High CPU but nothing in Task Manager? Here’s how to fix this conundrum

By: Aleksandar Ognjanovic
6 minute read
high cpu empty task manager

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The correlation between the software and the hardware in Windows platform isn’t always the best. The high CPU activity and memory leaks were there from the beginning and will be there, most likely, eternally.

However, on most occasions, affected users are able to determine which service is behind the high CPU activity. Sadly, not always. Sometimes, there’s nothing strange in Task Manager but the CPU still hits a high activity percentage.

For the sake of resolving this, we prepared a list of applicable solutions which should help you address this issue. In case there’s no viable CPU-hogging service in sight but your CPU isn’t throttling down, make sure to check them out below.

How to address high CPU usage when there’s nothing suspicious in Task Manager

  1. Disable background programs
  2. Scan for malware
  3. Restart Windows Management Instrumentation
  4. Check Advanced Power Settings
  5. Disable IDLEDISABLE power function with Command Prompt
  6. Reset your PC

1: Disable background programs

First things first. Even though the absence of any feedback in Task Manager makes this scenario rather peculiar, the application’s background activity is still likely the main cause of the abysmal CPU activity. It’s not always the main process which inflicts the high CPU usage — the minor related services can do it, too.

In order to address this possible instigator, we advise you to disable all background programs (except system applications, obviously) and move from there.

In case you’re not sure how to do it, we prepared two methods available in Windows 10.

Task Manager:

  1. Right-click on the Taskbar and open Task Manager.
  2. Select the Startup tab.high cpu but nothing in task manager
  3. Select every program individually and disable it. Disable all programs.
  4. Close Task Manager and restart your PC.

System Configuration:

  1. In the Windows Search bar, type msconfig and open System Configuration.high cpu but nothing in task manager
  2. Select the Services tab and check the ”Hide all Microsoft services” box.high cpu but nothing in task manager
  3. Disable all but essential third-party services (GPU and sound drivers) and confirm changes.
  4. Restart your PC.

2: Scan for malware

Besides the known and mostly benevolent desktop applications, there are the creeping malicious threats that can wreak havoc on your system. Viruses and malware, in general, can either realistically cause enormous CPU spikes, or, on the other hand, inflict false readings in Task Manager.

The latter can be avoided by downloading one of the third-party monitoring tools. Of course, you’ll still need to perform an in-depth scan of your system in order to get rid of possible infections.

Additionally, since there’s a lot of reports of crypto-mining hacks which will, without your permission, use your resources, you have an additional reason to scan and eliminate all threats.

You can use any third-party antivirus tool or Windows-native Defender. We highly recommend Bitdefender and you can learn more about it here.

Windows Defender-wise, here’s how to perform a deep scan in Windows 10:

  1. Open Windows Defender by right-clicking the icon in the Notification area.
  2. Choose Virus & threat protection.high cpu but nothing in task manager
  3. Select Advanced scan.high cpu but nothing in task manager
  4. Highlight Windows Defender Offline Scan and click Scan now.high cpu but nothing in task manager
  5. Your PC will restart and the scanning procedure will commence.

3: Restart Windows Management Instrumentation

The Windows Management Instrumentation service (WmiPrvSE.exe) is, besides the inglorious svchost.exe, the service which frequently misbehaves and can, in the process, inflict CPU spikes. This service’s main use is to manage and orchestrate the execution of various background systems in a network.

What you’ll need to do is restart this service and look for changes. Back in the days, Microsoft provided the patch for this but it was intended for Windows 7, not later iterations. So, instead of using provided resources, you’ll need to take the matters into your own hands.

Here’s how to restart Windows Management Instrumentation and fix ghost CPU hogging:

  1. Type services in the Search bar and open Services.high cpu but nothing in task manager
  2. Navigate to the Windows Management Instrumentation service.high cpu but nothing in task manager
  3. Right-click on it and choose Restart from the contextual menu.

4: Check Advanced Power Settings

Some CPU-related Power settings might affect the system readings and thus trick you into thinking your processor is all the time at 100%. In this case, you should check the Minimum Processor State option under Processor Power Management.

Certain plans will apply high CPU percentage and that’s not what you’ll want to do when the Minimum Processor State is at hand. You should go for the bare minimum or 5%.

Here’s how to change this Power Setting and, hopefully, reduce the CPU usage to normal values:

  1. Right-click on the battery icon in the Taskbar’s Notification area and open Power Options.
  2. Select your default power plan and click on the ”Change plan settings” link.high cpu but nothing in task manager
  3. Choose ”Change advanced power settings”.high cpu but nothing in task manager
  4. Expand Processor power management and then do the same with Minimum processor state.
  5. Set both ”On battery” and ”Plugged in” options to 5% and confirm changes.high cpu but nothing in task manager
  6. Restart your PC.

5: Disable IDLEDISABLE power function with Command Prompt

We’ll stick with the Power settings for the time being. Most of the Power Settings are accessible through Windows 10 UI. However, there are some hidden values which are unavailable (and for a good reason, too) to casual users. T

he issue at hand might be provoked by IDLEDISABLE property — a dedicated option which configures CPU activity when there are no processes to run. It’s related to System Idle Process and it can be configured for both plugged in and battery-powered power states.

Certain applications (mostly games) utilize this function in order to avoid latency. But, instead of shutting down after you close the game, the IDLEDISABLE is still on and this will refute CPU throttling down. What you’ll need to try is disabling this Advanced Power Settings hidden in Power Configuration.

In order to do so, you’ll need to utilize the elevated Command Prompt as an administrator. Don’t forget to create a restore point and backup your data before doing so, since there’s a small but not negligible risk of critical system damage.

Here’s how to do it in a few simple steps:

    1. In the Windows Search bar, type cmd, right-click on the Command Prompt and run it as admin.
    2. In the command line, paste the following commands and press Enter after each:
      • PowerCfg /SETACVALUEINDEX SCHEME_CURRENT SUB_PROCESSOR IDLEDISABLE 000high cpu but nothing in task manager
      • PowerCfg /SETACTIVE SCHEME_CURRENT
    3. After that, reboot your PC and look for changes.

6: Reset your PC

Finally, if none of the previous steps proved helpful in this matter, the only remaining solution, besides the obvious system reinstallation, is to use the ”Reset this PC” option in Windows 10. By doing so, you’ll have a chance to retain your files while the system is refreshed and completely restored to its initial values.

If you’re unsure how to reset your Windows 10 PC to factory settings, follow the steps we provided below:

  1. In the Windows Search bar, type recovery and open Recovery options from the list of results.
  2. Click on the ”Get started” button under the ”Reset this PC” recovery option.high cpu but nothing in task manager
  3. Choose whether you want to preserve files stored on system partition or not.
  4. Follow the instructions until the system is refreshed.

That should wrap it up. In case you have any questions or maybe an alternative solution for this issue, make sure to share them with us and other affected readers. You can do so in the comments section below.

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