How to Check CPU Usage on a Mac

Keep tabs on your CPU and GPU performance

What to Know

  • Open Spotlight, and type Activity Monitor.
  • You can also navigate to Go > Utilities > Activity Monitor
  • Select the CPU tab to see your CPU usage and history.

This article explains how to check CPU and GPU usage on a Mac, including information on how to display real-time usage on the Dock and how to check overall performance.

How Do I Check CPU and GPU Usage on Mac?

Your Mac comes with a built-in utility designed to show CPU and GPU usage, along with a lot of other useful performance information. This Activity Monitor can be accessed through Spotlight or found in the Utilities folder. You can also set it to display real-time CPU usage information right on your Mac's dock.

Here’s how to check your CPU usage on a Mac:

  1. Open Spotlight, and type Activity Monitor.

    You can open Spotlight by pressing Command + Spacebar, or by clicking the magnifying glass on the menu bar at the top right of the screen.

    Magnifying glass and spotlight open on a Mac desktop
  2. Select Activity Monitor from the search results.

    Activity Monitor highlighted in macOS Spotlight

    You can also navigate to Go > Utilities > Activity Monitor.

  3. If the CPU tab isn’t selected, click CPU.

    The CPU tab highlighted in Activity Monitor on a Mac
  4. The overall CPU load is shown at the bottom, with a breakdown of CPU used by system and user processes, and a graph to show usage over time.

    The Activity Monitor showing performance on a Mac
  5. To see how much CPU is being used by each app or process, check the % CPU column.

    %CPU highlighted in Activity Monitor on a Mac

How Do I Check CPU on the Dock?

If you want easy access to check your CPU usage at a glance, you can make the Activity Monitor dock icon display a graph.

Here’s how to check your CPU usage on the Mac Dock:

  1. Open Activity Monitor as described in the previous section, and click the red circle to close the window.

    The red close window button highlighted in Activity Monitor on a Mac
  2. Right click the Activity Monitor on your Dock.

    Activity Monitor highlighted on the macOS Dock
  3. Select Dock Icon.

    Dock Icon highlighted in the Activity Monitor context menu
  4. Select Show CPU Usage.

    CPU Usage highlighted in the Activity Monitor dock icon menu
  5. Your CPU usage will now be shown on the Dock.

    CPU usage displayed on the macOS Dock

    One bar means very little CPU is being used, and full bars means your CPU is being severely taxed.


How Do I Check My Mac Performance?

The easiest way to check your Mac performance is to use the Activity Monitor as described above. The Activity Monitor lets you check the CPU and GPU usage, memory usage, energy usage, disk usage, and network usage, which all contribute to overall performance. If any of these categories is close to 100 percent usage, that means you’re pushing your Mac to its limits with whatever task you’re trying to perform or game you’re trying to play. There's nothing wrong with that, but just know 100 percent is all the machine can do.

Here’s what the different categories in the Activity Monitor mean, and how they impact performance:

  • CPU: This shows you the CPU load, or what percentage of your CPU’s capabilities are being used. You can see how much is being used by each app and process, along with a graph that shows total usage and historical usage. The CPU tab also lets you check GPU load, or how much of your graphic processor’s capabilities are being used.
  • Memory: This shows how much of your random access memory (RAM) is being used. Yellow and red on the memory pressure graph indicate that most of your RAM is in use, and you may be able to increase performance by adding additional RAM (if your Mac supports it-new M1 Macs do not support adding RAM). 
  • Energy: This tab shows how much energy your Mac is using and how much is being used by each individual app. If you see apps using energy, and you don’t really need them at the moment, you can close them to save energy. You can also close anything in the Preventing Sleep column if you want your Mac to conserve energy by sleeping when it isn’t in use.
  • Disk: This shows the current and historical usage of your Mac’s storage media. Whether you have a hard disk drive (HDD) or a solid state drive (SSD), it’s still referred to as Disk. This is where you can check the performance of your storage drive and see which apps are writing and reading data.
  • Network: This tab breaks down your network usage, which is useful if your internet connection has a limited amount of data per month. It also shows which apps are sending and receiving data, which is useful if you’re trying to figure out why your internet connection seems slow. If one app is using all your bandwidth, other apps, like your web browser, will have less bandwidth to work with.
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