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What is CPU Usage and How Can I Reduce It?

I received a question from jnc, who wrote:

When you go to the WINDOWS TASK MANAGER, it has at the bottom of the window, "CPU USAGE" and a % sign.
What does that mean and what should it be?
I searched your web site of COMPUTER TIPS, and wasn’t smart enough to locate the answer.

CPU usage indicates how hard the CPU is running. The percentage refers to how much of the individual CPU’s capacity is in use.

Normally, if we have some programs open but are not actively doing anything, the CPU Usage will be in the 2-5% range.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, some programs lock up at 100% (see my article Adobe Reader 8 Problems – And a Change to Foxit Reader caused by Adobe Reader 8’s Updater).

When you run antivirus scans or antispyware scans, this can be 40-60% usage, with spikes even higher. The amount of RAM you have will also affect the percentage, as the CPU will be involved in any swapping of memory with virtual memory.

Tech Tip
Virtual memory is actually hard drive space that Windows (or another operating system that uses virtual memory) is using as fake RAM. This keeps programs from crashing when they need more memory. Unfortunately, virtual memory is thousands of times slower than real RAM.

WinPatrol is a great way to take back control of your computer. Many programs install components that start automatically when your computer starts and continue to run and take up memory. This slows you computer and also forces Windows to do much more swapping of RAM to virtual memory on the hard drive.

Of course, if low available memory is the problem, another very cost-effective fix is to add additional memory. Crucial Technologies’ web wizard will identify the types of memory needed for desktop computers, notebooks and common motherboards, as well as show you the options they have available.

Related articles:


  1. Hi,
    I am using a compaq 510 notebook with intel core 2 duo 2 Ghz processor. Past few days it was running well but then it started using most of the CPU usage. And it also becomes hot very fast. My computer shows CPU usage not less than 75% when my friends’ show never more than 30%. I am really worried about it and I can’t take my computer to technician as my father will kill me for it because this laptop was the last thing that he would be spending except for my studies. I want to find a solution online and I would be very grateful. I thought old OS has caused it and I tried many new versions but the problem stuck with my computer so PLEASE help me!

  2. Assuming you read the Related Articles I listed in the article, and weren’t able to solve your problem based on them, you may have a hardware problem. Your fan may be going out or may have gone out. Or, you may have gotten a dust buildup on the CPU’s heat sink.

    Do a search in the search bar at the above right labeled “Search TCT Articles” and search for “spring cleaning” without the quotes.

    • I don’t think there is any problem with the fan and my com. is new so I personally do not think I have hardware problems but I am not sure because it happened all of a sudden. Anyway thanx for the suggetion. I will do as you say.

      • It could be a malware problem. Have you tried scanning for spyware/adware? Have you tried another antivirus program?

        I use VIPRE Internet Security, which offers a free 30-day trial. It includes antivirus, antispyware and firewall. I use it on all of my family’s computers.

  3. I’m a novice when it comes to computers so when my computer informed me that CPU usage was high I looked to find out what it meant. I was pleased to find your site which told me it would inform me. Unfortunately, all I have found is that it tells me how much of the individual CPU’s capacity is in use. Now, please could you tell me just what CPU stands for. What do the initials stand for?

  4. Hi, i have a toshiba satellite l300 and for those of you who know the computer its is fairly old, and does not contain very much RAM at all. i am also a promising music producer and DJ, so having a computer which maintains a stable cpu when running various production and dj software it vital for me. However when running my traktor software for djing the cpu completely maxes out and i am unable to even load a song onto a deck.
    Is there anything i can do to lower the cpu, anything other than buying a new computer as i don’t have the funds for this option. Will extra RAM help?

    • Tom,
      There were several configurations of the Satellite L300, with different processors and different amounts of memory. However, the memory from the manufacturer was 1GB or 2GB. The fancier versions had words like “Pro” added to their name.

      Unfortunately, youdid not indicate which exact model number you had, so I couldn’t verify how much memory it came with or how much it was capable of using. However, the models I checked using the memory wizard at could handle 4GB of memory, which is what I would have expected for a computer with those processors.

      That’s probably your cheapest way to increase your computer’s performance. Certainly, 1GB is marginal for computer use and 2GB may be not enough when you’re trying to do too many high-memory-use functions. I don’t know if your computer shares your RAM with the video card, but I suspect it does that, also.

      I suspect that you are getting hamstrung by Windows needing more memory (RAM) so that it is actively swapping RAM with Virtual RAM (using part of the hard drive as if it were memory – but a WHOLE LOT SLOWER).

  5. One tip I have found, for some reason firefox used 60 – 70% of the cpu regularly up to 100% at times, possibly due to the add ons, so I have now swopped to chrome and even with the same add ons in chrome I have no problems now, most of the time it uses 10 – 20% only.

  6. The article is called ‘What is CPU Usage and How Can I Reduce It?’ but I cannot see any tips on how to reduce CPU usage – other than to buy and run WinPatrol! My CPU usage is between 0-1% and my Physical memory usage between 51-53% as I am writing this. But quite often Norton IS 2012 flashes up an Alert, informing me that CPU usage is High and I don’t know what causes these sudden high usage spikes?

    • You missed an important point – WinPatrol is free. You can use WinPatrol and do your own research with Google.

      I recommend that you use WinPatrol or, better yet, WinPatrol Plus. I don’t get any compensation from your purchase.

      The bottom line is you need to identify what’s using all the CPU time, determine whether you need that or not, and fix the problem. WinPatrol or WinPatrol Plus help do that.

  7. Hi, This question is only tangentially related to the article that it’s under, but I’ll try anyway. I’m running W7 Ultimate x64bit on an ASUS P6T mb. ASUS told me that the most RAM this board could handle is 24 GB. My i7 – 930 processor shows the same. Well, I’ve got 24 GB installed but on the System Properties page as well as the DxDiag page the full quantity is listed, but only 11 GB is shown to be available. I’ve tried several different RAM chips and always get the same result. Please tell me what’s the best way to get access to the whole 24GB. The system has 3 TB HD capacity and is a couple of years old. Thanks.

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