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The Mac has undergone a host of changes with OS X Yosemite, along with a remarkable visual redesign, but some of those changes and various transparent effects can negatively affect the Mac performance of some users with erroneous WindowServer behavior. This is typically demonstrated with the WindowServer process increasing in heavy CPU usage for seemingly for no reason, often with associated excessive memory usage leading to very slow and choppy behavior during common use of Mac OS X and macOS on some computers.
In the worst cases, something like opening Quick Look, opening a few new Finder windows, or scrolling through the contents of a busy Finder folder will increase the use of the WindowServer processor high enough to run. crash a computer up or even the look of the much-maligned beach ball cursor.
If WindowServer often continues to use high CPU usage in some situations with macOS and Mac OS X for seemingly no meaningful reason, this article is aimed at you. We are going to try to tame the WindowServer process by reducing elements and features that can turn on WindowServer’s behavior (or misconduct), a challenging task as WindowServer is needed to draw almost anything seen in Mac OS X. However, this behavior continues well into the latest versions of Mac OS (Mac OS X 10.10.3 and above), even on the latest Mac hardware. Fortunately, there are some fixes that help, so let’s take a look at them.
Turn off transparent effects in Mac OS X.
By turning off transparency effects with one hand up every Mac I’ve come across with Mac OS X Yosemite or later, whether the hardware is new or old. Even if the computer doesn’t feel particularly slow, it will almost certainly feel faster if the transparency effects are turned off.
- Go to the Apple menu and choose “System Preferences”, then go to “Accessibility”
- Select “Display” from the left menu
- Toggle the toggle ON next to ‘Reduce Transparency’ (or you can turn on Increase Contrast if you want the UI to be a little easier to distinguish, which will also disable the translucent elements in OS X)
The speed increase is immediately noticeable with most actions, and you can even measure the before and after results with the FPS frame rate monitor in Quartz Debug, which can be a 10 FPS or more boost in screen animation refresh rate depending on hardware.
This is still the case with Mac OS X 10.10.3 (provided it is beta), so maybe there is a persistent bug or maybe a little performance optimization is still needed for OS X Yosemite.
Personally, I like the transparent effects, so I tend to stick with the latest Mac hardware, but even my 2020 Retina MacBook Pro with 16GB RAM gets a boost by disabling transparency. Meanwhile, barely older hardware, like a 2012 MacBook Air, is frustratingly slow with transparent effects, and I’ve heard similar complaints from users of the Retina iMac 27 ″, which is clearly quite new and powerful hardware. That new hardware with sufficient resources still has difficulty rendering transparent effects in OS X suggests that a possible software fix is likely.
Close unused app and search windows
When OS X Yosemite has many windows of apps or Finder open, WindowServer starts consuming an inordinate amount of resources. While this can happen in all versions of OS X (or any operating system for that matter), there’s something unique about Yosemite that makes this a particularly exhausting event.
The solution focuses more on user behavior than anything else; get into the habit of closing unused windows or apps so they don’t need any more resources.
Remembering the keystroke Close all Windows can be useful to manage this.
Stop rearranging Mission Control Spaces
When you use Spaces, which is basically the virtual desktop environment on the Mac, having the spaces rearrange themselves based on usage seems to make a small difference in WindowServer behavior.
- Open System Preferences from the Apple menu and go to “Mission Control”
- Turn off the setting for ‘Automatically reorder spaces based on most recent use’
Many users do not notice this feature anyway, so even if the improvement is close to zero, it is usually not missed.
Multiple monitors? Disable spaces for each
If you have a setup with multiple displays, another setting to turn off is Spaces for each individual display.
- Open System Preferences and go to “Mission Control”
- Set the setting for “Displays with separate spaces” to OFF
- Log out, or better yet, restart the Mac
Of course, if you’re not someone who uses multiple screens with your Mac, that change will have no effect, so you’ll need to focus elsewhere.
If you are one of those Mac users who never shut down or restart their Mac, but you are experiencing WindowsServer high CPU issues, you may want to tweak and restart the Mac a bit more often. Simply restarting the Mac provides a temporary solution to the WindowServer process misbehavior. I know this sounds like the slimmest advice, but multiple commenters have reported temporary success with this and I have seen an improvement myself. Certainly not ideal, but until the root cause is addressed, this can help.
If you’ve done all of the above and you keep seeing that WindowServer is misbehaving or the Mac is running extremely slow, it’s worth checking out tips accelerate up OS X Yosemite, or even general tips to understand why a Mac can run slowly, which can help.
Have you encountered WindowsServer problems? Do you have a tips to reduce WindowServer resource usage in OS X Yosemite? Make sure you share your experience and tricks in our comments.
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