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What Are the Most Common Causes of CPU Spikes?

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  • Written By: Alex Tree
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 16 March 2014
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Central processor unit (CPU) spikes in personal computers can be caused by a number of factors, such as excessive and continual usage, inadequate power supply, or improper cooling. Heavy software applications and running many programs at once can also cause spikes. Another common cause is viruses, which tend to take up all the available CPU resources, resulting in system instability and spikes.

A CPU spike is a sudden increase in processor utilization, which can cause temporary or permanent damage to the CPU and motherboard. Spikes can be caused by the simultaneous running of applications that use a large amount of resources and RAM. High-graphic games running along with multiple programs, such as music players, web browsers, and email clients, can cause the CPU core to heat up, hampering its performance. Programs tend to lag when this state continues for a prolonged period, as not enough resources can be allocated to them.

In newer versions of Microsoft Windows®, the CPU monitor in the task manager enables users to check the degree of CPU utilization. Percentages and graphs of the usage of standalone and system programs can be monitored. This will give a fair idea of whether the CPU is being over-utilized and can help pinpoint which applications are causing spikes. The user can control which tasks he or she wants to keep running, and terminate high CPU consuming tasks.

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Virus attacks are another common cause for CPU spikes. A virus can take up all of the PC's RAM and CPU resources, causing the computer to be unresponsive for long periods. Some viruses automatically open multiple programs simultaneously; this also considerably strains the CPU. Installing an updated antivirus program and running it regularly can help avoid spikes due to virus attacks.

Computers that have been continually used for more than 12 hours without being shut down or placed in hibernation mode can decrease in performance due to overheating of the motherboard. Besides regularly shutting down the computer, one tactic to avoiding spikes is upgrading the PC's CPU and RAM. Upgrading the fan in fan-cooled CPUs, or installing a CPU heat sink for heat dissipation, can also improve system performance, reducing the strain on the cores.

Software optimization is also useful for avoiding CPU spikes. Regular runs of the Disk Cleanup wizard can delete unused files from the cache, freeing up space for new programs. CPU optimizers, whether standalone or bundled software packages, can maintain healthy CPU levels and automatically terminate non-responsive programs and those that require a high amount of resources.

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Discuss this Article

anon284986
Post 5

I have been experiencing very high CPU usage (90 percent) whenever I play a game, but it's any game, no matter the graphic. This is the fifth PC I have built myself and I have never had this problem before. I have done just about everything to get to the bottom of this problem and yet to see any improvements.

I first had Windows vista and then I upgraded to Windows 7, and still nothing. I have that little gadget on the desktop that shows your CPU and RAM usage. My RAM usage stays a steady 20-30 percent at all times, but the CPU will spike to 99 percent at different times. Sometimes it will do it on youtube but not always. I mostly notice it whenever I play games. Lately, I have been trying to play Diablo 3 and it's just unbearable at times. I looked at my Task Manager and the CPU usage only shows 40 percent on my game but the gadget says 90 and I defiantly feel the 90. Only when I window out does it go back down.

I have tried re-installing the OS, I have tried taking my ram out and just having one in at a time. I have replaced my video card (Everything was new but the hard drive and the video card.) I am just on the verge of buying a new motherboard. I have taken my PC into the shop and had diagnostic done on it and everything came back excellent and in fact, they said my PC "Ran like a beast" but why do I get these problems?

These are my specs: Windows 7 Home 64-bit; 8Gb DDR3 RAM; i5 Intel processor; 900W Power supply; 9800 GTX Gforce 2gb

jmc88
Post 4
My old laptop had a lot of problems with high CPU usage. I think most of it just came from getting older. It was about 5 years old when I started having problems.

First, I noticed that it was generally running slower. I did all of the necessary upkeep like running the disk cleanup wizard and deleting unneeded files. That only helped a little bit.

It eventually got to the point where I would have random CPU spikes, and playing streaming videos like YouTube was impossible, because the computer was too slow. After 30 minutes or so, the thing would get so hot that it would overheat and shut down automatically. I even tried reformatting the hard drive and installing Windows again, but that didn't help.

I finally just had to get a new computer to replace that one. I guess the point of my story here is that no matter how good you treat your computer, it will eventually start to slow down when it gets older. For a laptop, I think 5 years is about average, assuming you use it pretty often.

jcraig
Post 3

@TreeMan - @JimmyT mentioned it, but to check your system memory, just look at the bar located below the CPU usage. This is the amount of RAM being used by the computer. RAM is basically what determines how fast programs can function. Depending on your computer, you'll need different amounts of RAM.

If all you are doing is surfing the web and writing word documents, you can probably get by with 2GB, but that doesn't leave you much room for other things. If you are running Windows 7 or newer, you probably need at least 4GB of RAM just to use the basic functions or watch videos online. Finally, if you are running specialized programs (photo or video editing, music-making, etc.) you'll need even more. Outside of opening documents and surfing the internet, I use my computer for streaming videos and photo editing, and I usually don't go over 6GB usage when I have several programs open at once.

JimmyT
Post 2

@TreeMan - There are a couple of ways you can get to the task manager. The way I prefer is just to right click on the taskbar (the bar at the bottom of the screen that shows what programs are currently running). From there, you should have the option to "Start Task Manager." The other options are to press Control+Alt+Delete and then open the task manager. I believe you can also get there through the Control Panel.

Once you have the task manager open, the "Applications" tab will tell you what programs are open. From there, I would go to the "Performance" tab. The CPU Usage bar shows how many of your computer's resources are being used. If you notice 100 CPU usage regularly, you'll need to assess potential problems.

There are several things that could be causing this. The article addresses most of them, so I would start with doing a virus scan, closing unnecessary programs, and checking your memory.

TreeMan
Post 1
I am having some problems with my computer running slow, and I am wondering if it might be something like a CPU spike. One of my friends mentioned that as a possibility.

In Windows, how can I get to the CPU monitor that the article talks about? I am not sure how to find the task manager.

Also, once I get this program open, what should I be looking for? How can I tell the difference between whether various programs are slowing down my computer or if it is something like a virus. I have an antivirus program on my computer, so I don't think it would be that. At the same time, I don't really run a lot of programs or anything.

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