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Why Does My CPU Usage Jump To 100%?

Desmond from the U.K. writes:

Hi, my CPU usage keeps going up to 100 per cent, everything is at a standstill, nothing works. Any ideas?

While new computers are constantly increasing their CPU speeds, there are always going to be times where there just isn’t enough processing power or memory available to run multiple programs. When your computer’s CPU usage jumps to 100%, it indicates some software utility (or combination of different programs) is causing a problem and using up all the processing power. Normally you can resolve this issue simply by restarting the operating system, but if the CPU usage is frequently stuck at 100%, you likely have a bigger problem.

Some programs can be real memory hogs and are prone to causing CPU usage issues. For instance, if you have multiple tabs open in Firefox or Chrome that are all loading YouTube videos simultaneously, the Flash plug-in may crash and the web browser will eat up all the CPU power trying to restart it. In this case, all you need to need to do is identify which program is causing the problem and manually shut it down.

Tap the “Ctrl,” “Alt,” and “Delete” keys simultaneously and then click the “Open Task Manager” button. Navigate to the “Processes” tab and click the “Memory” button to arrange the currently-running process by the amount of memory they are using.

Arranging Programs By Memory Usage

Click the name of the program at the top of the list using the most memory, such as your web browser or some other software utility. After highlighting the name, click the “End Process” button at the lower-right corner of the window to shut down the program. Wait a few seconds and then re-open the program, at which point the CPU usage should return to normal (unless you have too many programs open at once, in which case you’ll need to leave some of them turned off).

Shutting Down A Process

Your CPU usage may also be out of control simply because there are too many programs running in the background that don’t appear in the taskbar at the bottom of the screen. Your computer’s manufacturer generally installs third-party software that automatically loads during startup. Any number of tools you’ve installed on your own may also include extra startup programs. To keep the amount of software running at any one time under control, Microsoft Windows lets you manually change what programs load automatically when the operating system boots up.

To find what programs are loading at startup, open the “Start” menu and type “msconfig” into the search box. Click the “msconfig” tool when it appears in the search results.

Loading Msconfig

Navigate to the tab labeled “Startup” and look through the list to find any programs you don’t want to load during the startup sequence.

Startup Tab

Remove the check box next to any programs you don’t want loading automatically, and then click the “Apply” button at the bottom of the screen. Restart your computer.

Turning Off Startup Programs

If your computer is still regularly at 100% CPU usage after turning off background software and using fewer programs simultaneously, you likely have a spyware or virus issue that’s eating up your processing power. If you don’t already have a spyware detection tool, download and install a program such as Spybot Search and Destroy [1] or Lavasoft Ad-Aware [2]. Open the program and select the option to run a full system scan.

Checking For Spyware

~ Ty Arthur