General Question

2davidc8's avatar

On a Windows PC, which running processes are essential and which are junk or even potentially harmful?

Asked by 2davidc8 (10189points) December 10th, 2011

When I go into Task Manager and look at the running processes, I notice a ton of active processes that I do not recognize and that I did not start. I realize that a lot of these are OS ones that are necessary to keep the system running and communicating with all sorts of devices. But how do I identify what each one of these is for and whether it is essential or not. Is there a source I can turn to for guidance and identification? For example, what are these for:
svchost.exe — mutiple copies of this one!

Part 2 of this question is, once I identify one that is junk, how do I get rid of it? There is usually no “uninstall” for it, and it wouldn’t be found in Control Panel/Remove Program, either.

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6 Answers

dappled_leaves's avatar

A lot of people have the same question, so usually a Google search of the process will turn up an explanation of what it is. Don’t panic, almost every one of them has at least one page talking about how it’s a virus, but it almost never is. Once you’ve determined that you don’t want it running, you can end the process in Task Manager. If you never want it to start again, you can look into changing your Startup options, but be careful about this – it can be a lot harder to fix what you break than to break what ain’t broken.

To change what processes run at startup, go to Start > Run > type “msconfig” > Startup tab.

You can then choose which things not to run at startup. Be careful.

Oh yeah, and there’s this whole culture of people who think it’s wrong to tinker with your Startup options, because that menu is designed to be a diagnostic tool… but not everyone agrees

jerv's avatar

I know for a fact that three of those are basic OS processes; the first is something you installed. However, without looking it up, I have no idea what program it is associated with. But to kill it permanently, you have to find out what program is running it.

Lightlyseared's avatar

svchost.exe are windows core services. Multiple threads is normal. Terminating these will cause a reboot or a BSOD.
lsass.exe is a windows process that applys securtiy policies. Force terminating this will probably cause a reboot.
wuauclt.exe is the Windows Update AutoUpdate Client. You can probably terminate this service but you should really keep it.
AbacastDistributedOnDemand.exe is the program for a digital radio service from Abacast. If you use on line digital radio then this the progarma that makes it work.

There are a lot of programs that install windows services when you install them. Apple and adobe are particually guilty of installing a load of services that run all the time even when you’re not using the programs that they help to run.

Black Viper offers advice on which services you need to keep running and which you can do with out.

2davidc8's avatar

Thank you @Lightlyseared @jerv and @dappled_leaves for your information. There are, of course, many more processes, and I was facing the daunting task of looking each one up on Google or Wikipedia. So, I was wondering if anyone knew of a forum, blog, or website where the essential Windows system processes are listed and explained. I am concerned about those unnecessary or potentially harmful processes that were somehow installed on my system without my knowledge. I want to get rid of these, but at the same time I want to be cautious about removing any essential system processes.

And, yes, @Lightlyseared, not only are Apple and Adobe guilty of installing loads of these background processes, so do Yahoo, HP, Nikon, Canon and many others. When I ran the disks that came with my HP printer and Nikon and Canon cameras, suddenly there were a lot of programs installed that I had not asked for. This is very annoying.

Some years ago, there was a program called Autoruns.exe that you could run to identify some of the running programs and, I believe, turn off what you didn’t want. As I recall, the program was not finished and did not identify everything, and the author promised to finish it later, but then I didn’t hear any more about it. Does anyone know of anything similar?

Lightlyseared's avatar

@2davidc8 did you click on my link? The link to the website where essential Windows system processes are listed and explained. If you’re running windows 7 then its very hard for a program to install itself without your explcit permission. The problem is that many installers offer an “easy” option where you just click yes an it does the rest without asking you about every single program. HP is a good example of this – it is perfectly possible to just install the printer driver without all the crap that often comes with it but it takes a little longer as you have to click yes or no to every question it asks. Now compare this to itunes which also installs quicktime (when all you need is the codec package), itunes helper (which launches at startup every time), mobile device support (even if you have no ipod or iphone, and bonjour which is a little mini network server (even if you don’t need it) all without even mentioning that it’s going to do this.

Autoruns is still about and upto version 10 or 11.
And yes I know apple and adobe are not the only people who do this.

2davidc8's avatar

@Lightlyseared GA!! Thanks for your fantastic and very thoughtful answer. I wish I could click “Great Answer” more than once! The link to Black Viper should be required reading for anyone who wants to tweak their PC. I couldn’t believe how many services there are! I’m not sure I dare to do every last tweak, I’ll just do the few that give me the biggest bang for the buck.

Thanks also for the update on Autoruns. BTW, have you tried Autoruns?

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