Your CPU provides the core brain power for your computer. On the plus side, it means that when you’re buying or building a new PC, you can focus most of your attention on a single spec. But it also means that the rest of your hardware may be throttled if you find yourself with a CPU that can’t meet your processing power.
A CPU may not be easy to replace, but you can find ways to minimize how much CPU processes your different software uses and help you push your computer past its reasonable limits. Of course, you should always exercise caution, as messing with your hardware configurations too much can easily cause an overheating issue. If you’ve been wondering “How do I fix high CPU usage”, we’ll cover some of the safest and most effective ways to lower your CPU usage and get more bang for your buck.
If you’re experiencing a problem with technology, properly troubleshooting is usually the right answer. That’s as true for high CPU usage as it is for anything else. If you aren’t familiar with the troubleshooting process, you can think of it like diagnosing a condition at the doctor. We’ll start with solutions that are easier to perform and have less of an overhead cost involved, and we’ll slowly move to more complex solutions.
If the first step doesn’t solve your problem, there’s no need to be concerned. Chances are that you’ll find your way to a feasible solution eventually, and there’s a decent probability that you’ll be acquiring slow improvements to your processing power with each step.
Restart Your Computer
The easiest measure you can take – and a measure you should always try first whenever you’re having a problem with your computer – is to restart your computer. There’s nothing too complicated here. Don’t force start by holding down the power button. Instead, you’ll need to click your way through the Windows 10 Start menu to restart your PC. Ideally, you’ll want to just power off your computer, give it a few minutes to sit, and then boot up normally. When you open Windows, you’ll hopefully see an improvement to your CPU usage.
Identifying Power Hungry Processes
If a reboot doesn’t fix the problem, it’s time to make sure that there aren’t any processes that are hogging all of your processing power. Fortunately, Windows makes that process pretty easy through the Task Manager interface. You can reach the Task Manager by holding down ctrl + shift + esc. This will bring you to the Task Manager, which allows you to monitor the overall functionality of your computer and make adjustments as necessary.
Clicking on the processes tab will allow you to see all of the different apps and processes running on your computer. A lot of software has default settings that cause them to run in the background even when you aren’t actively using them. If you see CPU 100% usage when you aren’t running labor intensive programs, there’s probably at least one CPU process that’s slowing things down.
That doesn’t mean you can fix high CPU by just ending processes prematurely. If you don’t understand what a process in the processes tab does, do a little research before ending it. If you do identify a process that’s eating up all of your usage and can be safely closed, you can click on the processes and then click “End Process”. When you click End Process, you’ll stop the processes in the here and now, but they’ll open up on your next reboot. You’ll want to make sure to manually go into your app settings so that it won’t recur every time you restart Windows.
Search for Threats
Malware and viruses are some of the most common causes of high CPU usage, and if you haven’t found a problem yet, you’ll want to click through your antivirus software to identify a possible risk. If you don’t already have antivirus software, now’s the time to download one. We don’t have the space to cover every antivirus program Windows supports, but all programs will let you click through some menus to scan your computer.
In any case, you’ll want to click through and do a full scan of your computer. This may take hours to complete if you don’t scan your computer often, but it’s well worth the time. Once you’ve run your antivirus software, you’ll want to reboot, open the task manager, and evaluate your CPU usage and CPU power to identify any lingering processes that might be causing you a problem.
Update Your Drivers
Your Windows operating system doesn’t necessarily know how to natively collaborate with the hardware on your computer, but drivers provide a sensible solution. They are essentially translators – telling Windows 10 the most effective way to utilize the hardware to produce faster processes and more effective CPU usage. But if your drivers aren’t up to date, you might not realize it. An outdated driver can result in higher CPU usage that you might not be able to detect through your Task Manager.
And it’s not necessarily your CPU drivers that are causing an issue. For that reason, you’ll want to upgrade all of your drivers to ensure that your CPU usage is as efficient as can be. But it doesn’t take much work to upgrade your drivers. Navigate to the Start menu in Windows, then click on Settings. Click the Updates & Security tab, then click “Check For Updates”. Windows will automatically adjust your drivers. As always, reset your computer and open the Task Manager to evaluate the different processes, CPU usage, and apps.
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Adjust Power Settings
The default Windows power settings are designed to find a balance between performance and efficiency, and that’s especially true of laptops. These settings are great for everyday low CPU activities, but you can squeeze significantly more performance by going in and adjusting your power settings manually.
Click “Edit Power Plan” from the Start Menu, and then click “Power Options”. While you can adjust a number of different aspects of power usage manually using sliders, most users won’t have to get that precise with things. Instead, you can just choose the “High Performance” setting. This will unshackle your CPU to work at its highest settings.
Just keep in mind that the High Performance setting can quickly drain your battery if you’re on a laptop. And no matter what PC you’re using, you can expect the High Performance setting to put more strain on your desktop or laptop’s cooling system.
Reinstalling Your Operating System
If none of the steps above solve your problem, it may be time to take more drastic measures. We normally don’t recommend reinstalling your operating system except in the most serious circumstances, so only do so if your CPU performance is really suffering and you know that your CPU should be capable of performing better than it is.
Reinstalling your operating system used to mean formatting your PC – and in the process, deleting all of your personal files and software. Fortunately, the latest version of Windows offers a far more palatable solution. By clicking on “Reset this PC” from the main settings of Windows, you can restore your PC to factory conditions without deleting your personal data. The process should be safe, but we still recommend that you backup all of your data before taking this step.
Some users have a solution that doesn’t require resetting the PC entirely. The system restore function in Windows lets you revert back to an earlier state of your PC. If the issue causing your CPU throttling happened since the last restore point was made, your CPU usage should return back to normal.
Unfortunately, System Protection isn’t enabled natively in Windows. If System Protection is turned off, we generally recommend you turn it on. Creating backups will take up a little extra space on your hard drive, but it provides you with the means to convert your CPU settings back to normal without having to take drastic steps. System restore points can help diagnose a wide range of problems that go beyond the core efficiency of your CPU as well.
All if takes is a single slow process for your CPU to be dramatically affected. A click on the “End Process” button can improve your CPU power, but it’s just a short term solution. If you want to squeeze as much performance as possible out of your PC, we highly recommend that you work through every suggestion on our CPU usage guide. But users who are just experiencing some general slowdown can benefit by just identifying the biggest problem.
In any case, there’s no singular magic solution. When running high CPU usage software like AAA games or multitasking, you can generally expect some level of slowdown. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do what you can to optimize your CPU power. And if you decide that your current CPU simply isn’t up to your needs, we encourage you to browse our guide to the best CPUs on the market.