What is kernel_task and why is this process running on my Mac?

Do you have the Activity indicator found the kernel_task process on the Apple Mac, you're probably wondering what that is. Sometimes it can also happen that the kernel_task process takes up a lot of CPU power and thus slows down the computer. You can find out what it is, what's behind the name, how you can fix problems and more in this guide.

The kernel_task process: why is it running on my Apple Mac? You can find an explanation of the tasks of the macOS process and possible solutions for troubleshooting high CPU loads here.
The kernel_task process: why is it running on my Apple Mac? You can find an explanation of the tasks of the macOS process and possible solutions for troubleshooting high CPU loads here.

What is the kernel_task process on Mac?

Here it is very helpful to understand what a kernel actually is. A kernel is the core element and the first part of the operating system that loads when the computer is turned on. So before programs, settings or even the graphical user interface is loaded, the kernel comes into play. He ensures, among other things, that the hardware and the memory get along with each other and with the software. On the Apple Mac, the kernel also loads the first system process Launchd – more about that here.

As you have already seen, kernel_task on the Mac is not just an intentional process, but an essential one. With it, important individual tasks are summarized in the activity monitor, which enable the functioning of the computer and the software running on it. If the Mac and its macOS operating system are not being used too much, the CPU load can increase by 10 to 20 percent due to the kernel_task. Because the unused capacity is then used for system-relevant tasks, such as creating directories or plist files. 

High CPU load from kernel_task: what's going on?

Besides a bug or broken kernel extensions from third-party apps, simple overheat protection can be a reason for the kernel_task with CPU usage over 100%. As before briefly at this point As mentioned above, the process simulates a high CPU load at high hardware temperatures in order to slow down other programs or their processes. Calculations are therefore carried out more slowly and the hardware is less stressed. The goal is to cool down the CPU, GPU, memory, hard drive, battery and the like. This can be seen quickly in the summer, especially with older Intel Macs.

Why does the kernel_task slow down the Mac at normal temperatures?

If the hardware is not heavily used and the sensors of the individual components do not report excessively high temperatures, then the search for the cause of a high CPU load through the kernel_task can go in different directions. In the following you will find a few possible reasons for the high load on the processor and the appropriate solutions.

Kernel module not behaving as intended

The kernel module, kernel extension, kernel extension module, or simply kext (for kernel extension) are extensions for the kernel that can be brought to the Mac by third-party apps, such as drivers. On the Apple Mac, kernel extensions are coming up macOS 10.14 Mojave from the directory / System / Library / Extensions / and are available there as a .kext file. For greater system security, they were removed macOS 10.15 Catalina replaced by system extensions without direct hardware access.

If you notice a high load from the kernel_task at regular hardware temperatures and suspect a kext as the trigger, then you can test this theory with the Boot Mac in Safe Mode check. This "safe mode" ensures that the kernel is loaded without extensions. If everything runs normally in Safe Mode, then a recently installed app or a new driver is probably responsible for the problem. Here you can try a restart to fix it first. If that doesn't help, you should uninstall the software in question. At least this should all work on older models up to macOS Mojave.

Mac Tip: Find and Remove Outdated Kernel Extensions

Safe Mode and other startup options for Macs with an M chip


Resetting the Non-Volatile Random-Access Memory (NVRAM), Parameter Random-Access Memory (PRAM), and/or System Management Controller (SMC) can also resolve some issues on Intel Macs (no longer possible on Macs with Apple Silicon). Above all, hardware that no longer reacts correctly or elements that are behaving incorrectly can be brought back into regular operation by taking the individual measures. If you have a Mac, iMac, MacBook or other Apple computer with an Intel processor, these instructions will help you with this:

Nothing helps: reinstalling macOS can fix problems

Rebooting the Mac with a fresh install of macOS isn't fun for everyone. You have to take the time to do this, then reinstall the apps you need if necessary, transfer data from a backup of the old system, and so on. However, it can be the last resort when there are Mac problems that cannot be solved easily or at all by other means. Next to boot sticks you can also use the recovery mode on the Apple Mac to reinstall macOS or reset the Mac to factory settings. Here are the related posts:

Summary of the kernel_task on macOS

The kernel_task process is a wanted and required process on the Apple Mac. Without it, macOS wouldn't run and you wouldn't be able to use the computer. On modern Macs with Apple silicon, the kernel is even better protected against changes than before. So there shouldn't be any major problems. You can deal with problems on Intel Macs with the solutions shown. Should the CPU load exceed 100%, then no major damage in the system must be to blame. Maybe the hardware just needs to cool down a bit. That should also be the case less often on current models with efficient M chips.

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