The symptoms of high CPU usage are familiar: the cursor moves jerkily and slowly, and applications begin to lag or shut down. The workstation might even begin to physically heat up as it strains to perform tasks. When diagnosing a malfunctioning system, these are signs you should start by checking the processor.
Luckily, it’s actually fairly simple to look under the hood of a Windows desktop or laptop and understand whether the workstation can be fixed, or if it’s time to replace the CPU.
At the core of any computing device is the Central Processing Unit (CPU), or processor, which is responsible for fulfilling the user’s instructions. A device’s CPU only has the capacity to deal with so many processes or tasks at once, and when those resources are strained, the computer’s performance begins to suffer. CPU time or processing time is measured by counting the seconds that a CPU spends processing instructions from an application or your OS. A longer count means the system is busy or overloaded.
High physical memory usage is often a consequence of using too many demanding apps, but can also be the result of a bug in a process that would normally be far less resource-intensive. Slow processing can stem from a variety of different causes, some of which will be more difficult to fix than others. But in the vast majority of cases, if you’re wondering how to lower CPU usage, the process is actually as simple as pressing Control + Shift + ESC.
In order to find out what percentage of CPU a computer is using, simply open Windows Task Manager (Control + Shift + ESC) and click the Performance tab. The Processes tab offers a closer look at what might be contributing to the problem and provides a rundown of which processes are taking up the most power and RAM, which is key for figuring out how to lower CPU usage. From there, you can then either stop the processes that are using up disproportionate resources, or, if the process in question isn’t normally such a drain on CPU and memory, work to fix the underlying issues.
If you’ve looked at the Processes tab and found that the issue can’t be attributed to uniquely demanding apps, it very well could be the result of a bug in an otherwise inconspicuous process. While any number of different issues could be plaguing your computer, let’s explore a few of the most common causes, and how to diagnose and troubleshoot high CPU usage:
High CPU usage is one of the simplest issues that can impact a computer’s performance, but it can be challenging to detect the underlying cause if you don’t know where to look. If you find that high CPU usage persists—even in support of standard processes—you may simply need a faster computer. You can also reduce CPU load by adding more RAM, which allows your computer to store more application data. This reduces the frequency of internal data transfers and new memory allocations, which can give your CPU a much-needed break.
That said, even everyday users can be made aware of common CPU issues and learn to troubleshoot them, saving IT teams time and ensuring that productivity can resume as quickly as possible.
Read through our blog for other common questions and concerns when troubleshooting Windows issues.
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