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adventures into the land of the command line

what is load average

the average computational work a cpu does over the last 1 minute, 5 minutes and 15 minutes since the system has been running.

the numbers are unitless can can be interpreted as a percentage. for example, assuming a single cpu system:

$ top

Processes: 331 total, 2 running, 329 sleeping, 1617 threads
Load Avg: 1.73, 0.60, 7.98 <---------------------------------------- THIS GUY HERE
CPU usage: 28.91% user, 14.69% sys, 56.38% idle  
PhysMem: 12G used (2406M wired), 4474M unused.
VM: 1975G vsize, 612M framework vsize, 37977766(0) swapins, 38908997(0) swapouts.  
Networks: packets: 5325288/4610M in, 2812139/475M out. Disks: 3366565/214G read, 4520050/246G written.

- during the last minute, the system was overloaded by 73% on average.
- during the last 5 minutes, the CPU was idling 40% of the time on average.
- during the last 15 minutes, the system was overloaded 698% on average.
- overloaded means the process had to wait for a turn on the cpu