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Mark's Blog : The Case of the System Process CPU Spikes

One of my heroes and guiding lights for all things Windows “internals” is Mark Russinovich.  He has his blog at http://blogs.technet.com/markrussinovich.  Before being a Microsoft person Mark ran the very successful WinInternals / SysInternals businesses until he moved across.  His tools can still be accessed by http://www.sysinternals.com or are part of the MDOP Software Assurance option.

The Case of the System Process CPU Spikes

As you’ve probably surmised by my blog posts and other writings, I like knowing exactly what my systems are doing. I want to know if a process is running away with the CPU, causing memory pressure, or hitting the disk. Besides keeping my computers running smoothly, my vigilance sometimes helps me spot performance and reliability problems in Windows and third-party code.

The main way I keep tabs on things is to configure Process Explorer to run automatically when I log in. Whenever I configure a new computer, I add a shortcut to Process Explorer to my profile’s Start directory that includes the /t (minimize) switch. Process Explorer runs otherwise hidden with tray icon that shows a small historical view of CPU activity level. Because I want access to detailed information about system processes, as well as my own, I also specify the /e option on Vista, which causes Windows to present a UAC prompt on logon that allows me to grant Process Explorer administrative rights.

Because I keep an eye out for CPU spikes in Process Explorer’s tray icon, which show up as green or red for user-mode (application) and kernel-mode (operating system and drivers) CPU usage, respectively, I’ve identified several application bugs over the last few months. In this post, I’ll share how I used both Process Explorer and another tool, Kernrate, to identify a problem with a third-party driver and followed the problem through to a fix by the vendor.

Not long after I got a new laptop several months ago, I noticed that the system sometimes felt sluggish. Process Explorer’s tray icon corroborated my perception by displaying a mini-graph of red CPU activity. The icon opens a tooltip that reports the name of the process consuming the most CPU when you move the mouse over it, and in this case the tooltip showed the System process as being responsible:

The first few times I noticed the problem, it resolved itself shortly after and I didn’t have a chance to troubleshoot. However, I could see by opening Process Explorer’s System Information dialog that the CPU spikes were significant:

Mark's Blog : The Case of the System Process CPU Spikes

Posted Fri, Apr 18 2008 3:27 PM by David Overton


data recovery wrote re: Mark's Blog : The Case of the System Process CPU Spikes
on Wed, Apr 13 2011 3:29 PM

It is very interesting. Thanks for the details. I'm not good in the features of OS. And I often have questions. Thank you for the book and the blog, and for the time you pay all this!

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