High CPU Load Average / Run Queue Length

Load average is defined as the the number of processes that are ready to be executed, over the number of cpus available:

load_average = processes_ready / cpus_available

In an ideal world, you would observe a load average of 1: the system has exactly enough processing power to execute all processes on it.

A load average greater than 1 means there is work waiting to be executed. This will result in an increase in latency: processes will respond or execute work more slowly than if they were on a less taxed system.

Load average can be observed using top or uptime

With low CPU usage

(needs verification): load average is always greater than the total cpu utilization:

load_average >= average_cpu_usage_percent / 100

If all cpus are utilized at all times (100%), then there is always 1 process executing per CPU, and thus load average is 1.

If the load average is greater than the CPU utilization, there are other factors that are keeping the processe in the run queue that waiting for CPU:

High Context Switch Count

A high number of context switches will consume CPU, which must process the context switch befor executing work again.

Context switches can be seen with sar -w


Useful commands:

  • processes in run queue: ps -ef -o state,comm | grep ^R

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