Today, PCs are everywhere, and they can only operate due to the inclusion of one crucial component: the CPU. Many people ask how CPUs work, why these components are so important, and how much CPU usage is expected.
This article will answer these questions in detail and explain several other things about CPU usage.
How Much CPU Usage Is Normal?
About 10-30% CPU usage is the average range for most PC users. A healthy PC that’s not getting overloaded should only have a CPU use percentage of 10% or lower. If it’s completely idle, then 2-4% usage is expected.
That said, some other factors that determine the CPU usage percentage are:
The Computer’s Operating System
Computer operating systems are constantly getting updated to raise the bar and match the applications that software developers work so hard on. The latest Apple OS and Windows OS versions today are OS 12.4 and Windows 11, respectively. Five years ago, the Macbook was using the OS X operating system, and Windows PCs were still using Windows 10.
Apple has gone through multiple upgrades since then. Although Windows seems to have only gone up by one, that figure can be deceiving as they constantly pump out more minor updates to tweak and fine-tune their OS. With the amount of work being done, it’s clear that software and hardware demands have slowly risen, and managing CPU usage is essential for developers.
The macOS and Windows now come in versions that allow less CPU usage. If you’re using a newer model, you should expect an idle CPU usage of about 2-4%. On the other hand, older PCs typically use 4% or higher.
The Number of Activities You’re Doing
Some people use their computers for a single task at a time, while others run many applications simultaneously.
One of the most important things you should know is that the number of applications you’re running is directly correlated to an increase in CPU usage. If you’re running just a couple of applications, you should expect 5-15% CPU usage. You can expect anything from 20% to 100% if you’re running more intensive programs or several programs simultaneously.
The Applications Running on Your PC
How many applications are running on your PC right now? Most people don’t bother closing apps as soon as they’re done using them, which can cause some strain on the CPU. As mentioned earlier, an idle computer uses between 2-4%. A PC with many apps running in the foreground and background should expect much more CPU power usage.
Furthermore, the type of applications you use affects the amount of CPU power your PC uses.
Now that you know what influences CPU usage, let’s talk about the CPU levels and whether too much CPU usage is bad for your computer.
Is 100% CPU Usage Bad?
100% CPU usage is bad because it runs down your CPU over time. While the damage might not be immediately apparent, the amount of heat generated by utilizing your CPU at 100% can cause slowdowns or even crashes with time.
In other words, letting your CPU’s usage get up to 100% regularly would inevitably damage the CPU, so it’s essential to regulate your PC’s workload carefully.
Does this mean you should refrain from doing it? Well, yes and no. While it’s not always the best to max out your CPU usage, it is necessary for some professionals. Video editors, designers, and programmers regularly run demanding programs, and excessive CPU usage is sometimes unavoidable.
Now that you know that pushing your CPU usage to the max is a bad idea, let’s take a look at some scenarios that may get you there, like gaming.
How Much CPU Usage Is Normal for Gaming?
10-30% CPU usage is normal for most games. However, larger games usually require significantly more power, ranging from 30 to 70%. Also, your graphic settings increase the processing power required, so running games on lower settings can help reduce usage and temperature.
Gaming is quite a heavy task to perform on any computer. It puts a strain on both the CPU and GPU. However, this strain shouldn’t cause any long-term effects if you’re a moderate gamer.
The GPU is the graphic processing component of the computer. With the GPU, the CPU helps process the graphics of applications and software.
As you might expect, gaming requires a lot of graphic processing. Depending on how tasking the game is to run, the graphic processing requirements can get quite high.
Some games are less demanding, while some demand a great deal of graphic processing. However, you should review the game’s graphic settings if a game uses more than 70% of your GPU.
A PC’s CPU usage while gaming also depends on how many apps run alongside the game. Many people forget to close programs they’re not using, leaving them to run in the background.
This can cause some strain on the CPU, especially when you’re gaming. If you’re running software that takes as much power as gaming and leaves too many programs open, your CPU usage can get quite high.
Luckily, virtually all PCs have inbuilt failsafes to keep your system–especially the CPU–from getting too hot. The most common of these is thermal throttling. This failsafe essentially involves the CPU forcibly lowering its output to reduce the amount of heat it’s generating.
If you’re not a gamer, though, you’re probably wondering what CPU usage is normal for streaming. Let’s take a look at that next.
How Much CPU Usage Is Normal for Streaming?
30% to 70% is the normal CPU usage for streaming when streaming normal videos with moderate FPS rates. Light streamers usually use about 30% of their CPU, while heavy streamers will naturally use more, usually up to about 70%.
Similar to gaming, CPU usage rises when you stream. Streaming involves using your PC to watch live or recorded media. Since the computer must process the frames as they come in, it engages the CPU quite a bit.
That said, below are three major determinants of CPU usage while streaming.
FPS (Frames Per Second) usually determines the quality of the video you’re streaming. Every video is a compilation of constantly changing pictures or ‘frames.’ When put together in a ‘stream,’ they form a moving video.
Higher FPS rates would allow you to see more intermediary frames in the movement of the characters and the environment in the video. Not everyone feels this is necessary while watching their videos. Because of this, streaming services like Youtube and Netflix offer multiple FPS rates to their users to foster better accessibility.
Higher FPS rates demand a lot more from the CPU and GPU, so videos with higher FPS rates would certainly demand more from the CPU than videos with lower rates.
Well, how long is the video you’re going to watch? Once you know the answer to this, you’ll get a rough idea of what your CPU usage should be. If the video is short, CPU usage should usually be between 30%-40%. Longer videos will typically require more.
Live or Recorded Media
Live media always takes way more CPU usage than recorded media. This usually happens because live videos combine network and streaming, increasing the amount of power required.
On the other hand, streaming videos from your storage has no network requirements, so there’s a significant drop in CPU usage.
Now that you know all about CPU usage for various programs, it is important to also know how to reduce it.
How To Reduce CPU Usage?
Lower the number of programs running to reduce CPU usage. Rebooting your computer, updating your drives, and scanning your computer for malware also help.
There is no definite method to do this. Sometimes, it takes approaching the problem from several angles to get a proper reduction.
However, a good option is to check your task manager for the programs using the most memory. A PC diagnostic tool can also greatly help here.
So, now that we’ve talked about what’s an unacceptable level of CPU usage, let’s discuss what levels you should be striving for.
Is 90% CPU Usage OK?
90% CPU usage is not okay for extended periods, and a computer that continually runs at this rate will get damaged over time. However, using it at this percentage for short periods usually does minimal damage.
The normal range for an idle computer is usually below 10%, and it should ideally be between 20-70% when in use. However, there are rare occasions where 90% CPU usage is reached. More often than not, this is caused by multiple apps running in the background.
You may reach this figure or higher at other times with intensive activities like video-encoding. Luckily, PCs have systems that prevent this from happening too often.
Is 70% CPU Usage OK?
70% CPU usage is okay. However, it’s still an extremely high percentage. Although it’s within safe limits, it’s at the upper limit, so running at this rate for long periods can cause overheating.
If you want to reduce this number, I’d recommend closing unused applications running in the background. On many occasions, these applications are the culprits behind high CPU usage.
Is 50% CPU Usage Normal?
50% CPU usage is the ideal number for everyday professional use. In many ways, this is considered a normal CPU usage percentage. Normal PC users utilize about 5-20%. However, professional users can use up to 50% of their CPU’s processing power.
For example, people that deal with 3D animation and video encoding use 100% of their CPU power, while people who use more taxing applications can use up to 70%.
That said, don’t panic if you don’t record 50% usage. As I mentioned, only professionals who use heavy tools or gamers who play heavy games need to attain these numbers. If all you do on your PC is browse, read blogs, and play music, your CPU might not use even 20% of its processing capacity.
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