How to check CPU usage in macOS

5 min read

CPU (Central Processing Unit) usage is an important metric to monitor on a Mac. Primarily, it helps you keep track of how many tasks the CPU is being asked to perform at once, which can affect the performance of the computer. It’s a good idea to view CPU usage on Mac regularly, not just when the computer is functioning slowly, as it’s possible for the machine to be pushed over its capacity without a visible dip in performance.

In this article, you’ll learn how to see CPU usage on Mac and what to do if it’s too high. 

How to check the CPU usage on your Mac

To monitor CPU usage, Mac users can resort to these popular options. 

View CPU activity in Activity Monitor

The most basic thing to check for CPU usage is Activity Monitor, which is included with macOS and can be found in your Utilities folder (Go > Utilities > Activity Monitor). Aside from showing a detailed breakdown of the processes running, it also provides an overview of the CPU due to individual apps. 

  1. Open Activity Monitor as described above. You can also open Spotlight and type Activity Monitor
  2. Click on the CPU tab if it’s not yet selected 
  3. To view the CPU usage for each of your running apps and processes, check the %CPU column
  4. To get a better idea of how the CPU is being used, go down to the CPU load section. Here you can view the CPU utilization over time.

Activity Monitor CPU

To check CPU usage Mac on Dock, right-click the Activity Monitor icon on Dock. Then hover your mouse over Dock Icon and choose Show CPU usage.

Show CPU Usage

Monitor CPU usage details in App Tamer

If you want a deeper dive into your system, you can check CPU usage with third-party apps. Let’s take a look at App Tamer, for example. The app lives in your menu bar and provides you with the overall CPU load at a glance. You can also see the breakdown for all apps and your CPU chart over time. On top of that, the tool will let you see which apps are consuming CPU, even when you’re not using them. 

CPU Used by All Apps

Most importantly, App Tamer can slow down energy-hungry apps based on restrictions you set. For example, if your browser uses more than 10% of your CPU, the App Tamer app can slow it down. To set the limit, simply click on the app on the App Tamer list and check the box next to “Slow down this app if it uses more than:.” Use the slider to specify the limit. 

Slow down this app if it uses more than CPU limited

Quick check on CPU with iStat Menus

Similarly to App Tamer, iStat Menus helps you instantly identify what is consuming so much CPU power on your Mac. The app monitors real-time performance showing the speed and capabilities of CPU and GPU. It also helps you control various features of your Mac, such as fans and battery. 

CPU monitor

Check CPU performance with CleanMyMac X

In the CleanMyMac X menu (to open it, click the CleanMyMac icon in the menu bar), you’ll see how much the open apps are currently loading the processor and the temperature inside the chip. For more parameters and details, click the CPU tab in the menu. From there, you can also quickly quit the most resource-hungry apps. 

CPU load monitor

Tip: Stop unnecessary apps from launching at startup to reduce CPU usage. You can do that with CleanMyMac X. Here’s how:

  1. Open CleanMyMac X
  2. In the left sidebar, click Optimization > View All XX Items
  3. Check the box next to Login Items
  4. Then select the items you want to get rid of and click Remove
  5. Check the box next to Launch Agents
  6. Then select the items you want to get rid of and click the Remove button.

login items optimization

For better Mac performance, try CleanMyMacX’s Smart Scan feature to get rid of useless add-ons, unneeded files, apps you no longer use, and settings changes. 

Why is my Mac system CPU usage so high?

Now you know how to see CPU usage on Mac, but how do you interpret your findings and what should you do about them?

Surprisingly, there is no recommended percentage of CPU usage. But it goes without saying that the higher the load, the slower your Mac will perform. If CPU usage is hovering around 100%, your Mac is trying to do more work than it has the capacity to do.

If you’re not sure if your CPU usage is too high, here are some indicators to look for:

  • High idle CPU usage: You’re not running any apps, and your CPU usage is still more than 20%.
  • Higher than normal CPU usage: You’re not using any new apps, but your CPU usage is higher than it used to be.
  • High CPU usage during tasks that aren’t resource-intensive, such as word processing or browsing social media in just a few tabs.
  • High CPU use combined with freezing, crashing, and slow performance.

If you’ve noticed your Mac is suffering from any of the above issues, and you want to lower CPU usage, we recommend you try CleanMyMac X to identify top CPU consumers, remove login items, and even scan your device for viruses and malware, which can cause high CPU usage. 

Malware Removal

CPU monitor: final thoughts

Overall, monitoring your CPU usage is an effective way to ensure that your Mac is operating efficiently. By taking advantage of the features available in Activity Monitor, as well as the options provided by third-party apps, such as App Tamer, iStat Menus, and CleanMyMac X, you can maintain the health and performance of your Mac. The good news is all these apps are available to you when you join Setapp membership. You’ll also get access to dozens of powerful tools for Mac, iPhone, and iPad for almost any task. Start your seven-day free trial and discover the power of Setapp today.

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