How to fix high CPU usage on your Mac | Jobs Vox


High CPU usage can cause several problems on Macs. If left untouched, you may experience app crashes, frequent jittery interfaces with a spinning beach ball, overheating, short battery life, and worse, kernel panics. This tutorial shows you the steps to identify processes using excessive CPU and how to fix them.

Tip: If you’re working with an older Mac, learn how you can get new parts and make it look like new again.

Identify processes that are consuming excessive CPU

Basically, a Mac user should be aware of the different types of processes and activity monitor when using it. Show processes consuming the highest %CPU:

  1. Launch Activity Monitor and click on the CPU tab.
  1. Click on a column heading once to sort them in descending order.
Sort Cpu in descending order
  1. Select “Window → CPU History”.
CPU history activity monitor
  1. Open a new “CPU History” window that shows user and system load on each core over time.
Processor history window
  1. You should also consider whether the process in question is an app or belongs to the system. Application-based processes have an icon next to their name and are associated with your user account, in this case ‘rahulsaigal’.
icon next to the processes name
  1. Processes that do not have an icon next to their name and belong to “root” belong to the system.
There is no icon next to system processes

The CPU tab highlights several important metrics.

  • CPU is the percentage of total processor power that a process consumes, i.e. processor capacity.
  • CPU time is the length of time a process is active.
  • Idle Wake Ups is the number of times a process wakes up from a sleep state.

For Apple Silicon Macs, you’ll learn how the Icestorm (or Efficient) and Firestorm (or Performance) cores behave. Most system-based processes (Spotlight indexing, Time Machine backups) use the E core. Apps and related user processes run on E or P cores, with P cores preferred.

Helpful Hint: Wondering if the app is optimized for your Apple Silicon Mac? We’ll show you how to check.

Manage apps that consume excessive CPU on Mac

When an app consumes excessive CPU, it may hang or stop responding to user input. Your best bet is to force him to leave. catch Cmd + Options + Esq to open the “Force Quit” dialog box.

Force exit dialog

A frozen app will appear in red with “not responding”. Select this app and click “Force Quit”. If you’re dealing with an app that doesn’t respond to the Force Quit method or the Activity Monitor won’t open, refer to our guide on using Terminal to force quit an app.

The web browser is based on a multi-process architecture. It includes all logical functions in separate processes: the main (browser) process, the GPU process, and a dedicated process for each tab and extension.

Click to see it in action shift + Esq Open Chrome Task Manager and check its CPU + memory usage.

Chrome Task Manager

By nature, the browser will use excessive CPU if you open too many tabs that display high resolution photos and videos. After you close the tab or remove unused extensions, CPU usage will decrease.

Fix high CPU usage of kernel tasks

The kernel loads the basic foundation of macOS and the necessary drivers. “kernel_task” is a process that displays important metrics from the kernel. Its main purpose is to make the regulation of the processor temperature less accessible to the processor.

In other words, if your CPU is running hot, the kernel will kick in to cool your Mac. But in response to this, the CPU load “kernel_task” increases. High CPU usage can indicate blocked fans, faulty temperature sensors, corrupt third-party kernel extensions, and incompatible hardware/peripherals.

On Intel Macs, you can:

  1. Reset the SMC (System Management Controller). It fixes a variety of issues on your Mac, including Wi-Fi difficulties and dropped connections, and trackpad issues.
  1. Remove third-party kernel extensions. To see installed kernel extensions, launch System Information (About This Mac -> System Report) and go to “Software -> Extension Name”. Click on the “Received” column at the top to see the loaded text.
Report on installed third-party kernel extensions

The “kernel_task” process works efficiently on Apple Silicon Macs due to an architectural change (system on a chip) combined with kernel hardening and extensive kernel management (different kernels run at different frequencies).

There is no SMC and no need to manually reset the NVRAM. Shutting down and restarting your Mac can solve most of your problems. However, certain workflows or factors can still cause a kernel panic. In this case, you should contact the Apple support team.

Reduce WindowServer CPU usage

The main role of “WindowServer” is to draw windows on the screen and manage them. Without it, there is no GUI (User Interface) to interact with and you have no control over it. It uses the built-in Metal GPU to handle transparency, UI compositing, and render your windows quickly.

Windowserver Processes Activity Monitor

By default, WindowServer consumes 10% to 30% of your CPU and rarely causes any problems. If you’re experiencing high CPU usage, try these fixes.

  • Phase out your applications and take note of CPU usage. Restart your Mac and monitor CPU usage. Once you’ve identified the offending app, send a detailed log to the developer.

The WindowServer process is also responsible for managing multiple displays and even controlling their behavior. If CPU usage remains high, follow these steps:

  1. Turn off screen sharing and allocate spaces for your screen.
Uncheck Screens have separate spaces
  1. Remove clutter from the desktop because macOS treats all desktop icons as windows and puts more strain on WindowServer.
Clear desktop clutter 1

CPU Bird Process CPU usage reduction

Bird is the backup process behind iCloud that is activated when you start backing up files to iCloud Drive. As your files sync, CPU usage should decrease. High CPU usage suggests that some files are corrupted and iCloud is unable to sync those files.

At the same time, you should consider the “cloud” process associated with CloudKit. Third-party apps can use CloudKit to transfer data between apps and iCloud containers. Apple also uses CloudKit to sync your files to your desktop and documents to other devices.

To fix this problem, we temporarily disable iCloud to prevent the “bird” process from re-syncing files.

  1. Open “System Preferences” and click “Apple ID”.
Click Appleid in System Preferences
  1. Click iCloud and uncheck iCloud Drive. When you’ve done that, click “Keep a copy” to create a folder called iCloud Drive (Archive) in your home folder.
Uncheck iCloud Drive and select Keep A Copy 1
  1. Check iCloud Drive again to reactivate the Bird process and check CPU usage again in Activity Monitor. You must transfer all your files to iCloud Drive manually.
Check iCloud Drive Option again

CPU usage for Spotlight indexing

“mds” and “mdworker_shared” are part of Spotlight and consist of two components: “mds” stands for the metadata server that manages your index to give you fast search results, and “mdworker” stands for the metadata server worker and does everything else. Work on indexing your files.

Both of these processes run in the background and maintain indexed metadata databases for each attached local volume. They never consume excessive CPU unless you’re copying files from, say, an external hard drive to your new Mac.

You can avoid indexing some folders or volumes to reduce CPU load. Go to “System Preferences -> Spotlight” and click on the “Privacy” tab.

  1. To add new items, click the Add (+) button and select your item from the browser dialog. All Spotlight settings are applied immediately, and macOS will delete any indexed databases from that volume.
Add a folder or volume to the Spotlight exclusion list
  1. To restore the index, click the Remove (-) button at the bottom of the list.
Remove the external hard drive to restore the index

Tip: Read our guide to mastering Spotlight.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I monitor CPU usage in the menu bar?

Activity Monitor does not allow you to pin selective statistics to the menu bar. You can enable “Monitor → Show CPU usage or history” but it opens a new window. However, we recommend trying these menu bar apps for Mac that show full details of CPU, memory, GPU, network, disk and more.

Stats is a macOS system monitor for your menu bar and supports 10.13 High Sierra or later. iGlance is a customizable System Monitor menu bar that displays details such as CPU usage as a graph; reads the temperature of the processor; Monitors fan speed, memory usage, network usage; and more.

Are there better tools than an activity monitor?

Yes, but it’s a terminal command called “top”. Launch Terminal and type “top-u” to sort processes by CPU usage. In addition, you will get details of processes state, page fault count, total page count, process memory usage and more.

If you’re using Homebrew for Mac, you can install htop to see CPU usage percentage, process status, priority, CPU time, and more. You can sort processes and trace the absolute path of processes.

Could malware on your system be consuming excessive CPU?

Image credit: Pexel. All images and screenshots of Rahul Saigal.

Rahul Saigal

Rahul is a writer at MakeTechEasier. He is a tech enthusiast and enjoys keeping up with the latest technological advancements. He has a master’s degree in optometry and worked as a college lecturer. His passion for teaching and love of technology is reflected in his writings.

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