the system configuration utility, click "Start" and choose "Run" from the menu. Then type "msconfig" in the box (without the quotes) and click "OK" to start the utility.

Click the "Startup" tab and look at the list of programs that start every time your computer is rebooted. The information on the tabs will give you an indication of the program and its function; you can use that information to decide whether or not the program needs to start when your computer does. Certain things, like your antivirus and anti-spyware protection, should never be turned off, but there may be unneeded programs also set to start automatically. After you have made the necessary changes to the system configuration utility, you will need to restart your computer for the changes to take effect. When your computer restarts, you should no longer see the items you removed in the system tray.