Fix high CPU usage problems in Windows

High CPU usage can be symptomatic of several issues. This condition could be caused by lack of RAM or running too many programs for your system usage. Generally, if a CPU is faulty, the computer will not boot at all, nothing, no start, no picture on the screen or motherboard speaker beeps.

If you don’t have a lot of programs running, say you are just using Adobe Photoshop for example, and nothing else then it maybe your processor isn’t up to it. It’s no good trying to run processor hungry programs (apps) or games only an old Pentium 4 or Celeron budget CPU.

What are the symptoms of high CPU usage?

High CPU usage  can cause many problems, such as audio drop-outs pops or cracks (latency) when listening to music in Windows Media Player or iTunes for example, or it could cause audio drop-outs when watching YouTube videos, video lag, or a slow gaming experience. Also, programs will take longer to open, the system may produce ‘not responding’ messages a lot, or it may crash frequently.


Another symptom of high CPU usage is that of system overheating as the system fans struggle to cope with coooling an overloaded CPU. Some computers have built-in protection to stop damage to hardware.  Hardware can be damaged if your system is suffering from over-heating. Some systems have a CPU over-heat protect feature, meaning that they will shut down if they get over a certain temperature.

Minimize concurrently running programs

It could be that your system has a lot of programs running together in the background. To view this, press CTRL+ALT+DEL on a Windows PC to bring up the Task Manager. The Task Manager will show you the CPU load, memory usage, running services and running programs. You can end these programs from the Task manager or you can set the services not to start fro Control Panel > Administrative Tasks > Services management in the Microsoft Management console.



Bad memory or Corrupt Windows installation

It may not be the case that your CPU is insufficient, it be down to bad memory, or lack of memory. PC’s may also suffer from high CPU usage if there is insufficient RAM. We would suggest upgrading the system RAM. If your computer is old-ish then it may not be able to accept a lot of RAM. Some older laptop’s for example, the Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo Li 2727  will only accept 2GB RAM max. One way to find out how much RAM your system can cope with is by heading over to the Crucial website, then using their online system scanner tool to find out your PC make/model. It will then tell you the MAX ram your system can take.  For example, a family member has an ageing Dell Inspiron 640m. This has an Intel Core 2 Duo 2.0Ghz processor, but it can go up to 4GB RAM. My DELL E6530 Latitude laptop will handle 16GB RAM max.

Also, older systems will use slower DDR2 ram instead of much quicker DDR3 RAM. This will also make a difference to system performance.

Repairing a Corrupt Windows installation

Over time, it is possible that some Windows system files have become corrupted, and that maybe causing your system to run at a sub-optimal level.  Either perform a repair install, or backup your data, format your hard drive anew, then re-install Windows from fresh.

For more info see our article on how to repair a corrupt Windows installation here

Run PC clean up software such as Crap Cleaner

Running a third-party program such as Crap-cleaner may help

Upgrade your CPU if you can afford it.

It might be an idea to upgrade your system CPU if you have a low-spec processor, such as a Celeron. If you have built or bought a PC recently, chances are it maybe Intel Socket 1155 based. Most motherboards of this platform will take upto an Intel Core i7, but, you don’t have to have that hefty a CPU if you don’t want to spend the money. An Intel Core i3 would be a good choice or an Intel Core i5. i have an Intel Core i5 3450S Ivy Bridge procesor in my desktop, this can handle most things that I have thrown at it, such as audio processing.


About admin

Mike Gisbourne is an IT Professional/System builder from the UK with 20 years experience of PC building. Building PC's since 8086 days and Windows 3.1/95. Mike specialises in PC hardware, server administration, hosting. He is also a musician, keyboard player.