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Using nice merely gives a "guideline" to the OS, not a hard requirement of priority (ie, if nothing else is begging for attention a nice level of 19 will utilize the full CPU).

Is there a way to absolutely cap a process to, say, no more than 10% of the CPU?

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You can use cpulimit.

I usually just stick with nice though: if it's running by itself, I don't really care if it's taking up 100%

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