Is My Mac Really Running Slower Than Normal?

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Ever get a feeling that your Computer is running slower than normal, if you did, don’t worry you are not alone. In this article, we will show you how to find out what processes are really running underneath the covers off your Mac. We will also see how to find out the load on your CPU and Memory utilization and if you need to add more Memory.

Every Mac Operating Systems come with a built in Utility called “Activity Monitor” which is a handy tool to investigate the performance of your Mac and to see processes (both background and foreground) running on a Mac. For Command Line junkies ( like me :) ), Mac also comes with a Command Line tool called “Top” (just like on UNIX and LINUX systems) which can be run from “Terminal”. Both tools, “Activity Monitor” (GUI Based) and “Top” (CLI Based), show the exact same information.

Below is a list of things you can check from these two tools;

1. Background & Foreground Processes and  their Resources consumption.

2. CPU Usage

3. System Memory (RAM) Utilization

4. Hard Drive Activity

5. Hard Drive Usage

6. Network Utilization

In this article we will focus on the first three points mentioned above to see if our Mac is really running slower than normal. First lets open “Activity Monitor” utility. You can launch it from “Finder” under “Applications > Utilities > Activity Monitor” or from “Launchpad > Other > Activity Monitor” or simply by searching for it from “Spotlight”. Below is a screen shoot .

activity monitor 1

 The center of the tool shows a list of processes that are currently running on your system. Each process is listed by its PID (Process ID), process name, user who own’s the process, number of threads and the CPU and Memory used by the process.  You can sort the list by any of the earlier mentioned parameters. To see the process that is using the most CPU resources sort the list by the “CPU” column. To see the process that is using the most Memory resource sort  the list by  the “Real Mem” column.

This is a handy way of finding out which process is consuming the most resources or is slowing down your system the most. To stop a process that is consuming a lot of system resources and not currently required, select it and click the “Quit Process” red icon on the  top. However, it is recommended that you first try to normally exit out off that application. Note, make sure that the process you are stopping is owned by you and not by the system. Use extreme caution while stopping system processes and understand what it does before doing so.

The bottom portion of the tool has 5 tabs. The first tab displays the total CPU usage and the number of current process and threads running on the system. If the “% System:” indicator is very high (>60) constantly or the “% Idle:” indicator is very low (<40) constantly, then there is good chance your system is starved of CPU resources.

The second tab shows the System Memory (RAM) utilization. If the “Free” memory indicator is constantly less than 10% of the total installed memory or the “Used” memory is constantly more than 90% of the total installed memory, then that is pretty good indication that your Mac needs additional memory. If you need help upgrading your memory, see my article on “Upgrading Memory On MacBook Pro“.

activity monitor 2

In conclusion, if your system is showing high CPU utilization and Memory utilization, then it is indeed running slow and you can rest assure that you are not imagining things :). So to alleviate this problem, you can add more memory or running fewer processes or applications. You can also investigate if a rouge or defunct program is holding your system hostage. If the earlier two option are not viable and no rouge programs exist then may be it is time for a system upgrade.


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About Vijay

Computer junky for 20 plus years and still obsessed with it. I enjoy exploring and tweaking popular operating systems and tinkering with computer hardware. Professionally, I work as a Storage Systems Administrator. When not on my computer, I love to travel, shop, read and hang out with my family and friends.


  1. Michael Albert says:

    thank you…but I don’t understand…cpu % idle when running just Google chrome and system monitor is steady at over 90%. How could this be hampering the macbook pro’s speed if little is being used?

    • Hi Michael,

      If the CPU % Idle is over 90%, then that’s not a concern. However, if it is % System that is constantly over 60%, then there might be an issue and there is a need to investigate further. Note, % Idle and % System are relatively proportional. Hope this clarifies things.