You finally got a new graphics card upgrade for your PC. You pop it in, connect all the cables, install the latest drivers, launch your favorite game, and there it is – you’re getting 15 FPS because the GPU is running at 5%. So, what’s causing your GPU usage to drop so low?
Your GPU usage is very low because you’re using the integrated graphics, there’s a driver issue, you have a CPU bottleneck, or the game you’re playing isn’t optimized. Possible fixes are reinstalling drivers, upgrading or overclocking your CPU, and adjusting certain game settings.
There’s nothing more frustrating than hardware issues when you want to game. This article covers all the possible causes of GPU usage and the solutions to each of them.
1. Your computer is using integrated graphics
If your CPU has an integrated GPU, the integrated GPU can be in direct use instead of your graphics card.
This is a common issue when upgrading from an old graphics card. Most laptops can suffer from this too.
The graphics card isn’t doing anything when the computer runs on the integrated GPU. You can still see it in the Task Manager and performance tracking programs.
If this happens, you’ll see 0-1% GPU usage on the graphs.
Moreover, some CPUs have powerful integrated graphics that can run AAA titles at lower resolutions. This might have deceived you in the first place.
How to fix
The easiest solution is to disable the integrated GPU through the BIOS. It’s a little bit different for each motherboard.
So, check the manual that came with your motherboard to see how to open the BIOS.
Look for an option named “Internal Graphics,” “Graphics device,” or something similar. Change from Integrated/Auto to Disabled/Dedicated graphics.
Note: Just be aware, that your screen might not have any display after this. If this is the case, make sure it’s plugged into the graphics card, not the motherboard monitor output port, and turn your machine off, and power it back up.
You can also make the computer use the graphics card on a per-app basis in Windows. Here’s how:
- Go to Start, type Graphics Settings, and click on it.
- Under Graphics performance preference, click on the Browse button.
- Locate the game folder.
- Select High performance and Save.
- Repeat for all games.
2. The GPU drivers are outdated or corrupted
If it’s been a while since you last updated your GPU drivers, you should probably do it now. Update your drivers once every couple of months and after any AAA game releases to get the best performance.
But changes to your hardware, Windows updates, and, yes, driver updates can break the drivers.
If you’re getting bad GPU performance after a driver update, that’s probably the cause.
How to fix
Deleting the old drivers and installing the latest recommended drivers is how you fix this. First, uninstall your NVIDIA or AMD drivers through Windows:
- Go to the Start menu and type Add or remove programs.
- Find AMD Software/NVIDIA GeForce Experience and uninstall it.
- Download and install DDU (Display Driver Uninstaller) from this link.
- Select AMD/NVIDIA and press on Clean and restart.
Congratulations! Your computer is now driver-free.
3. The chipset drivers are outdated
The chipset on your motherboard is a set of chips that allow communication between your motherboard and your CPU.
If you never installed or updated the chipset drivers on your PC, you can run into low GPU usage.
How to fix
If you don’t know what motherboard model you have, check it by going to Start > typing System Information. Remember the model next to Baseboard Product.
Type in your motherboard chipset model (e.g., X570). Download and install the drivers.
4. Your Windows Registry has corrupted entries
A registry entry/key can stay on your computer even after deleting a program. Registry keys store important configurations that control how your computer behaves.
If a registry entry is missing, is corrupted, or didn’t get deleted correctly, it can cause hardware issues.
How to fix
A fresh Windows install would fix any registry issues.
But if you don’t want to do that, do an SFC scan. It’s not going to fix your registry completely, but it can detect major errors.
Here’s how to run an SFC scan:
- Go to Start and type CMD.
- Right-click the Command Prompt and select Run as administrator.
- Type sfc /scannow and press Enter.
- Wait for the scan to finish, then restart your computer.
5. A Third-party program is causing low GPU usage
Some third-party programs can hog your CPU. This causes low GPU usage because the CPU doesn’t have any leftover processing power for important stuff like video games.
Most programs won’t cause this by default, but bugs happen. The same thing can happen if you have malicious software running in the background.
How to fix
The best solution is to disable all startup programs temporarily. You can then turn them on one by one to identify which program was causing low GPU usage.
Here’s how to do it:
- Press Ctrl + Shift + Esc. This brings up Task Manager.
- Go to the Startup tab.
- Click on a program and press Disable. Repeat this for all programs on the list.
- Restart your computer.
If you’re still getting low GPU usage, you can re-enable your startup programs. They didn’t cause the issue.
6. Your antivirus is slowing down your system
Antivirus/Anti-malware software is a great way to protect your PC from malicious viruses.
However, antivirus programs entail long full system scans that run in the background.
If the antivirus starts scanning in the middle of a game, it’ll steal all your CPU computing power. This can cause low GPU usage.
How to fix
Disabling real-time protection and scanning is the way to go. If you’re not downloading random files from the Internet, you’ll be safe.
If you have a third-party program, look for a Gaming Mode option.
Windows Defender also has real-time protection that you should disable. Here’s how:
- Go to Start and type Windows Security.
- Click on Virus & threat protection.
- Under Virus & threat protection settings, press on Manage settings.
- Disable Real-time protection.
Since Windows really doesn’t like you disabling real-time protection, you should do this as well:
- Go to Start and type “Windows PowerShell.”
- Right-click it and select Run as administrator.
- Type Set-MpPreference -DisableRealtimeMonitoring 1 and press Enter.
- Close the window.
This enables the “DisableRealtimeMonitoring” registry entry. If you want to re-enable real-time protection, type the same command and put a 0 instead of the 1 in the end.
7. Your GPU driver settings aren’t set to performance mode
Both AMD and NVIDIA have various settings in their respective graphics card software. They let you change things like anisotropic filtering, anti-aliasing, and so on.
When these settings aren’t configured properly, you can experience low GPU usage and clock speeds.
The Power management mode (NVIDIA) and Texture Filtering Quality (AMD) settings favor lower power consumption and better graphics instead of performance by default.
How to fix
You’ll have to change a few settings in your graphics card program to optimize your computer for performance. In fact, if you haven’t done this already, do it now.
Here’s how to change it for NVIDIA software:
- Right-click your desktop and click on NVIDIA Control Panel.
- Select Use the advanced 3D image settings on the first menu item (Adjust image settings with preview) and then select Take me there next to it.
- Set CUDA – GPUs to All, Low Latency Mode to On, select your GPU under OpenGL Rendering GPU, Power Management Mode to Prefer Maximum Performance, Shader Cache to On, Texture filtering – Quality to High Performance, Threaded optimization to Auto.
- Click Apply and save.
There are a lot of other settings in the control panel that you may want to play with for better performance or graphics. I only mentioned the ones that can affect GPU usage.
Here’s how to do it for AMD:
- Go to Start and type AMD Radeon Software.
- Go to Gaming > Global Graphics.
- Ensure Radeon Chill is disabled.
- Click on Advanced.
- Disable Frame rate target control, Morphological Anti-Aliasing, Anisotropic Filtering, OpenGL Triple Buffering, and 10-Bit Pixel Format.
- Set Texture Filtering Quality to Performance.
- Enable Surface Format Optimization.
- Set GPU Workload to Graphics.
- Close the program.
If Radeon Chill was Enabled or GPU Workload was set to Compute, that’s what caused the issue.
8. You have a CPU bottleneck
Although it’s normal to see low GPU usage in eSports titles, it should be around 95-100% in the latest AAA games.
If you’re getting less than 80-90% GPU usage in demanding games, you most likely have a CPU bottleneck.
The CPU has to feed data to the GPU. Your GPU has nothing to work on if the CPU can’t send enough data.
This problem shows up when you pair a powerful graphics card with a low-end CPU.
Although it’s not highly accurate, you can use the Bottleneck Calculator to check for bottlenecks. If you have a 20%+ CPU bottleneck, you need a new CPU.
How to fix
Upgrading your CPU is the most effective and most expensive solution. It’s generally worth it because you’ll see an enormous performance improvement.
However, that’s not an option for everyone.
You can try overclocking your CPU instead. I won’t go into details because overclocking varies wildly based on your hardware and cooling solution.
I don’t recommend that you overclock unless you know what you’re doing. You might break your CPU or motherboard.
Lastly, you can use an infamous trick – increase the graphics settings in the games you play. This increases the load on your GPU and increases GPU usage.
You’ll lose a few frames. But you’ll get a much smoother experience, thanks to more stable frame times.
9. You have a RAM bottleneck
Random-access memory, or RAM for short, stores all the important data your computer needs in a super-fast cache.
Textures, lighting, and other important data travels from your HDD or SSD to your RAM. It then goes to the CPU. The CPU recognizes the data and sends it to your GPU to be processed and output on your display.
If you only have one stick of RAM or don’t have enough capacity, you’ll see low GPU usage.
How to fix
You should have at least dual-channel RAM. This means you need two identical sticks in the correct slots in your motherboard.
If you already have two sticks, ensure the slots they’re in are of the same color.
I know first-hand that having a single stick of RAM causes low GPU usage, FPS drops, and general stutter. So, buy another identical stick, and you’ll see your GPU usage go up immediately.
You can also try overclocking your RAM, so it runs faster. But this is rather complicated and will only increase GPU usage by a few percent.
10. Your used graphics card is using a modded BIOS
If you bought a used graphics card, you don’t know what it was used for previously.
How to fix
You’ll have to flash the stock BIOS onto your graphics card. If your GPU has a BIOS switch, switch it to the other side to flash the stock firmware.
If not, you’ll have to flash it manually.
Since it’s a rather complex procedure, watch this YouTube video and carefully follow the instructions:
11. The game you’re playing isn’t well-optimized
Many of us gamers only play one or two games at a time.
Even if you’re super hardcore, you’re most likely only going to play a single eSports title at a time before moving on to the next. Maybe the game of your choice isn’t optimized.
When a game isn’t optimized, it means that it can’t use your CPU and GPU to their full potential.
Look up the game’s name online and add “optimization” next to it. If you see a lot of articles and user complaints on forums about poor game optimization, you’ll have an idea if it’s poorly optimized.
How to fix
Unfortunately, there are few things that we can do about poor game optimization. It’s up to the developers to optimize their games.
If it’s a new game release, ensure the latest graphics card drivers are installed. NVIDIA and AMD always release “game-ready” drivers for major releases so that their graphics cards work correctly.
You can also try changing the API in the game’s graphics settings.
You’ll typically see DirectX 11, DirectX 12, and Vulkan. Try all three to see which uses your GPU the most. Note that only some games let you change the API.
Numerous things can cause low GPU usage. It’s a very frustrating issue because the graphics card is the most important component for video games.
You should go over all the solutions I mentioned to find what’s causing the issue and fix it. Good luck!