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Your Mac CPU (Central Processing Unit) usage is the total percentage of processing power exhausted to process data and run various programs at any given point. Usually, your Mac processor only utilizes a small percentage of its processing power.

However, it’ll use more capacity when you use apps requiring intensive calculation. CPU usage is a crucial metric for monitoring your Mac. For example, you can check it to keep track of how many tasks your Mac performs at once.

The Activity Monitor window is one of the best ways to check and view your Mac’s CPU usage. In this article, we’ll tell you more about your device’s CPU usage and how to use the Activity Monitor on Mac to check this usage in real time.

Understanding Mac CPU usage

The CPU is the “brain” of your Mac, responsible for processing all tasks you’re running. This includes the tasks required of all applications, such as background tasks, active programs, and macOS services.

Your device stores all the details about the CPU usage, which you can view at any time using the Activity Monitor on Mac. The usage is represented as a percentage value, referring to how much of your total CPU’s processing power is currently utilized.

CPU usage percentage on your Mac can vary significantly depending on what tasks you’re performing. For example, it’ll remain almost 100% when you first boot your Mac. This is because many programs and processes are only starting up.

These processes remain the same when your device is fully booted. However, CPU usage significantly drops to 1-5% when you start running tasks, such as opening a web page or typing a document.

One thing you should note is that your Mac’s processor has a limited capacity at which it can execute commands and run various programs. As such, the better the CPU, the more tasks you can concurrently perform on your device without a hitch.

Still, regardless of how powerful your Mac’s CPU is, it’ll eventually hit its maximum capacity and begin slowing down. This will largely rest on the tasks your processor is being made to do simultaneously.

How to check CPU usage on Mac with Activity Monitor

It’s always a good idea to check your Mac CPU usage regularly to avoid unintended consequences. It should come in handy when you notice a sluggish performance on your device, considering it can be pushed over its capacity without a visible decline in performance.

Activity Monitor on Mac performs the same function as the Windows Task Manager. It comes in-built in macOS and can help you identify and troubleshoot problematic apps and processes on your Mac. Activity Manager displays numerous resources in use on your system in real-time.

You can easily leverage it to establish the amount of CPU due to individual apps, your device’s memory, and disk space. Here are simple steps to check CPU usage in Activity Monitor:

  1. Launch Activity Monitor. You can navigate to Applications > Utilities > Activity Monitor. Alternatively, press Cmd + Spacebar to open Spotlight, type in ‘activity monitor,’ and press Enter.
  2. After launching the activity monitor, you can view processor activity over time. Just click on the CPU tab. Here, you’ll see the following percentages at the bottom of the Activity Monitor window:

  • System: The percentage of CPU capability in use by processes that belong to macOS
  • User: The percentage of CPU capability used by apps you opened or the processes opened by those apps
  • Idle: The percentage of CPU capability not in use.

Activity Monitor is a valuable tool on Mac that you can leverage for many functions and optimize your device performance. It lets you quit out of apps running on your Mac and other background processes you don’t know about.

This can be useful, especially if your Mac runs slowly or an app behaves strangely. Activity Monitor also lets you create diagnostic reports on your Mac. For example, you can sample a process for a specific short period to see what it’s doing when it runs.

What causes high CPU usage on Mac?

Besides being secure, Macs are highly optimized devices that won’t easily break down. They can easily handle several tasks and instructions running simultaneously, leaving them running under high CPU usage.

However, leaving your Mac’s CPU usage at a high level for prolonged periods eventually affects the performance of your system or application. Therefore, you must understand the critical causes of high CPU usage to take the necessary action.

Outlined below are some of the causes of abnormal CPU usage on your Mac:

Too many background processes

Multiple background processes running on your Mac damage it more than you expect. These processes take a toll on your device and can rapidly drain its processing power. Most increase CPU utilization, ultimately degrading macOS system startup and runtime performance.

Malware or viruses

Malware and viruses can run discreetly in the background, utilizing your CPU’s power without your knowledge. You should always prioritize checking for malware and viruses if your device starts experiencing a high CPU load without processor-intensive applications or programs.

Outdated drivers and software

Outdated macOS and applications can lead to inefficiencies and compatibility issues, resulting in higher CPU usage. They often increase CPU utilization, resulting in system slowdown or failure.

One of the most significant signs you’ll experience with such systems is the frequent crashing of processor-intensive applications.

Data encryption

Encrypting data on network devices that don’t support hardware-based encryption often results in high CPU usage. When you only encrypt the incoming traffic flows using software, it overloads your Mac processor, making the timely execution of other tasks difficult for the CPU.

How to lower CPU Usage on Mac

A Mac operating at total CPU capacity can be a frustrating experience, causing slow performance and reduced battery life. The good news is that there are ways to fix your Mac’s high CPU usage by following these straightforward steps.

Quit unnecessary apps and processes.

Often, the primary reason for high CPU usage on your Mac is too many applications and processes running simultaneously. Here’s what you can do:

  1. Press Cmd + Spacebar to open Spotlight Search. Type Activity Monitor and hit Enter. This will open the Activity Monitor app.
  2. In Activity Monitor, click on the CPU tab to see a list of running processes sorted by CPU usage.
  3. Select the process you want to quit, then click the X button in the Activity Monitor window.
  4. Confirm that you want to quit the process when prompted. Repeat this process for any other high CPU usage processes.

Uninstall unused apps

Over time, your Mac accumulates a lot of applications you no longer use. These apps can run background processes and contribute to CPU usage. Here’s how to uninstall them:

  1. Open Finder and go to the Applications folder
  2. Locate the app you no longer need and click uninstall. You can also drag it to the Trash icon to complete the uninstallation process.
  3. Repeat this process for any other unused apps.

Restart your Mac

Sometimes, a simple restart can work wonders for your Mac. It can clear out temporary files and reset system processes, potentially reducing CPU usage. Here are steps to give your Mac a restart:

  1. Locate the Apple menu in the top-left corner and click on it
  2. Select Restart
  3. Confirm the restart when prompted.

Final thoughts

High CPU usage is a real menace you must deal with head-on before it affects your device’s performance. Fortunately, the Activity Monitor on Mac is one of those tools built to ensure you know what’s happening behind the scenes.

The tool lets you see how each process or app affects your Mac’s CPU, RAM, energy, disk, and network usage. If your Mac is working perfectly, you might not see the need to use the Activity Monitor.

However, using it more often is advisable to analyze what’s happening inside your computer more accurately.


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