High CPU (Central Processing Unit) use in macOS can cause a number of problems on your Mac. These include reduced operating system performance, overheating, and constant application crashes.
The source of the problem can sometimes be obvious, but usually, you’ll need to dig deeper to find it.
However, you can solve most macOS high CPU use issues by following correct troubleshooting procedures.
Check out 5 tips to identify and solve the problem below.
Index of this article
1. Update and restart your Mac
In this type of situation, it is common for someone to ask: “Have you tried turning it off and on?”. But it may be that the simplest solution is the most correct.
Most importantly, before restarting your Mac or Macbook, you need to check for any pending software updates. It’s not uncommon to update your system and applications and everything goes back to normal.
Also, if you don’t have data restrictions, make sure you’ve turned on automatic updates in macOS. That way you know you’re always running the latest software.
To update the software, follow the step by step:
- Open System Preferences and go to Software Update;
- Accept all available updates as requested;
- Be sure to check to Keep my Mac up to date automatically;
- Click Advanced for more specific update settings and change if necessary.
To check for application updates, follow these steps:
- Open Apps > App Store.
- Select Updates from the side menu.
- Update all important apps.
Regardless of whether you’ve installed updates, restart your Mac.
2. Identify the source of high CPU use using Activity Monitor
If updating and restarting your Mac doesn’t resolve the issue, you should do an “investigation”. Thanks to Activity Monitor, you can identify the source of your problems.
To identify the cause of high CPU use in macOS, follow step by step:
- Open Applications > Utilities > Activity Monitor;
- Make sure % CPU is selected in the control bar and set in descending order. This means the arrow must be pointing down;
- Examine the list. The process with the highest CPU use will take first place.
Getting to know Activity Monitor is a worthwhile effort, as the application can help identify a number of issues that can arise on your Mac, including low battery power and excessive data use.
If you’ve identified what’s causing the high CPU use, you can fix the problem.
3. Update, reconfigure or re-install the “troubled application”
If the high CPU use is being caused by a specific application, you can take a step-by-step step to resolve the issue.
However, if kernel_task or another process seems to be causing the problem, proceed to the next tip in the article.
You should first check for updates to the application in question, as this might be the most practical way to resolve the potential issue.
If your software is up to date, you should examine the offending application for configuration issues or extensions, add-ons, and plug-ins.
You also have the option of contacting the developer for advice on troubleshooting the application.
If the problem persists, it may be necessary to reinstall the application, remembering that you should always back up your most important data before uninstalling anything from the system.
Some apps come with their own uninstallers, which make uninstalling easier and you should use them when available. But you can also remove most apps by dragging them to the trash and pressing Empty.
Once removed, you are free to reinstall the app from the App Store, the developer’s website, or another source.
4. Troubleshoot Kernel_Task high CPU use
When processes cause CPU overheating in macOS, kernel_task intervenes to calm things down. Therefore, kernel_task is more of a scapegoat than the component that might be causing the problem.
Through Activity Monitor, you can identify the real culprit, but if not, you can solve most of kernel_task’s high CPU use problems with the correct procedure.
To troubleshoot kernel_task high CPU use, follow the walkthrough:
- Remove unnecessary peripherals;
- Reset the SMC and PRAM;
- Remove Adobe Flash, if present;
- Test in safe mode and remove third-party boot items, boot daemons, and kernel extensions if applicable;
- Check for hardware issues (next tip in the article);
- Back up and reinstall the operating system (OS) if all else fails.
Ideally, try the simplest solutions first and avoid drastic measures. However, it is sometimes necessary to completely wipe and reinstall the system to resolve persistent issues. But first, you should check for obvious hardware issues.
5. Identify hardware issues that can cause high CPU use
A quick way to identify any obvious hardware issues is to run Apple Diagnostics. To do this on a Mac with an Intel chip, follow the walkthrough:
- Start your Mac.
- Immediately press and hold the D key on the keyboard.
- Release the key when a progress bar appears.
- Follow the instructions.
To run Apple Diagnostics on a Mac with an M1 chip, follow the steps:
- Start your Mac and keep holding the Power button.
- Release the Power button when the boot options screen appears.
- Press Cmd + D.
Apple Diagnostics will identify obvious problems; however, more subtle causes may require further investigation. A good way to confirm a software or hardware problem is to test the recovery partition, which is independent of the main operating system.
To boot to recovery on an Intel-based Mac, follow the walkthrough:
- Start your Mac.
- Immediately press and hold Cmd + R.
To boot to recovery on a Mac with an M1 chip, follow these steps:
- Start your Mac and keep holding the Power button;
- Release the Power button when the boot options screen appears;
- Select Options;
- Click Continue.
If the issue persists in recovery mode, you may have a hardware issue and should have your Mac diagnosed by an official Apple retailer or service provider.
If, however, the issue does not occur when booting the recovery partition, it is likely that you are dealing with a software issue, which can be resolved with further troubleshooting or complete system reinstallation.
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