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I have a 1 core CPU installed on my PC. Sometimes, uptime shows load >1. How is this possible and what does this mean?

EDIT: The values go up to 2.4

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  • 1
    Note: load is different from load average. As @michas said, load is an indicator for count of processes which are waiting to be executed, but load average is the average system load calculated over a given period of time of 1, 5 and 15 minutes. Sep 7, 2019 at 11:31

4 Answers 4

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Load is not equal to CPU usage. It is basically an indicator how many processes are waiting to be executed.

Some helpful links:

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  • Oh, ok, that makes sense. Is there a way to get CPU usage, not load?
    – Frantisek
    Mar 4, 2014 at 20:25
  • Well generally you could have many CPUs. One could be totally busy and the other just idling. Have a look at htop for a nice "graphical" overview.
    – michas
    Mar 4, 2014 at 20:33
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    this is incorrect. The load average is a metric for how many processes are ready to be executed. This includes processes that are waiting, but also processes that are currently executing. So if the load average is 1, it means that on average (for the given time period) one CPU was in use; if it is two, that means that on average, two CPUs were in use. As such, a particular load average for a single-CPU system is not the same thing as the same load average for a multi-core system. Mar 6, 2017 at 11:11
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    This isn't entirely correct. System load includes processes waiting on the CPU, but it also includes processes using the CPU and processes waiting on I/O. This is exceptionally important because load >1 isn't a problem (nowadays) -- load greater than the number of your cores (not including threads) is a problem with sufficiently large I/O usage. Dec 18, 2020 at 14:10
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uptime shows system load (not exactly CPU usage), which is described in man uptime as follows:

System load averages is the average number of processes that are either in a runnable or uninterruptable state.

  • A process in a runnable state is either using the CPU or waiting to use the CPU.
  • A process in uninterruptable state is waiting for some I/O access, eg waiting for disk.

The averages are taken over the three time intervals. Load averages are not normalized for the number of CPUs in a system, so a load average of 1 means a single CPU system is loaded all the time while on a 4 CPU system it means it was idle 75% of the time.

As long as the load is less than the number of CPU cores you have, it should be fine. If it gets above, it means that your system is not able to cope with its workload "real time". Thus, some processes need to wait to get CPU time (or IO access). A waiting line is created.

If you have a 2.7 load it means that on average (during the last 1, 5 or 15 minutes, depending on the value you look at), 2.7 processes are trying to execute in parallel, but you only have 1 core, so your system is overloaded. You're asking too much from it.

Don't panic though, it may not be such a problem: once the work is finished, things usually get back to normal.

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Uptime shows the output of /proc/loadavg for loads.

The manpage of man 5 proc says

   /proc/loadavg
          The first three fields in this file are load average figures giving
          the  number  of jobs in the run queue (state R) or waiting for disk
          I/O (state D) averaged over 1, 5, and 15  minutes. 

So you can have high loads even if you have 0% CPU usage. One Core can gain loads up to 100% or 1 on multi processor systems.

See also High CPU load during I/O

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 ps aux --sort -rss |head -15

This will sort 15 processes most used by rss memory

Also this will sort most used processes by cpu and memory

 ps aux --sort -pid |head -15

If you have 1 CPU load more than 1 is warning, examine the process list and see who of them uses the most CPU and RAM

When you see most used processes try to see what files are open with

lsof -p [PID_most_used]

Also it would be nice if you give ouptut from top command

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    rss is not related to load average, what are you on about? Mar 6, 2017 at 11:09

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