Why Is My CPU Slower Than Base Speed?

A processor is one of your computer’s most vital and expensive parts. So, it can be particularly frustrating to find a CPU functioning well below its baseline capacity. Why might this be happening?

CPUs often run at lower than base speeds when processing loads are low. Alternatively, your processor’s multiplier is set too low. It is also possible that your system’s software may be limiting processor functioning to save energy or protect it from overheating, also known as CPU throttling.

Causes Of A CPU That’s Slower Than The Base Speed

A processor clock running slower than base speeds is not always a cause for alarm. 

If your CPU’s speeds aren’t affecting your system’s overall performance, there is no need to take action. I’ll explain shortly why this may be a routine part of your computer’s self-maintenance protocol. 

Moreover, even if processor speeds affect your machine’s performance, you can usually resolve the problem by modifying your software environment. You may have to run a few diagnostic tools or install additional software in more challenging instances.

Proceed step by step, beginning with the simplest measures that require little or no expense before moving on to more complex solutions. These may require more expertise, attention, and resources. This way, you’ll minimize expenditure and energy directed at the problem. 

Automated Performance Adjustments Made by CPU Manufacturers

Processors usually draw more energy and produce more heat as clock speeds rise. The inverse is also true: as CPU speeds fall, they draw less electrical energy and generate less heat via processing. 

There may be exceptions across different generations of processor technology or between manufacturers based on efficiency gaps. However, the relationships between performance, energy draw, and residual heat are consistent across comparable CPUs.

Inevitably, manufacturers have exploited these relationships to optimize processor performance, minimize energy consumption, and protect their chips from heat damage.  

Both Intel and AMD, the major players in the desktop and laptop CPU markets today, restrict the performance of their chips to save energy and reduce heat build-up when high performance is not required. Even Apple computers throttle processor speeds on their new M2 chips when faced with overheating.

These measures dynamically adjust the voltage supplied to processors in response to the CPU load reported by your operating system. 

As a result, your CPU does not run at a constant speed throughout the time your computer runs. Instead, it is programmed to improve performance in response to increased processing demands

In other words, the clock speed of your processor rises as CPU loads rise and fall as processing requirements fade. 

By extension, this means that a processor running at slow clock speeds is not a problem as long as it is not limiting your system’s overall performance. 

If your CPU runs slower than base speeds, it may conserve energy and minimize heat production. There is no need to take additional action as long as it can hit higher speeds when processing demands rise.

Of course, if your processor is never pushed to its limits, you may wonder if you might have saved money by installing a less powerful chip.

Restrictive Processor Multipliers Set by Users

CPU manufacturers program automatic adjustments to their chips to benefit the average user, who may not be aware of the intricate relationships between processing speeds, energy drawn, and heat produced. But they also have options for greater customization.

Advanced users can use their Basic Input Output System or BIOS parameters to take control of this process. They can use this to manually set their processor speeds and define the range and increments by which CPU speeds react to greater processing demands.

BIOS settings for managing processor speeds include:

  • CPU Core Ratio or multiplier: The multiples of the base clock speed (BCLK) determine the range of speeds your processor covers. For example, a BCLK of 100MHz multiplied by a CPU core ratio of 32 would result in a CPU speed of 3,200MHz, or 3.2GHz. 
  • CPU Core Voltage: The amount of power supplied to the CPU in volts. Increasing CPU Core Voltage makes it run at higher speeds.
  • CPU Cache: It adjusts the frequency of the CPU’s cache and memory controller.
  • CPU Ring Voltage: It increases the input voltage of the CPU cache. This is synchronized with the CPU core voltage on many boards and cannot be modified separately.

While these settings are extremely handy for advanced users, they can confuse novices, and it is easy to produce unintended consequences if you don’t know what you’re doing.

If you inadvertently set the base clock or multipliers too restrictive, it can throttle your processor and make it perform well below its full capabilities.  

Thankfully, fixing the problem is as easy as making a few adjustments in your BIOS. If unsure how to proceed, you can always revert to default settings.  

Your Computer’s Power Management Settings

Windows 11 Control Panel Change Power Plan.

Besides chip manufacturers’ automated protocols and BIOS settings, your operating system’s power management settings can also affect processor performance. 

These work on the same trade-offs described earlier. They reduce performance a little to save power. For this reason, they are often described as oriented towards performance or power-saving goals.

If you’ve set your power management plan to save energy at the cost of performance, this can throttle CPU performance, even on the most processor-intensive tasks. It may be why your CPU is running at slower than base speeds.

Again, the solution to the problem is relatively simple. Moreover, since computers these days are fairly energy efficient, they use much less energy than many other household appliances. There’s no good reason to set up a power-saving mode if you are going to be regularly pushing your processor to its limits.

You will, however, need to ensure adequate cooling, as excess heat can permanently damage your processor.

In-Built System Measures Taken To Protect Against Overheating

Because heat damage poses an existential threat to computer processors, all manufacturers have in-built protocols to safeguard their chips against heat damage

Once your processor hits a certain temperature threshold, these processes kick in. They rapidly slow down your CPU so that it stops generating so much heat.

Once your processor has cooled down sufficiently, it can start picking up speed again. However, if you do not have adequate cooling infrastructure, throttling will constantly kick in, keeping your CPU performance consistently poor. 

You could resolve this problem very easily by disabling the manufacturer-set threshold. However,  you risk permanently damaging your processor, so ensuring adequate cooling makes much more sense. Usually, this is enough to restore performance to the desired levels.

Viruses, Hacking, and Damage

If viruses have infected your computer or have been hacked, this might increase the demands on your processor even though you are not using it for heavy processing. In this case, it may hit its limits even when it seems to be doing very little.

Finally, heat damage is also a potential cause of an erratic or underperforming CPU.

Resolving Processor Throttling Issues

Now that we’ve covered the possible reasons for your CPU’s underperformance let’s consider some solutions to the problem. 

Remember to isolate the source of the problem before picking the appropriate remedy. As we’ve seen, many possible explanations exist for a slow processor clock speed. 

Making the correct diagnosis is the first and most important step to resolving the issue. If you arrive at the wrong conclusion, you not only risk wasting time and money, but you might also inadvertently damage expensive components.

Modify Processor Speed Settings in the BIOS

You’re in luck if user-set limits restrict your processor’s clock speed. The solution to the problem is as simple as changing these settings in your system’s BIOS.

To make the necessary changes on a Windows machine:

  1. Reboot your machine.
  2. Hold the F1, F2, F10, or Del key as your computer starts depending on your motherboard.
  3. Your BIOS menu should open.
  4. Navigate to the CPU Frequency option (it may be under Advanced Options).
  5. Set the Base Clock and multiplier options to make optimum use of your processor.
  6. Save the changes and exit BIOS.

The BIOS equivalent on Apple computers is UEFI or unified extensible firmware interface. To enter the UEFI on a Mac:

  1. Reboot your computer.
  2. Hold the Command, Option, O, and F keys as your computer starts.
  3. A black screen with white text will open.
  4. You can make changes to your system’s UEFI here using UNIX commands.

Change Power Management Plan

Changing your power management plan is also relatively straightforward. There are multiple ways you could do this.

To set your power plan to Best Performance:

  1. Go to Start, then search and select Control Panel.
  2. Choose Hardware and Sound.
  3. Click on the Power Options icon.
  4. Select Show additional plans.
  5. Among the available options in the drop-down menu for presets, check High Performance.

If your PC’s power management has been throttling your CPU speed, this should solve the problem. You could also change the same setting by:

  1. Go to Start, then search and select Control Panel.
  2. Choose Hardware and Sound.
  3. Click on the Power Options icon.
  4. In the Power Options window’s right panel, click Additional Power Settings.
  5. Select Change Plan Settings.
  6. Click on Change Advanced Power Settings.
  7. Open up the Processor Power Management settings.
  8. Set the Minimum Processor State to your desired value.
  9. Do the same for the Maximum Processor State setting.
  10. Check Apply and click on OK.

You can disable Intel’s Power Management driver by:

  1. Going to Start > Settings > Update & Security > Troubleshoot.
  2. Select Advanced Options > Command Prompt.
  3. A command prompt should open.
  4. Type in C:\Windows\System32\drivers and press Enter.
  5. Next, type ren intelppm.sys intelppm.sys.bak and press Enter.
  6. Type Exit and press Enter.
  7. The command prompt should close.
  8. Now restart your computer.

You can disable intel power management using the registry editor by following these steps:

  1. Press Start + R to open a Run window.
  2. Type regedit in the dialogue box and press Enter.
  3. Your system will seek permission to change your device. Click Yes.
  4. Navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE > SYSTEM > CurrentControlSet > Control.
  5. Right-click on the Power folder.
  6. Select New from the drop-down menu and check Key from the submenu.
  7. Name the newly created key PowerThrottling and press Enter.
  8. Right-click on the PowerThrottling key you just created.
  9. Select New from the drop-down menu and then DWORD (32-bit) Value from the submenu.
  10. Name the new registry PowerThrottlingOff and press Enter.
  11. Double-click on PowerThrottlingOff.
  12. When the new registry opens, change the value data from 0 to 1 and click OK.

You can also change the power management settings for your system from its BIOS or UEFI using the process described in the previous section.

To make the same changes within a Mac OS:

  1. Open System Preferences.
  2. Click on the Energy Saver icon.
  3. This will open the power settings.
  4. Ensure no power-saving measures have been selected. If so, disable them.

Disable CPU Throttling 

Besides stifling your processor’s power management protocols, you can also disable the processor hot or PROCHOT signal to improve performance. 

Note that the PROCHOT signal tells your processor to slow down as its temperatures approach its safety threshold. 

Disabling it is risky and should not be done unless a defect in your chip’s thermal sensors causes it to read out high temperatures even when it is not heating up. 

For the same reasons, OS designers make it extremely hard for you to execute the commands to perform this step. One way to solve the problem is using third-party applications like Throttle Stop

Install Better Cooling

If excess heat is causing your computer’s software to throttle its processing speed, a far more effective, safe, and sustainable way to improve performance is to look into your machine’s cooling infrastructure. 

You may need to replace thermal paste, add or replace fans, or change your entire cooling system to install a more efficient cooling solution. You may even have to install liquid cooling in an extremely high-heat environment.

Since these measures are usually more time-consuming and expensive, try them only after exploring the simpler and cost-free software solutions described in the earlier sections.  

Run an Anti-Virus Scan

If none of these solutions work for you, look into the possibility that you may have a virus or your computer may be hacked. 

Open the task manager and see what resources your system is using. You may have been hacked if your processor is stressed even when you are not running many applications.

In this case, disconnect your computer from any networks and run a thorough anti-virus scan to isolate and remove any infected files on your machine.

Finally, consider that you may be dealing with a damaged CPU that needs to be replaced soon.