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As useful as Task Manager is for seeing what processes are currently running and how much memory is available to the system, I find that it's severely limited in several respects.
For instance, it doesn't provide detailed information about processes or threads within a given process, or realistic memory consumption data. These are just two examples of the limitations it has when it comes to offering useful information when you are trying to diagnose problems.
Many people have written replacements for Task Manager, but the one that stands head and shoulders above all of them has to be Mark Russinovich's Process Explorer (PE), one of the many excellent pieces of freeware available through Mark's Sysinternals site. Like, Task Manager, Process Explorer provides you with a list of running processes and data associated with them, but PE has far more information available about each process.
When you run PE, you can elect to have it replace the existing Task Manager completely or you can run it as a standalone program when needed. The list of running processes is hierarchical, so you can get a better understanding of what programs have spawned what processes. Double-click on a process and you can inspect its security privileges (i.e., what user context it's running under and what privileges it has), resource strings within the executable image (useful for tracking down viruses!), thread and stack information, and even the TCP/IP thread stacks in use by the program.
PE does have one quirk that many people may object to: its System Information graph, which most closely resembles the old Task Manager memory tab, is a completely separate window. The old tabbed interface for Task Manager was a little less cumbersome to navigate, but the wealth of detail you get in PE makes up for it.
Serdar Yegulalp wrote for Windows Magazine from 1994 through 2001, covering a wide range of technology topics. He now uses his expertise in Windows NT, Windows 2000 and Windows XP as publisher of The Windows 2000 Power Users Newsletter and writes technology columns for TechTarget.