What Are the Most Common Causes of High CPU Usage?

A Central Processing Unit (CPU).
Viruses, spyware, and other malware can be a cause of high CPU usage.
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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 12 March 2014
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There are many things that may lead to high computer processing unit (CPU) usage. One of the most common is having too many applications open and in use at one time. Malware, which is malicious software such as spyware, may lead to high CPU usage as well. Sometimes the problem is software that fails to function exactly as it should. Once an individual identifies the problem, he may fix high CPU usage by closing programs; removing malware or software that's at fault; or seeking help from a computer repair person.

One of the most common causes of high CPU usage is the use of too many computer applications at one time. This often occurs when an individual is multitasking on his computer. For example, a user may choose to surf the Internet, listen to music, and run a scan for viruses at the same time. Sometimes a person will even attempt to perform word processing tasks while running these other applications and have background programs enabled to check for updates to software. While a computer user may be able to accomplish all of these things at once, having so many applications running can lead to high CPU usage.


In some cases, harmful computer software, referred to as malware, is at fault for high CPU usage. Malware can include viruses; spyware, which collects information from a person's computer; and adware, which shows the computer user advertisements. These programs are often at fault when a person is dealing with frequent pop-up ads or notices that his browser is directed to a page he hasn’t selected.

High CPU usage may also result from programs that start to malfunction. For example, a word processing program may work perfectly for a period of time and then suddenly start to freeze periodically. Sometimes a malfunctioning program will attempt to use a significant portion of a system's resources in order to run. Often, a program that is incompatible with a person’s operating system contributes to high CPU usage as well.

It is usually considered normal for CPU usage to be high from time to time. If CPU usage is high most or all of the time, however, this may be a sign of a problem. In such a case, a person may try closing some of applications he is using or stopping some of the programs that are running in the background. He may also try getting rid adware and malware; using an online tutorial to find other fixes for high CPU usage; or contacting a computer professional for help.


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