How to work with the Performance Monitor in Windows

Do you know about the Performance Monitor, also known as PerfMon.exe or PerfMon.msc? It is a complex tool used to do just what it sounds like it does: it monitors the performance of your Windows computer or device. Using it, you can see how your computer manages its resources. The information it gives you may help you make decisions about software and hardware choices if your computer's performance is below your expectations. It’s also useful for troubleshooting purposes. Here’s how to start it and how to use it to analyze your system’s performance like a pro:

NOTE: This guide applies to Windows 10, Windows 8.1 and Windows 7.

How to start the Performance Monitor in Windows

The are many ways to start the Performance Monitor. One that works in all versions of Windows is to open the Control Panel and go to “System and Security -> Administrative Tools - Performance Monitor.

Windows, Performance Monitor

You can also use search. For example, in Windows 10, type inside the search box on the taskbar the text “performance monitor and click or tap on the appropriate result.

Windows, Performance Monitor

The same is done in Windows 7: hit the Start button and type “performance monitor” in the search program and files field. The appropriate search result should be the option at the top of the list of results.

Windows, Performance Monitor

In Windows 8.1 however, the same tactic doesn’t work: on the Start screen, type “perfmon.exe” or “perfmon.msc” and click or tap on the only search result being shown.

Windows, Performance Monitor

You can also execute the same commands in the Run window. The Performance Monitor is then launched. This app looks and works the same in all recent versions of Windows: Windows 10, Windows 8.1 and Windows 7.

How to analyze system performance with Performance Monitor

To begin an analysis of your computer's current performance, click Performance Monitor under Monitoring Tools on the program's main panel, as indicated below.

Windows, Performance Monitor

If you want to see how your computer performs while using a certain set of apps and programs, make sure to open them now, so the graphs will take note of their impact on your system's resources. By default, the graph shown by Performance Monitor measures Processor time, which is the amount of time that the processor is busy working on running active programs (shown in percentages). This gives you a basic measure of how hard your processor is working.

Windows, Performance Monitor

This graph can be customized with additional columns and several other options. For a more in depth analysis, you can add counters to the graph that will detail other data. To do this, hit the green plus sign above the graph.

Windows, Performance Monitor

The Add Counters window is opened. Here you can select from an endless list of counters to monitor in real time. They are organized by type. If you double click on the name of a counter, you will see several individual objects and you can select to monitor any of them, as well as all of them. When you are done selecting the counters and the objects that you want to monitor, click or tap the Add button.

Windows, Performance Monitor

You will see the added counters on the right side of the window. When you click or tap OK, they are added to the graph that is shown by Performance Monitor.

Windows, Performance Monitor

For the graph below, I used the Processor counter set. It shows very technical but useful data such as Interrupts/sec (The numbers of interrupts your processor was asked to respond to. They are generated by hardware components like hard disk controller adapters and network interface cards) or %User Time (The total amount of non-idle time that was spent on User mode operations).

Windows, Performance Monitor

Now you can go ahead and perform the activities that you want monitored using the selected counters and see how they change in real time.

How to customize the way data is displayed in Performance Monitor

You can also look at the data in other formats by clicking the Change graph type button (or hitting CTRL+G on your keyboard) and choosing the Histogram bar or Report options.

Windows, Performance Monitor

This picture shows the data in Histogram format.

Windows, Performance Monitor

And here we have an example of the data display for the Report option.

Windows, Performance Monitor

You can further change how the data is displayed, by clicking the Properties button highlighted below or pressing CTRL+Q on your keyboard.

Windows, Performance Monitor

This opens the Performance Monitor Properties window, where you can customize how each counter is displayed, in what color, using which type of lines and so on. Both the Data and the Graph tabs can be used for this personalization.

Windows, Performance Monitor

When you are done personalizing everything as you wish, don’t forget to press the OK button.

How to make sense of all the data that is available in Performance Monitor

The data included in the Performance Monitor's graphical reports is highly technical and hard to understand by casual users. If you are looking for a good knowledge base, explaining all the gibberish terms like %DPC Time or Page Faults/sec, read this entry on Microsoft's TechNet: Performance Monitor Counters. There you will find complete information about each counter found in the standard list of reports.

Conclusion

This article has shown you how to open and get a basic reading of Performance Monitor reports and how to apply counter sets to further monitor the activity of your system. Let us know how you use this tool and how helpful it is for your purposes.

About the Author: Ciprian Adrian Rusen
I love technology and I work in IT for more than a decade. I am the co-founder of Digital Citizen and its chief editor. Alongside my work as an editor, I am also an author. I have written and published 7 books, most of them about Microsoft products and technologies. They are translated into more than 12 languages. In 2014, I have been recognized by Microsoft for my technical expertise and involvement in the community with the title of Microsoft MVP - Windows Consumer Expert.