20-30% cpu usage with no programs running

Ok, here's the situation:  MPC Transport laptop running XP Pro.  After boot, everything is fine.  However, after a while, the CPU usage bounces around between 20% and 30%, even with all programs shut down.  It's irritating as hell, since it makes the system jerky (not just the mouse, the whole thing stutters).

Sometimes, if I shut down all instances of IE, it'll smooth itself back out....but sometimes it takes a reboot.  I've tried ending the following tasks from the Task Manager (at some friend's suggestion) when it occurs...sometimes it works, sometimes it doesnt:  kbpatch.exe, sqlsrvr.exe, sqlagent.exe, and a couple others that I don't quite remember.

Anybody have any idea what might be causing this, and how to get it to stop?
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You should be able to see which processes are using the CPU in Task Manager.
could be spyware/adware/viruses/malware...

run several anti spyware/adware programs, and use a reliable antivirus, do FULL system scans when using any of the programs

check startup items, start - run, type msconfig, click the startup tab, uncheck certain thigns you know that can be removed.

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bdzotAuthor Commented:
<<You should be able to see which processes are using the CPU in Task Manager.>>

Usually, it's 95-98% system idle process....SYSTEM, taskmgr, and explorer alternate between 2-6%.
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bdzotAuthor Commented:
<<check startup items, start - run, type msconfig, click the startup tab, uncheck certain thigns you know that can be removed.>>

It's a work laptop, so I keep it exceptionally clean.  If there's malware on it, then it's something that neither Symantec nor Trend can see.
try using some free tools, ad-aware 1.06, spybot search and destroy 1.4, both free to scan and clean at www.download.com, windows defender is beta at microsoft.com
"Usually, it's 95-98% system idle process....SYSTEM, taskmgr, and explorer alternate between 2-6%."

You need to look at Task Manager when the "problem" is happening.
At that point you should be able to see which processes are doing it.
It's probably easiest at that time to click on the CPU column to sort by usage so you don't have to keep looking up and down the list.

you might try seeing if it is symantec.. disconnect from the network and disable symantec.


if you have toolbar searchengines (like yahoo toolbar)

uninstall them!
Dale MaySecurityCommented:
Do you have Norton's installed on this machine?  If you do uninstall it completely from add/remove programs, use this to get rid of the rest of it


and do a start<search for    symantec    all folders and files   and opt for advanced search hidden files and folders.  Delete all you find.  Try NOD 32 for free for 30 days  http://www.nod32.com/scriptless/download/trial.htm    
Could even be a temperature related problem.  Try running Lavalys "EVEREST Free Edition 2.20", then use it to monitor, for example, CPU Temp.


You could also try Process Explorer version 10.0 to view a list of your currently active processes.  Quote:  Process Explorer is an advanced process management utility that picks up where Task Manager leaves off ...

baconyi also has a good point regarding Malware, and you could try downloading and running this free version of Ewido anti-malware, designed with Win XP in mind.    
Update first, then scan in Safe mode:
Appears to have been a very recent merger with Grisoft, but here's practically the same link >
bdzotAuthor Commented:
I have anti-virus software and Windows Defender installed, plus make a weekly trip to Trend.  I'm about 105% confident that there is no malware on the computer.

<<Could even be a temperature related problem.>>

The fan on this laptop does run pretty much continously......there's a thought.

<<You need to look at Task Manager when the "problem" is happening.>>

The "95-98% system idle process, taskman/explorer/SYSTEM 2-4%" is when the problem is happening.  When I switch over to the Performance tab, however, it's showing the 20-30% CPU usage.

You could install and run Process Explorer as suggested, to see if you get the same results as your Task Manager (presuming it's Win XP's TM).  
Then select 'View' > System Information (an additional display) to observe CPU usage every 0.5 sec., or other options up to 10 secs.  
This would at least prove *your* Task Manager is ok.
You may find this article useful ->
"Effective Use Of Task Manager":

Here's another somewhat lengthy url, & the CPU Idle time % is far higher than yours, but you may find useful information here ->
"System Idle Process taking 95% of CPU":
bdzotAuthor Commented:
I stand corrected.  I installed Ad-Aware, and there was a lot of spyware, etc on what I thought was an "immaculate" computer.
thank you for the points, but although there were more adware/spyware on the machine, did it help the problem out? free up more cpu?
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