What Is the Desktop Window Supervisor (DWM.exe) and Do You Want It?

Desktop Window Manager

If you've discovered a strange process called Desktop Window Manager on your PC, you may be confused and even concerned. Where did that come from? What is it doing And could it be some form of malware?

We'll tell you everything you need to know about Desktop Window Manager (dwm.exe), including reasons why you need it, whether you can disable it, and how to fix problems that you think are causing them.

What is Desktop Window Manager (DWM)?

When you open Windows Task Manager (by right-clicking on the taskbar and selecting Task manager)You will notice a mysterious entry by the name Desktop Window Manager.

This will be shown on the Processes tab and on the Details tab under the file name dwm.exeIt shows that your CPU (central processing unit), memory, and GPU (graphics unit) are being actively used.

Although Windows typically rates the Desktop Window Manager power consumption as "Low" or "Very Low", it is natural to be concerned. After all, you didn't start dwm.exe yourself, and it may not be doing well in the background.

DWM Task Manager

Don't panic, because Desktop Window Manager (DWM) is a perfectly legitimate Windows process. It helps create your graphical user interface (GUI) and allows the operating system to use visual effects.

These include transparent windows, 3D animations, taskbar thumbnails, and desktop themes and background images. DWM also provides support for high resolution monitors to ensure you get the best viewing quality.

Why do I need Desktop Window Manager?

The Desktop Window Manager was introduced in Windows Vista to enable the fancy aero experience. Since then it has been an integral part of Windows and has taken on additional tasks in its role as a "Compositing Window Manager".

Essentially, this means that applications that display windows directly on the screen are writing data to different buffers (sections) of Windows memory. DWM then reassembles each program's buffer to display all of the windows as a single desktop image.

Since the Desktop Window Manager controls all of these windows, visual effects can be applied seamlessly across the board. Without DWM, you cannot customize the way Windows looks.

DWM adapts Windows

Related topics: Customizing Windows 10: The Complete Guide

Widnows Customization Guide

How do I disable the Desktop Window Manager?

The short answer is, you cannot turn off the Desktop Window Manager. In older versions of Windows, you can turn off DWM if you don't care about visual effects. Since the feature is now an integral part of the operating system, this option is not available in Windows 10 (or 8).

In theory, you can right-click Desktop Window Manager or dwm.exe in Task Manager and select End process. However, since DWM is an essential and protected system process, this will not work. Removal is also impossible unless you want to harm your PC.

If you're still using Windows 7, you can disable the Desktop Window Manager using the following method:

  1. Click the Start button and enter services.msc, and press Enter.

  2. In the Services window, double-click Desktop Window Manager session manager.

  3. Choose with special needs by doing Start type Menu and click Stop.

  4. click OK to save the change. This will disable any Windows theme you've applied.

  5. You can switch DWM on again by setting the start type to Automatically.

Related: Windows 7 End of Life Alternatives

Why is DWM using so much RAM?

As mentioned earlier, the Desktop Window Manager should only use a small fraction of your PC's processing power and memory. However, if you think dwm.exe is using more CPU or RAM than it should, there are a few fixes you can try.

1. Turn off unnecessary visual effects

If you can live without window animations, menus shown and hidden, and system tray thumbnails, you can turn off visual effects. This reclaims resources from the Desktop Window Manager.

  1. Open File Explorer and right click This pc and choose characteristics. Or go to Control Panel> System and Security> System.

  2. click Advanced system settings Click in the left menu the settings Button in the Performance section.

  3. On the Visual Effects tab, select Adjust for best performance to turn off all visual effects in Windows.

  4. Alternatively, choose Custom and disable certain effects in the list.

  5. You can restore the default visual effects by selecting Let Windows choose what is best for my computer.

  6. click Apply or OK to save your changes.

Turn off visual effects

2. Select Desktop Personalization

In addition, you can switch to a less graphics-intensive desktop theme and background image, and turn off transparency effects for your system tray and start menu.

Right click on your desktop and choose Personalize. Choose subjects and choose Windows or Windows (light) instead of a photo or an illustrated subject.

Change the Windows theme

When you have set a picture or slide show as the wallpaper for your desktop, click Background, and choose a solid color instead.

Finally click on Colours and disable the option Transparency effects.

3. Update your system and graphics drivers

It is possible that an error is causing the Desktop Window Manager in Windows to overuse resources. So make sure your system is fully updated.

Go to Settings> Update & Security> Windows Update> Check for Updates to check for and install the latest updates for your PC.

Check for Windows Updates

Also, make sure your graphics drivers are up to date as DWM is highly dependent on your GPU (graphics processing unit). Windows Update should automatically install the latest drivers for your graphics card. However, it can't hurt to check the manufacturer's website and update yourself.

Related Topics: How to Find and Replace Outdated Windows Drivers

Could Desktop Window Manager be malware?

Since Desktop Windows Manager is an official Windows component, it is definitely not a virus or other security threat. However, there is little chance that malware will fake the process. This could even be the cause of the unusually high processor and memory usage.

Check the location of the file to rule out that DWM is malware. Open Task Manager and right-click the desktop window manager on the Processes tab or dwm.exe on the Details tab. Choose Open the file location in the context menu.

DWM location for open files

If the open location is the C: Windows System32 folder, you can be sure that the process that is running is the official Desktop Window Manager. If not, you should run an antivirus scan right away.

Whenever possible, run a startup time scan to remove hidden malware. Go to Windows Security Virus & threat protection> Scan options> Microsoft Defender offline scan and click on Scan now.

Don't worry about DWM

Desktop Window Manager is an essential system process that you can trust to do its job in the background. The name may be unclear, but DWM is important to how Windows looks and works. Therefore, you cannot disable or remove it.

While it is understandable to suspect an unknown process as malware or to believe that it is draining system resources, messing around with certain Windows files and settings can do a lot more harm than good.

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About the author

Robert Irvine
(11 articles published)

Robert has been writing about the Internet and computers since the days of AOL discs and Windows 98. He loves to discover new things through the web and to share this knowledge with other people.

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