The Best MP3 and Video Media Players by CPU Usage

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Big Bulky Music Players

Some media players can be big and bulky, using up inordinate amounts of RAM that you could be using for other things. Since many people keep music players up while playing games or multi-tasking, having a lightweight music player can make things a lot easier. Here I’ll examine the CPU usage of a few free-standing media players: Windows Media Player, iTunes, VLC, Winamp, JetAudio, and RealPlayer

Test System Specs:

CPU: Intel Core 2 @ 2.13 GHz

OS: Windows 7 Home Premium

To conduct this test I’ll be tracking the CPU usage as the program starts up, plays audio, and plays video. I will be using the same songs and video formats and files for each player test. All programs were of the most recent update as of 6/25/2010

Windows Media Player

Startup: CPU peaks at 22% usage

Playing Audio: When a song is first selected the CPU usage spikes up to about 18% then settles in around 2%. Occasionally it took as much 25%.

Playing Video: Starting up a video spikes up to 35% and then settles down right around 7-15% for your average video file.


Startup: Processing peaks at around 50%

Playing Audio: When first switching to a song it can jump up to around 20% before settling in to almost no processing power at all–from 0-4% suggesting iTunes is loading larger sections of the song at a time.

Playing Video: Peaks at around 20% then settles in at around 1-5%


Startup: Peaks at 11%.

Audio: Peaks at 6% then settles in around 2%

Video: Peaks at 14% then settles in around 4-8%


Startup: Peaks at 40% but continues to process around 5-10% for about 15 seconds following startup.

Audio: Peaks around 15-20% and then settles in at 0-1%

Video: Peaks at 28% then stays around 0-5%

Jet Audio

Startup: Peaks at 32%.

Audio: Normally peaks around 15% and then settles in around 8%

Video: Peaks at 50% then stays between 25-35%

Real Player

Startup: Peaked at 72% and kept processing for about 10 seconds.

Audio: Peaks around 20% and then stays between 0-2%

Video: Peaks at 68% then settles around 1-6%


In terms of CPU usage, VLC is by far the lightest while Real Player is the most processor intensive. Of course this is merely CPU usage and VLC is so lightweight because it lacks all the features of other media players. As far as the two most popular players, Windows Media Player and iTunes, they both use similar CPU while playing audio while WMP uses more during videos. iTunes has a more intensive startup than WMP but they both idle using no CPU at all–this makes sense and is the case for all the players except a few like Jet Audio and Real Player which occasionally run processes in the background, grabbing info and updates on your library while idling.

In all, the processing of most of these players is not too incredibly heavy once they have started up but if you are worried about CPU consumption I would definitely avoid Jet Audio and Real Player.