Fix: High CPU Usage

Does your computer suffer from high CPU usage? Here's a simple guide on how to lower CPU usage and increase the performance of your PC.

Whether the CPU in your PC or laptop is old or new, it can become bogged down by high CPU usage which impacts your experience as a user.

This kind of high CPU usage can come from a lot of sources. These include programs in the background, a Windows bug, malware, and more.

To help you resolve this issue once and for all, we traced all the possible causes and found the solutions, which we have shared in this article.

Let’s find out how to reduce CPU usage and fix your computer.

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High CPU Usage Issues And Common Causes

Before we dive into the fixes, we will take a look at why it’s important to fix this problem and what the most common causes are.

These days, on weaker or older processors, the most common reasons for high CPU usage are some of the frequently-used programs such as Chrome, Spotify, Task Manager, Word, and many other applications working in the background.

In isolation, these apps aren’t necessarily a problem. However, if you have all of them running at the same time, your processor might simply be unable to keep up.

Background processes are also a very common cause of high processor usage. These include controllers for your RGB fans, GPU, or any other component that comes with supporting software. Even anti-virus protection can impede your computer’s performance.

high processor usage

When all of these problematic programs combine, you might be left with less than 10% CPU power which leads to issues such as crashes, slowdowns, BSODs, and more.

Fix 1: Disable Unwanted Startup Apps

Your first solution is to prevent all the unnecessary programs/processes from booting up with your computer. Not only will this ensure lower processor usage, but your computer might also boot up much faster.

Here is the best way to do that:

  1. Open Task Manager. Use the shortcut Ctrl+Shift+Escape or right-click Windows taskbar and click Task Manager.
  2. Open the Startup tab.
  3. This is where you will see all of the programs that boot up alongside your computer. We recommend disabling all processes except the most necessary ones. Google any unfamiliar or suspicious name you see in this tab and disable it if needed.
    Windows Task Manager Startup tab
  4. Once you have your startup tab optimized, restart the computer and monitor the CPU usage to check for any performance changes.

With this done, your CPU should run at least a bit better after the restart. However, if you want to delve deeper and find out in detail which services run on startup, there’s one more thing you can do.

Fix 2: Turn Off Services Via MSconfig

To turn off services, we will use MSConfig. It is a Windows feature, so you won’t need to download anything.

To start it, press Windows button + R, type msconfig, and hit enter. From here, open the Services tab. You will see a list of services that are constantly running in the background while you are using your computer.

Most of these are necessary for Windows to run smoothly and their manufacturer will be specified as Microsoft Corporation.

System Configuration Services tab Manufacturer column

We won’t be able to tell you exactly which ones you should or shouldn’t disable as every computer will have different useful services. For example, our laptop is from ASUS, so there are a bunch of services related to ASUS.

In any case, with a detailed analysis you can figure out exactly which services are unnecessary. If you see suspicious services running, use a search engine to learn more about them.

Fix 3: End Processes In Task Manager

This is the quickest solution to a high CPU usage problem, but it is also temporary. In short, you can use Task Manager to find the processes that are using your processor’s power and terminate them.

To do that, open Task Manager (Ctrl+Shift+Escape) and select the processes tab. Here you will see a list of all processes running on your computer.

Windows Task Manager Processes tab

You will notice several columns such as CPU, Memory, Disk, Network, etc. To end the process that has the biggest impact on the processor, you will need to click the CPU column. This will sort all processes based on their CPU usage.

Select a process and hit End task (bottom right).

Close any third-party programs that are using too many computer resources. Just be careful not to close any processes that are necessary to keep your PC running smoothly.

This is not a perfect solution because those programs will probably be launched again, but it’s still better than nothing.

If you are looking for a more permanent fix, we will have to investigate a bit deeper.

Fix 4: Check For Malware/Viruses

It is common for high CPU usage to be caused by processes that you can’t see in Task Manager. These processes might be hidden or hidden in plain sight. Of course, we are talking about viruses, malware, or any other type of intrusive software.

Your computer becoming infected by a virus is not rare even if you run proper antivirus software. It can happen if you download something from a suspicious website or click on a sketchy ad, intentionally or accidentally.

How you get it doesn’t matter. What matters is finding it and removing it from your computer.

Your instinct might tell you to start a Windows Security scan, but we suggest using something a bit stronger. For this article, we will use Malwarebytes, but feel free to use any of the other top antiviruses available.

Don’t worry, you won’t need to spend any money because most antivirus solutions offer a free trial or at least a few free scans, including Malwarebytes.

Your first task is to download Malwarebytes. Install it to your preferred directory, run it, and when you’re prompted to subscribe, simply click Maybe Later. This will activate the 14-day free trial.

Malwarebytes Scanner button

From the main menu, click on Scanner, Advanced scanners, and then Configure scan. This approach will allow you to select exactly where to scan and what to scan.

For a full system sweep, we recommend checking all drives and enabling scanning of memory objects, registry, startup items, rootkits, and within archives.

Keep in mind that with this kind of configuration, the scan can last for several hours. This all depends on your computer’s performance.

Once the scan is done, remove all items that ended up in the quarantine, restart your computer and then check the CPU usage. If it has returned to normal, you probably had malware that hogged your computer’s resources.

If this wasn’t the solution to your problem, let’s expand further.

Fix 5: Turn Off Your Antivirus

This fix can seem counterintuitive, but it is worth a try. Many of today’s computers come preinstalled with some third-party antivirus. While the extra protection can be very useful, it can also hinder a computer’s performance, especially one with a weaker two or four-core processor.

To test whether this is the case, we suggest disabling the third-party antivirus temporarily, but also enabling Windows’ default antivirus to keep your computer safe.

To disable/turn off the third-party antivirus, simply open the tray menu, right-click the antivirus icon, and hit Exit.

Windows Security should automatically be enabled. If it isn’t, follow these steps:

  1. Open Start Menu, type Windows Security, and open it.
  2. Click on Virus & threat protection.
    Virus & threat protection under Windows Security
  3. Scroll to find Virus & threat protection settings and click it.
  4. Finally, enable Real-time protection, Cloud-delivered protection, and Tamper protection.
    enabling Real time protection

Now test the state of your computer and see how it performs. You can open Task Manager again and check the CPU usage percentage.

Fix 6: Change Power Plan

Laptops are often set up with different power plans to create a balance between performance and battery longevity.

While laptops are plugged in (charging), they switch to a performance-based power plan, activating the discrete GPU (if it has one), aggressive cooling, and better CPU overclock.

However, when laptops are running on battery, they switch over to a power plan that encourages longer battery life.

This might be the cause of the high CPU usage.

As a user, you can optimize the options in these power plans to enjoy better performance. In fact, you can even do this on a desktop PC.

To do it, type choose a power plan in the Start Menu and open it. For desktop PCs, there should be two different plans by default: Balanced and Performance.

Laptops, on the other hand, may have an alternative performance plan or multiple plans in place. Our ASUS laptop for example has an ASUS Recommended plan that is selected by default.

choose or customize a power plan ASUS Recommended

It’s better to have a power plan that offers better performance. However, if that is selected by default, try switching over to Balanced to see if it will resolve your 100% CPU usage issue.

For further optimizations, you can click on Change plan settings and Change advanced power settings. Keep in mind that some laptop manufacturers will limit which settings you can edit.

Fix 7: Update Windows

Windows’ update delivery system can also be a cause of high CPU usage.

Given that Microsoft is constantly releasing new updates for Windows 10, it’s very possible that this could be the root of the problem. Whenever you are gaming or working on your computer, Windows could be downloading updates.

Windows Update

The larger these updates, the worse the bottleneck. Our recommendation is to accept the update and complete it as soon as possible because these changes deliver system optimizations and patch security flaws.

However, Windows cannot be used while it is updating which is why it is best to delay the update until you aren’t using your PC. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to ensure you don’t get interrupted by updates again.

Set Active Hours

Microsoft has shown some consideration and added a feature that allows users to designate their active hours. This tells Windows when you are usually on your computer so it doesn’t occupy resources by downloading and updating.

Here’s how you can do that:

  1. Open the Start Menu, search for and open Check for updates.
  2. Select Change active hours.
  3. Set your usual working hours (e.g. 8:00 to 16:00).
  4. Alternatively, enable Automatically adjust active hours for this device based on activity. This may or may not work well for you. It’s generally best to adjust the active hours manually.
    Windows Active hours

With active hours set, updates will no longer hog your CPU’s resources, at least not while you are using your computer.

Pause Updates

As the active hours feature is limited to a maximum of 18 hours, Windows will start updating after those 18 hours have passed. If you are inconsistent with your working/gaming hours throughout the day, it might be best to simply pause updates altogether.

To do that, open Windows Updates again and click on Pause updates for 7 days.

Keep in mind that, after 7 days, the updates will resume downloading/installing. You might even be forced to restart the computer to complete the installation.

However, there is also an option to extend this pause to 35 days. Do that by going into Advanced options. Under Pause Updates, you can choose to freeze updates until an exact date.

Pause updates and Advanced options

Fix 8: Increase In-Game Quality

Do these high CPU usage issues only become apparent when you are gaming? Are you starting to think that your CPU is simply too old to handle your gaming sessions? Even if that might be true, don’t give up on your PC too easily.

While gaming, your GPU is actually doing most of the work while the CPU plays more of a supporting role. However, as you reduce the game’s graphical quality, that weight is slowly transferred to the CPU.

If you see hitching or stuttering while gaming, try increasing your game’s graphics quality. Although this might seem counterproductive, it can make your overall experience smoother by offloading most of the work to the GPU and freeing up CPU resources.

increasing game graphics quality

Keep in mind that there are some games, such as Rainbow Six: Siege and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, which rely a lot more on CPUs or are “CPU-bound”. In those rare cases, increasing the graphics settings won’t make any significant changes.

Fix 9: Upgrade Your CPU

High CPU usage might not actually be a software issue that you can address. Your assumptions might be correct and your CPU simply is not strong enough to handle your gaming or work sessions. It might even struggle with the most basic tasks.

In that case, you will have to upgrade your processor. This might sound complicated and expensive but, if you know where to look, you can find an affordable CPU and install it yourself.

This solution should definitely relieve you of high CPU usage. If not, there’s only one more thing you could try.

Fix 10: Reinstall Windows

No one likes it when it comes to this, but it may be inevitable. There could be a problem with the core of your Windows OS and troubleshooting every potential issue would take days. The less painful form of troubleshooting is to simply reinstall the operating system.

Fortunately, reinstalling Windows is now much easier than it used to be. In fact, the operating system has the feature built-in. Here’s how you can access it:

  1. Open the Start Menu and search for Reset This PC.
  2. Next, click Get Started located right under Reset This PC.
  3. On the next window, you will need to select whether Windows should keep your personal files or remove everything (on the C: drive).
    Reset This PC options
  4. We suggest the Keep my files option and then simply follow the steps to go through the process.

After about half an hour, the reinstallation should be done and you will have a fresh install of Windows 10 on your computer. With that, you shouldn’t have high CPU usage problems anymore.

That’s about it! We hope this troubleshooting article has helped your computer run smoother and faster.




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Branko Gapo
Branko Gapo

Keeping up with the incredibly fast evolution of computer technology is almost impossible. That's why Branko will be using his knowledge on this matter to share news and information on all the latest essential technological innovations and advancements related to CPUs.