dwm.exe – What is it? Is it Safe to End this Process?

Here, I will explain what Desktop Window Manager is and why it sometimes unexpectedly increases a significant portion of memory, GPU, or CPU usage as DWM.exe in Task Manager.

And to reduce this, can you end this process? Is it safe? Well, all this I will cover in this post.

What is DWM.exe “Desktop Window Manager”?

DWM.exe Desktop 'Window Manager' in task manager

The Desktop Window Manager (DWM.exe) is a part of the Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM).

It manages the graphical elements like Windows frames, icons, animations, and other visual elements in order to smoothen the display of all those on the desktop screen to provide smoother animations and a more visually appealing look, for example, it includes:

  • transparency in window borders,
  • 3D objects,
  • A thumbnail preview when you hover over an element, etc

Technically, this means that instead of applications displaying Windows directly on the screen, they write data to different buffers (partitions) of Windows memory; DWM then combines each program’s buffer to display all windows as a single desktop image.

DWM was first implemented in Windows Vista in January 2007, which changed the way Windows handled graphics and visual effects compared to its predecessor, Windows XP. Since that, DWM continued to be a part of Windows versions, including Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 10, and Windows 11.

Even though I say that, if still you don’t really understand it.

To give you an easy-to-understand example, think of the blackboard in a classroom. The DWM is like the teacher who arranges and manages different elements on the board, such as diagrams, text, and pictures, to explain the lesson smoothly without confusion or lag.

Why does “DWM.exe” Sometimes Use a Significant Portion of PC Usage?

Sometimes, in task manager, you may have noticed that the “DWM.exe” process is taking up significant resources of a computer.

Although this process keeps running in the background and consumes little resources of the PC, when there is a lot of memory, GPU, and CPU usage, it indicates few system configuration conditions, such as:

  • Running multiple programs with high image processing and animation effects at the same time, which require a lot of graphics processing power, can cause DWM.exe to use more memory in order to keep everything running smoothly.
  • If your graphics card driver is outdated or malfunctioning, it can also be the reason why GPU usage is overwhelmed to compensate for the lack of proper functionality.

Is it Safe to End DWM.exe When in High Usage?

The short answer is that you cannot disable the DWM.exe in the task manager in Windows 10, even in Win 11. Several visual effects use this DWM.exe service for better UI and effects overall, making it an integral part of OS and GUI; therefore, it is generally not recommended to end DWM.exe.

Even so, if you forcibly stop it from the task manager, your computer will face issues of freezing of certain features, desktop screen, instability, and crashes, and you will need to restart your computer to restore normal functionality.

In older Windows versions like Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows 8, you can technically end the DWM.exe process, as DWM is not as deeply integrated into older systems as in Windows 10 and 11. Still, the consequences will be the same somehow, i.e., losing visual effects will result in a less user-friendly interface.

If you’re experiencing high DWM.exe CPU or memory usage, it’s usually better to address the underlying issue causing the problem rather than forcibly ending the process. Ending the DWM.exe process should be considered a last resort when all other options have been exhausted and you understand the potential consequences.

How to Fix High DWM.exe” Usage in Task Manager?

There can be several reasons, so check one by one of them if the problem persists:

1. Restarting computer

The first step is to restart the computer. High DWM.exe usage should come down by clearing memory, resetting software, and terminating background processes when you restart the PC.

This temporary fix can resolve issues caused by memory leaks, software conflicts, or resource overloads, especially if you have left your computer in sleep mode for a long period, be sure to restart it regularly as it is important for any PC to function stable.

2. Reduce Visual Effects

As you said above, Desktop Window Manager (dwm.exe) is the process responsible for running visual effects. As a workaround, you can turn off advanced visual effects and stick to more default settings, and this will reduce resource usage and adjust the behavior of dwm.exe.

It’s easier to set it up to turn off the animations and transparency effects applied in Windows 10. The steps to change the settings are as follows.

  1. In Windows 10 or 11, right-click on the “Start” icon and select “System.”
  2. In the System window, click on “Advanced system settings” under ‘Related settings’ on the right sidebar.
  3. In the System Properties window, under the “Advanced” tab, click the “Settings” button in the “Performance” section.
  4. Here, you’ll see several settings, including “Visual Effects.” Here, you can choose “Adjust for best performance,” which will also disable most visual effects, including animations, transparency, and other graphical enhancements
  5. Or select custom and uncheck specific effects in the list manually that you don’t want to keep.
  6. You can restore the default visuals by selecting Let Windows choose what’s best for your computer.
  7. Click Apply or OK to save the changes.
Disable visual effects

Disabling unnecessary visual effects can reduce the strain on DWM and free up system resources.

Remember to note that this will result in a simpler and less visually appealing interface. You can switch a balance by customizing the visual effects to keep those you find most valuable while disabling others.

If your DWM.exe usage remains unusually high even after adjusting visual effects, it’s a good idea to check further steps.

3. Change Theme/Wallpaper

Desktop Window Manager manages the graphic effects, which also include the wallpaper and its theme.

If your current theme or set wallpaper is large sized or resource-intensive, changing them is a helpful step to handle high DWM.exe usage because some themes and wallpapers have complex animations and transparency effects that demand more processing power from DWM.

By switching to a simpler theme or wallpaper with fewer effects, you can reduce the workload on DWM.

background change in Windows 11 and transparent effects in Windows 10

To do this, Right-click your desktop and select Personalize. If your desktop wallpaper is set to an image or slideshow, here click Background and select a solid color instead. Finally, click on Colors and turn off the Transparency Effects option.

4. Update your graphics drivers

As mentioned, one of the reasons why Desktop Window Manager has problems is related to graphics card drivers. As DWM is highly dependent on your GPU (graphics processing unit). Updating your graphics drivers can help resolve high DWM.exe usage.

Outdated drivers may not work seamlessly with the Desktop Window Manager (DWM), leading to high CPU or memory usage.

Graphics driver updates often address known issues, including those related to DWM and graphical rendering. Updating your drivers can eliminate specific bugs that contribute to high resource usage. To update, follow:

  1. Right-click the Start menu button (at the bottom of the screen desktop) and select Device Manager.
  2. Click on the display adapter. Next, right-click on the main driver adapter (name of GPU like Nvidia or AMD) and select Update Driver. If you see two display adapters, it’s worth updating both.
  3. Then, wait for Automatically Search for Drivers until the new driver is detected and finally installed. If you can’t find anything, your driver may have already been updated. 
GPU Driver update

Alternatively, you can download the driver from the graphics card official software (e.g., GeForce Experience, Adrenalin Software) for the latest driver updates for your specific GPU model.

driver update in Nvidia Geforce Experience

Follow the same steps for the integrated graphics card (which in this case is Intel UHD, Intel Iris, AMD Radeon) to update its drivers. 

See if you have fixed the Desktop Window Manager (DWM.exe) high CPU issue. 

Can DWM.exe can be malicious?

The Desktop Window Manager (DWM) itself is not built in malicious. It is a legitimate and integral component of Windows, developed by Microsoft, and is essential for the proper functioning of the Windows desktop environment.

However, like any system, malicious software can attack DWM.exe or exploit vulnerabilities, a technique used by some malware to bypass detection and carry out malicious activities.

To ensure that the DWM process running on your computer is legitimate and not malicious, you must Verify File Locations:

The legitimate DWM.exe process is typically located in the “C:\Windows\System32” folder. Be cautious if you find a named file is dissimilar and even in a different location.

Keep your Windows operating system and all software up-to-date to patch any known vulnerabilities that malware might manipulate.

Final Thoughts

DWM.exe is not new and has been talked about in previous Windows versions as well While the process itself is designed to maintain the proper display of visual effects (folder transparency, smooth animations, live taskbar thumbnails, etc..)

Abnormal behavior of the desktop window manager can be caused by bugs or malfunctions in specific segments within the system, so one should address those before attempting to end the process as a last resort.

I hope that the high GPU, CPU, or memory usage by DWM.exe is resolved and your system no longer slows down due to the high DWM.exe process, but if you still have any questions about this, feel free to ask in the comments section.


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