Now that computers have more than 4MB of memory, can we get seconds on the taskbar?

Raymond Chen

The clock in the Windows taskbar does not display seconds. Originally, this was due to the performance impact on a 4MB system of having to keep in memory the code responsible for calculating the time and drawing it. But computers nowadays have lots more than 4MB of memory, so why not bring back the seconds?

Although it’s true that computers nowadays have a lot more than 4MB of memory, bringing back seconds is still not a great idea for performance.

On multi-users systems, like Terminal Server servers, it’s not one taskbar clock that would update once a second. Rather, each user that signs in has their own taskbar clock, that would need to update every second. So once a second, a hundred stacks would get paged in so that a hundred taskbar clocks can repaint. This is generally not a great thing, since it basically means that the system is spending all of its CPU updating clocks.

This is the same reason why, on Terminal Server systems, caret blinking is typically disabled. Blinking a caret at 500ms across a hundred users turns into a lot of wasted CPU. Even updating a hundred clocks once a minute is too much for many systems, and most Terminal Server administrators just disable the taskbar clock entirely.

Okay, but what about systems that aren’t Terminal Server servers? Why can’t my little single-user system show seconds on the clock?

The answer is still performance.

Any periodic activity with a rate faster than one minute incurs the scrutiny of the Windows performance team, because periodic activity prevents the CPU from entering a low-power state. Updating the seconds in the taskbar clock is not essential to the user interface, unlike telling the user where their typing is going to go, or making sure a video plays smoothly. And the recommendation is that inessential periodic timers have a minimum period of one minute, and they should enable timer coalescing to minimize system wake-ups.

35 comments

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  • Phylyp

    I’m surprised that “Because it would be incredibly distracting to have something changing out of the corner of one’s eye every second.” wasn’t also given as a reason. Imagine trying to read anything but your eye keeps twitching because it sees “motion” off in a corner.

    • Jan Ringoš

      One gets used to it. At the moment I have real-time CPU cores activity displayed in a tray icon. It did distract for a couple of hours initially.

      • Mike Morrison

        One can also get any number of third-party apps/widgets that can display a clock with seconds-level precision. Personally I don’t see a need for such precision in my computing time, and I too would find it rather distracting to see the seconds ticking away in the screen corner.

        For example, with meetings, they’re generally scheduled at the four or half hour, or rarely at :15 minute intervals; never at a specific # seconds past the hour. If there’s a need for an immediate call then that happens right now, or in a few minutes time, never say 37 seconds from now, for example. When I enter time on a time sheet, or schedule time off, the minimum level of granularity is minutes or hours, respectively, not minutes. So having the seconds displayed on screen does me no good.

        • Jan Ringoš

          Depends on the user, I guess. Because most of the time I glance at clock to wait for a specific moment, or to roughly count how long something takes. For both reasons I have seconds enabled on my computer.

          • Mike Morrison

            I know, and as I said, there are any number of third-party tools available if you want or need seconds displayed in your PC clock.

            Rarely, when I need to record the time an action takes in a test, I use a stopwatch app, but only for the duration of the test. Knowing whether an event is coming up in precisely 27 seconds from now is useless to me.

    • AK Wong

      You’re just making this up. I have T-Clock running to showing the time with seconds in Calibri 20 point bold font so that it takes up the whole height of the taskbar. The motion of the seconds changing isn’t even visible in my peripheral vision unless I’m looking at something in the extreme bottom right corner of the screen. There is nothing “incredibly distracting” about having seconds in the taskbar clock.

  • J C

    What about the registry ‘hack’ of
    HKEY_CURRENT_USER\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced\”ShowSecondsInSystemClock”=dword:00000001

    That enables seconds in the clock?
    So it’s there just not expossed?

      • Wim Bonner

        Just one more reason I’ve not gone to Windows 11.

        I’ve used the taskbar on the far right when using my display in landscape mode for many years because I want the maximum amount of vertical display space possible, while also not liking hiding the task bar. I might have used it on the far left, but have been using windows for long enough to have run into programs that get their origin screwed up with the screen origin, and prefer not to offset anything from the zero-zero point on the screen.

    • Wim Bonner

      I used that on my Microsoft Surface Pro 4 explicitly because they broke something in the display driver and without the periodic display change the screen started flickering. The flicker was worse when I was using the surface in tablet mode and reading articles, so no mouse movement or finger input for a minute at a time..

  • Brett Thwaites Jr.

    The taskbar calendar also has a full date and time (with seconds).

    In a way, this feature was implemented.

  • 紅樓鍮

    periodic activity prevents the CPU from entering a low-power state

    I don’t see how that’s a valid concern.

    When I use my computer, I interact with it by inputting using the mouse and the keyboard and watching the changing output on its screen, possibly waiting while it carries out a long-running operation: all these activities require the CPU to execute code (however short) to handle, and they together occur at a frequency of at least one hertz. In other words, when I use my computer, there isn’t usually a chance for my computer to enter low-power mode.

    When I don’t use my computer and it’s on battery, I suspend it.

    • acampbell

      Perhaps you would be surprised to find out what percentage of the time you are not moving the mouse or typing on the keyboard.

  • Kryptryx

    So that part where I set the options on the power plan, where it talks about plugged-in / not plugged-in. That is all ignored?

  • switchdesktopwithfade@hotmail.com

    I wrote an unreleased taskbar in WPF XAML which is a pretty competitive clone of the one in Windows 10 and in some ways better. I have no patience for the excuses the Windows 11 team is giving for letting theirs be so under-featured because I’ve single-handedly accomplished practically everything they are having trouble with.

    There are a few reasons why I don’t show seconds right on the taskbar clock:

    Firstly, the blink timing will stutter when a garbage collection happens or when the single render thread gets bottlenecked with high activity from multiple windows. That’s a problem when it’s always visible. If the user wants seconds, I have a popup that shows a calendar and an analog+digital clock that updates at 20Hz.

    Secondly, it’s a distraction. I once had to use blinking to show error condition on logistical software and I made sure the blinking on every window shared the same timer so it would uniformly catch the user’s attention without looking cheap. The blinking of seconds on multiple taskbars gives me the same “red alert” error condition feeling.

    The CPU usage tray icon already forces a full render once per second. WinAmp adds more renders because of the scrolling title. A non-beneficial clock with seconds would add 2 renders to that, and like I said WPF curiously has only one render thread. There really should be one render thread per active message pump.

  • word merchant

    And yet somehow every other OS with a desktop manages it, including OS X. Even X running on ancient hardware with a chatty protocol managed it.

    But somehow the ace Windows 11 devs can’t manage it. I am sceptical.

    • Mike Morrison

      Assuming that you’re referring to the seconds clock, not the other anti-Win11 missives: I don’t think the holdup is that the Microsoft devs “can’t manage it”. It’s that there are very good reasons for NOT doing it.

  • Dan Bugglin

    Battery life can also be a reason.

    My Pebble watch has a display that uses very little power to maintain the same image, but changing it uses more power. So updating the time once per minute vastly increases the time before you need to recharge it compared to once per second. You do have the option of using a watchface that does display seconds, but I don’t believe the default one does by default.

    This reasoning PROBABLY doesn’t apply to Windows, and definitely wouldn’t apply to servers. Plus Windows would power down the display anyway as part of normal power management to get you better power savings anyway..

    • Neil Rashbrook

      My solar powered watch only has luminous hour and minute hands, so given that you can only read the time approximately in the dark anyway it simply doesn’t bother to tick seconds, waiting until it is illuminated again (apparently not with incandescent light, but I don’t have any to test with) at which point it will wind the second hand back to the correct position.

    • J C

      I miss my Pebble watches… I had the OG and Time but they died one way or another in the end. They were good things, wrote a few faces for them…

  • Ronald Le Pape

    Great post as usual. Now I’m a bit off topic, but recently on a Windows 2019 Server I had a task that “missed its schedule”. How is that possible ? And there’s even a per task setting called “Run task as soon as possible after a scheduled start is missed” (!?). This one let me puzzled. Can time coalescing have to do with the miss ?

    • Henke37

      Scheduled tasks can have preconditions, such as waiting for the system to be “idle”. And of course, task scheduler won’t start a task if it’s still running from the last scheduled time.

  • Yuhong Bao

    I remember it was not CPU time but the bandwidth taken by the RDP traffic (this was important when dial-up modems were still common).

  • Jeffrey Davis

    I have this enabled on my MacBook; I wonder what performance trade-off I’ve made.

  • Paul

    Hang on… there is a way to show seconds in the clock, because I used the WinAero Tweaker app to enable it. So, what’s going on?

  • Paul

    I used the WinAero Tweaker app to enable seconds in the taskbar clock… so I don’t understand this blog? It works?

  • Paul

    I use the WinAero Tweaker app to enable seconds in the taskbar clock… so I don’t understand this blog? Showing seconds works?

  • Peter van Dam

    So updating the taskbar takes to much resources, yet Windows spends time installing Candy Crush. Not to mention the ads within explorer, the ads in the news widget, the weather updates and so on.

    O, and also spending cpu resources of collecting and sending my user data, all of that is afcourse way more important compared to actual functions that the customers want.

    This blog sounds more like its poorly written code by the developers of Windows

  • Peter van Dam

    I just wrote a comment, only for this website to trigger an error 500. Wow even wordpress is to difficult for the Microsoft developer…

  • Ayan Agrawal

    dont care + what a bad excuse, just give me my feature, Windows 11 is the worst windows I’ve ever used

  • Ioannis Tsitsiklis

    Assuming that the impact in performance is that significant, I don’t think so because it does not seem to make a difference on win10, but let’s assume that is does, having the option or even that hidden registry for those that want it for some reason would be easy.

    This look s more like it messes something else and this is the excuse we are going with. Affecting performance, but something that should not

  • marc ..

    This is a late April fools joke, right? “terminal servers”? That is your reasoning? Where Windows 11 is mostly a desktop user OS in most cases? Where just one user is using the computer? And a terminal server is a rare exception? And you take that rare exception as the “normal use case”? To make the user experience horrible WORSE? And give NO OPTION, to let the USER decide what they want? Give back at least a simple working clock widget when you click on the clock, like Windows 10 had.

    A clock like this with seconds is missing in Windows 11, add it again in the calendar as a widget which is not shown always, just when you click on the clock, which is btw ALSO NOW useless in Windows 11, because you CANT add events to it, for example to Google calendar.