If you need to find out what’s happening on your PC then Process Hacker, Process Explorer and Process Monitor will usually tell you everything you need to know. They’re easy to use, yet also packed with essential functionality, and perfect for system troubleshooting.
Dell KACE hasn’t been intimidated by this programming excellence, though, and their Process Director aims not only to match these tools, but to deliver a little more. Unsurprisingly, they don’t succeed, but Process Director remains an interesting monitoring tool which is well worth a few moments of your time.
The program’s initial display used a tree to list all your running processes. Expand something of interest – Explorer.exe, say – and you’ll see further tree sections detailing memory allocations, loaded modules, open files, threads and parent/ child processes. It’s not the easiest or quickest interface to use, but there is at least plenty of information here.
And life becomes even more interesting when you begin to explore the menus and right-click options, and discover more about what the program can do.
A “Monitor IP traffic” option opens a pane on the right which provides details on the process network and internet traffic. As well as displaying the source and destination IP addresses, this also includes a “User Buffer” column which actually shows you some of the data being sent. And so if you allow your email client to check for new messages, for example, then you’ll see the account names and passwords being transferred as it logs in to each account.
A “Monitor File Access” option works in a similar way: as well as highlighting file creations, opens, reads and writes, a “User Buffer” column displays some of the information being written. Which really can give you a far clearer idea of what a process is doing.
A “Monitor Process Execution” option is hugely ambitious, offering a lengthy list of Windows API calls and allowing you to choose exactly which you’d like the program to track.
And there are many other options. You can search for locked files, for example. Monitor active network ports. View file dependencies, free up process RAM, “actively” close a process (terminate it, then close it down immediately if it tries to restart again) and more – the list goes on.
Process Director really does have a well thought out feature set, then. But don’t rush to download it just yet – there are things you need to know.
The program has significant bugs and stability issues, for instance. The “Monitor Process Execution” option didn’t work at all on our test Windows 7 PC. And while running simple functions – network monitoring, say – worked fine, testing the program by trying out multiple monitoring options locked up our test PC entirely on a couple of occasions, while producing a BSOD crash on another.
The interface has some quirks and inconsistencies. For example, you can right-click a process executable in one place and see a lengthy context menu, right-click it somewhere else and see nothing at all. You soon figure this out, but it’s still annoying.
Although Process Director includes many high-end features, there are also some surprisingly basic omissions. If you see a mystery process running then you’d expect to be able to right-click it, select Properties and view the standard Explorer file properties dialog, right? But there’s no way to do that.
And just to complete the list, the program isn’t portable, and it doesn’t support 64-bit Windows.
Is Process Director worth a try, anyway? We’d say yes (as long as you’re running 32-bit Windows, at least). There’s a lot of power here, and if just a few of its features work for you then that should be enough to justify its tiny presence on your PC.
Just beware of potential crashes, though. We didn’t trial the program across multiple machines and so it’s possible there’s a specific conflict with something on our test computer. It’s also possible Process Director may bring down your PC, though, so save any open documents before you start playing with the program, just until you find out how reliable it is on your system.