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, we traced all the possible causes and found the solutions which we have shared in this guide.

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

Table of ContentsShow

High CPU Usage Issues And Common Causes

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

Nowadays, on less powerful or aged CPUs, the main causes of elevated CPU usage are commonly-used programs like Chrome, Spotify, Task Manager, Word, and various other background applications.

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 preventing 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 most suitable 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 your startup tab is optimized, restart the computer and monitor the CPU usage to check for 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 the 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 many services related to ASUS.

In any scenario, by carefully analyzing, you can determine precisely which services are not needed. If you observe doubtful services operating, utilize a search engine to gain further knowledge 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 usual for excessive CPU usage to be caused by processes that are not visible in Task Manager. These processes may be concealed or undetectable right in front of you. Naturally, we are referring to viruses, malware, or other intrusive programs.

Your computer becoming infected by a virus is not rare, even if you run proper anti-virus 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 anti-viruses available.

Don’t worry, you won’t need to spend any money because most anti-virus 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, 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, registries, startup items, rootkits, and within archives.

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

After completing the scan, eliminate any items that were placed in quarantine, restart your computer, and then inspect the CPU usage. If it has reverted back to normal, it is likely that your computer was affected by malware that excessively consumed its 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 anti-virus. 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 temporarily disabling the third-party anti-virus and enabling Windows’ default anti-virus to keep your computer safe.

To disable/turn off the third-party anti-virus, open the tray menu, right-click the anti-virus 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 balance 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 this, 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 selected by default.

choose or customize a power plan ASUS Recommended

It’s advisable to have a power scheme that provides improved performance. Nevertheless, if that is automatically chosen, attempt switching to Balanced to check if it will solve your 100% CPU usage problem.

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

Fix 7: Update Windows

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

Since Microsoft keeps releasing updates for Windows 10 all the time, it’s likely that this could be the main issue. When you’re gaming or using your computer, Windows may 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.

But, when Windows updates, you can’t use it, so it’s better to postpone the update until you’re not using your computer. Luckily, there are some ways to avoid being disturbed by updates in the future.

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 seven 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 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 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 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

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.