The CPU is your computer’s brain, doing most of the heavy lifting to process demands.
As a result, you should always ensure it’s in tip-top shape and doing its duties efficiently.
One of the primary indicators of a CPU’s efficient performance is its usage, which you can see in the Task Manager, expressed in percentages.
However, not every average user knows what these numbers mean and whether they’re too high or normal.
How Much CPU Usage Is Too Much?
If your CPU usage is over 20% when idling with no background processes, it’s worrisome, and you should take measures to lower it.
Today’s CPUs are powerful enough to tolerate 100% of usage, but it doesn’t mean you can always run your PC at this percentage.
You should consider the conditions and decide if it’s too much.
Depending on the situation, you can expect these percentages:
When the PC is idle, meaning you’re not running any programs in the foreground and background, and no updates are being downloaded or installed, the highest CPU usage should be around 4%.
CPU usage can reach up to 30% if you run light apps like word processing, photoshop, or video apps.
Web browsing and YouTube streaming can raise your CPU usage to 15%.
Heavy games and video editing apps can take 70% and 100% of the CPU, respectively.
It can also reach 100% when the computer is booting up because of the programs that launch at startup, and then it will quickly go back to the 4% usage of idle times.
If you’re worried about your CPU usage, you should keep track of the percentages over a while and compare the numbers.
In addition, you should consider other factors before deciding your CPU usage is too high.
For example, is the CPU usage accompanied by freezes, crashes, or lowered performance?
What Affects CPU Usage?
CPU usage refers to the amount of processing power used by applications.
Still, it depends on different factors, which can affect its normal and maximum usage.
1. Hardware Specs And Conditions
When it comes to normal CPU usage, all the normal values and percentages are suggested assuming your PC has decent and healthy hardware.
When your hardware components are old or faulty, they can’t handle their tasks properly, dropping their loads on the CPU.
The most important component is the CPU itself, taking the highest load.
Every processor has a limited capacity, although significantly high, to process information.
The CPU speed and the number of cores can affect its usage.
The higher the number of cores, the higher the number of tasks a processor can do simultaneously.
The processor speed refers to the speed at which your CPU retrieves and processes information.
The faster it can process information, the faster it can complete tasks and leave room for other applications.
If you don’t have a powerful GPU and perform graphically intensive tasks, your CPU may compensate for the GPU’s weakness, raising its usage percentage.
Having an HDD instead of an SSD can also affect your CPU usage because the former is much slower, which means the CPU has to work harder to retrieve data.
Even your fans can affect it because faulty or weak fans that can’t cool down the internal parts can burden the CPU.
2. Operating System
The operating system is basically a piece of software, so it stands to reason that it affects CPU usage.
It even does more so since it facilitates the connection between hardware and software.
If the hardware can’t handle the needs of the operating system, it can affect your performance.
That’s why operating systems have minimum and recommended requirements.
For example, you can’t run Windows 10 on a Corei3 CPU because it can consume much of its processing power and resources, resulting in high CPU usage.
As a result, you should use lighter operating systems if you have a low-spec PC.
3. PC Settings
Regardless of the applications you run on your system and its hardware specs, how you adjust its settings can also affect your CPU usage.
Overclocking is a classic example of pushing a CPU to its limits.
Regardless of the controversies about its usefulness, this increases the CPU’s clock speed.
It has the same effect on CPU usage as a fast CPU does: it reduces CPU usage.
Another PC setting is the Windows Power Plan which can change your hardware and software settings to increase performance or save power.
Both situations can lower or raise CPU usage depending on the situation.
The settings can also apply to app settings.
For example, running a game at the highest settings can burden the CPU.
4. Apps And Programs
Here’s the most tangible factor that can affect your CPU usage.
Some apps are more resource intensive than others.
As mentioned, high-end games, 3D modeling, and video-editing apps are among the most resource-hungry programs that can use 100% of your resources.
However, normal applications, like light games, word-processing apps, or web browsers, don’t use more than 20% to 30% of your resources.
The way you run these applications also matters.
Running many apps in the foreground and background simultaneously can use more CPU resources than when you run them individually.
When you multitask, you can expect your CPU usage to go as high as 50% to 60%.
Even the games you play on your PC determine your CPU usage.
For example, role-playing and real-time strategy games have the highest percentages of CPU usage.
In addition, many games are developed with specific hardware in mind.
For example, some are CPU-intensive, requiring a certain number of cores, and some are optimized for specific graphics cards.
Using them on different hardware can affect your CPU usage.
Can High CPU Usage Cause Damage?
When you think of CPU usage, you may be concerned about damaging your processor if you push it to its limits.
If you run programs that use 100% of your CPU, can it damage the component?
The answer is yes and no.
It can potentially damage your computer because the higher the CPU usage, the hotter the internal components can get.
Since heat is the number one factor that can damage PC components, it’s safe to assume high CPU usage can be a negative factor.
However, it’s not as simple as that.
If your PC has effective cooling, you can run your PC at its highest settings without damaging the components.
In addition, PCs have a failsafe mechanism called thermal throttling, which automatically reduces performance when the temps reach a certain point.
This threshold is determined by the manufacturer based on the hardware specs.
Moreover, the duration of high CPU usage is more important than the actual percentage.
For example, if you run your PC with 100% CPU usage for a few seconds or minutes, you won’t risk any damage.
That’s pretty natural and inevitable because some tasks, such as downloading and installing a heavy game, can use 100% of the CPU resources.
In addition, users who perform video editing and 3D modeling on their PCs are used to seeing their CPU usage go as high as 100%.
Should they be worried?
Our CPUs are designed to run at their full potential, so they’re fine if you push them to their limits.
The real danger is running it for hours or days when it’s 100%.
Even if it does damage the PC, it’s not immediately noticeable.
It takes years to show the ultimate side effects.
How To Reduce CPU Usage
Although high CPU usage can’t immediately damage your components, it has other side effects.
High CPU usage means more cores are engaged, and more resources are used.
The immediate effect of this issue is slower performance.
You may experience lags and crashes because the CPU can’t handle this load.
In addition, if your CPU usage is unnaturally high and you’re an average user that doesn’t play games or do 3D editing, it can indicate an underlying problem that you should resolve.
After tracking your CPU usage for a while and making sure it’s unnaturally high, you can take measures to find the culprit and ease the load on the CPU.
Here’s what you can do:
1. End Background Processes
Programs running in the background are among the most common causes of high CPU usage because your PC doesn’t have a hardware issue in most cases.
You’ll see increased CPU usage if you like to open different applications simultaneously and don’t close them when you’re done.
Even if you do, there are always some unnecessary background processes running.
You don’t need them, and your system’s performance doesn’t critically rely on them.
You can terminate them in the Task Manager.
Note that you must make sure they’re unnecessary, so search them online if you’re not sure to avoid hurting your system performance.
2. Check Your RAM
Your RAM is an essential component that helps your processor run smoothly.
Even the fastest processor can’t work properly if you have insufficient RAM.
You need enough RAM capacity to handle multitasking and avoid burdening the CPU.
If your RAM runs out of space, it has to turn to the hard disk and borrow some space from it.
However, a hard disk is considerably slower than RAM in fetching information, slowing down your performance.
Therefore, you should consider your tasks and decide what RAM size is enough for you.
Gaming PCs require at least 16GB of RAM, whereas light computing operations like word processing and browsing don’t need more than 8GB.
3. Stop Multitasking
As mentioned above, computers and processors are powerful beasts that can handle many tasks simultaneously.
However, you should avoid multitasking if you face reduced performance due to high CPU usage.
Running several light programs may not burden your CPU if it has decent resources.
However, running several CPU-intensive programs can lead to high CPU usage to the point of crippling your PC.
It’s better to run these programs one at a time to give each program the resource it wants.
The same thing goes for browsers, which we usually underestimate.
It’s easy to open multiple tabs and leave them open when you don’t need them.
In addition, too many plugins and add-ons can also affect your performance because they run in the background and hog resources.
4. Remove Viruses
Thanks to powerful antivirus tools, our computers may be less vulnerable to viruses and malware.
However, viruses have become more sophisticated in ways that antiviruses may not detect.
These viruses can use your CPU power to perform illegal acts like mining crypto.
Scanning the entire PC for viruses is highly recommended if you feel a noticeable drop in your PC speed.
5. Update Drivers And OS
Outdated drivers can create various issues whose causes you can’t detect.
They may become buggy and increase CPU usage without any reason.
You should always ensure you have the latest drivers installed on your PC to avoid such issues.
You can update them through Device Manager or use third-party apps that detect your drivers, search for the latest updates, and install them on your PC.
In addition to drivers, you may also want to install the latest Windows updates to address similar bugs that increase CPU usage.
Although Microsoft installs these updates automatically, you may have missed some.
In addition, you can always find optional OS updates that can help your system run more smoothly.
To update your Windows, go to Settings > Update & Security and download all the available updates.
6. Keep The PC Clean
Dust accumulation can also lead to high CPU usage and lowered performance because it can increase heat.
When the internal parts of your PC get hot, the performance lowers, and the CPU works harder to get the work done.
It’s advisable to keep the internals dust-free by cleaning them every six months or more frequently if your PC is in a dusty environment.
7. Reinstall Windows
In some cases, you can’t find the reason for high CPU usage.
The best option is to give your system a clean slate by reinstalling Windows.
It removes any problematic app or software that occupies CPU resources.
In addition, all the OS settings will go back to the default state, solving issues that make the CPU work harder.
Instead of reinstalling Windows, you can run the system restore, especially if your CPU usage has recently spiked and you can’t find a specific reason.
Restoring Windows to a previous point doesn’t delete all your apps, only the ones you installed after the restore point.
High CPU Usage In Gaming
One of the main situations in which you experience high CPU usage is gaming, and gamers are used to seeing significant CPU usage spikes while playing games.
However, if you play games extensively, you may notice that one particular game eats more resources than others.
One of the main causes of high CPU usage in games is that your GPU is more powerful than the CPU.
In such cases, the CPU has to work harder to perform the demands of the GPU.
If your game settings aren’t fancy, this bottlenecking can be less significant, but high game settings make it worse.
In addition, although games rely on the GPU to process their graphical tasks, some settings, like view distance, require the CPU.
If your game has this setting, you may notice CPU usage spikes while playing that specific game.
Even lowering the GPU-related settings, like shadows and textures, can ease the burden on the CPU.
You can also ask your fellow players and search in forums to see if the game is CPU-intensive for everyone.
If so, you can tweak the in-game settings to see if they lower CPU usage.
You may also want to use other strategies to lower your PCU usage while playing that game.
For example, don’t open any other apps while playing the game.
The CPU is so busy processing the game that it can’t do the additional job normally.
Leaving the apps open will just occupy CPU resources.
Finally, as mentioned above, having the latest drivers is essential in lowering CPU usage.
Make sure your GPU drivers are their latest versions.