Transparency and graphics switching in Yosemite affecting MacBook Pros

YosemiteInstallerIconXSome MacBook Pro owners who have upgraded to OS X Yosemite are noticing a few problems with their systems showing regular graphical artifacts when using their systems. These are not major hardware issues where odd patterns and color changes indicate faulty motherboard components, but seem to be a bug or two in how OS X is handling graphics on these systems.

When the problems occur, users will see odd flashes when the systems change from their onboard graphics processors to the dedicated ones in order to better handle graphics demands. In addition, some window elements appear to redraw incorrectly, causing windows to look jumbled, or have enlarged buttons and entry fields that overlap and are outside of the window bounds.

In most cases, when this happens you can refresh the window by quitting and relaunching the program, or otherwise close and re-open the window; however, to prevent this problem from happening you can toggle several settings as a workaround:

  1. Reduce transparencies by going to the Display section of the Accessibility system preferences, and toggling the option to reduce transparency.
  2. Disable GPU switching in the Energy Saver system preferences by unchecking the option for automatic graphics switching.

These problems may be related to faults in the OS X WindowServer process, a background task that is responsible for drawing window elements for programs. When Yosemite was initially released, some early adopters found problems with slowdowns that were rooted around high activity in the WindowServer process. After investigation, it was found this process was affected by the new transparency settings and could also be stemmed by changing the graphics switching options for systems with dual graphics processors.

It is likely that these issues in Yosemite will be fixed by a software update that patches the WindowServer and other related processes. According to a report by MacNN, Apple is seeing “slightly increased” numbers of support complaints that are related to graphics issues with Yosemite, so while there is no official word on the matter from Apple, it is very likely that engineers are investigating the problem and coming up with a fix. Meanwhile, if you are able to live with these workarounds, then your best bet is to wait until Apple has issued an update, as opposed to going through the trouble of downgrading, digging into system files, creating and migrating new accounts, reinstalling, and otherwise attempting to blindly fix the issue by way of general and vague troubleshooting techniques.

8 thoughts on “Transparency and graphics switching in Yosemite affecting MacBook Pros

  1. B. Jefferson Le Blanc

    This seems to me to be the kind of thing that should have been dealt with during beta testing. That said, problems related to switching between GPUs have been around ever since the dual graphics setup was introduced. In other words, it’s not a new issue – just another item Apple neglected to take care of when building Yosemite. Which is one more reason to hold off upgrading – it you need another one. Those of us who are waiting owe the early adopters our gratitude for voluntarily setting themselves up as guinea pigs to find the lingering bugs in OS X 10.10 and in so doing save us the trouble and aggravation. Some of these, like the WiFi problems, are not trivial nor can they be easily worked around as this one can.

    What amazes me is that serious problems like this remain even after Apple’s public beta testing brought hundreds of thousands of new testers into the program. Apparently even that was too small a sample to find every flaw. As usual it takes millions of enthusiastic pioneers who forge fearlessly ahead with the upgrade; they cannot wait to see what problems arise, they must experience them personally. Apple’s reputation will take a temporary hit, as it always does. But this too shall pass.

  2. Lloyd

    The most interesting thing that happened to an install on my 2011 13″ MBP i7: The partition, when the OS was updated from Lion, is shown in DiskTools as incompatible (greyed). Cannot be checked. Does not appear on the desktop. Will boot from if started using Option on reboot. Only time it shows in any menu is when it is booted into 10.10. Have not had time to work on it. When I updated, I used the downloaded updater. Been doing this a long time. Won’t give up yet.

  3. Tara

    Two points:
    1. There isn’t an option for disabling GPU in Energy Saver on my MBP, only an option for Improved battery life or Graphic performance. Is that what you mean, please can you elaborate?
    2. The problem isn’t just that there is a graphics glitch. Often the whole system hangs–several times a day!
    This issue is a really serious and I’m surprised that Apple hasn’t heard more since the message boards are full of this.

  4. BriGuyAG

    Hello, Tara,

    I came across this page today while browsing around online to see if there were any updates to this ongoing Yosemite graphics issue and saw your reply.

    I can try to explain about your point #1 (unfortunately, I can’t answer #2, as I haven’t experienced that, so I’ve never looked into it):

    On my MacBook Pro, in Yosemite, System Preferences -> Energy Saver… at the very top is a check box with text next to it that reads:

    “Automatic graphics switching
    When automatic switching is disabled, your computer will always use high-performance graphics. This may decrease battery life.”

    By unchecking that box, you disable the GPU switching to which they are referring in the article.

    If yours just has “improved battery life” or “graphic performance” options, I’m thinking it could be one of a couple things (without seeing your screen, I’m really just guessing, so take this for what you will 😉 ): either (1) you might not be using Yosemite, but rather a previous version of the OS (I don’t recall the wording for this option in previous versions of the OS), or (2) maybe you don’t have a separate graphics card.

    For example, on my MacBook Pro, there is the onboard graphics (Intel HD Graphics 3000), but there is also an AMD Radeon HD 6770M graphics card.

    The way to know for sure is to look at your System Information:

    1. Click the Apple icon in the top left of your screen.
    2. Select “About This Mac”
    3. In that box, click the “System Report…” button, which will open in a separate window
    4. On the left side of that window, under the “Hardware” category, click “Graphics/Displays”
    5. On the right-hand side of that window, at the top, it should list your graphics processors. On mine, it shows:

    AMD Radeon HD 6770M GPU PCIe
    Intel HD Graphics 3000 GPU Built-in

    If you only have one item listed, such as the Intel HD option above, then your Mac most likely doesn’t have a separate, discreet graphics card, in which case you would just choose “Graphic Performance” on your computer. This would make the Intel onboard graphics run in its own “high performance” mode.

    Basically what you’re trying to do is to tell your computer to always run with the “highest performance” option vs. a more “energy saving” option so that the OS doesn’t automatically switch between the two when you go from a “lightweight” app (i.e. Safari, Mail, TextEdit) to a more graphics/processor intense app (i.e. Photoshop, etc.).

    Hope this helps!

  5. Peter

    I have the same problem with my 15″ MB Pro – late 2011. After unsuccessful attempt to resolve this issue with Apple support I’ve decided to roll back to 10.9. Now after 10.10.2 release I gave it a chance, but fortunately I’ve installed it on separated partition. It didn’t solve anything – same glitches when GPU switches from Intel to AMD 🙁

  6. Olddiverman

    I’ve had same problem and hoped that 10.10.3 Supplemental, which mentioned video card, would cure it, but, no joy.

  7. Ashley

    I am definitely on Yosemite and my Energy Saver panel does not include the check box for automatic graphics switching.

  8. Magdy

    I have this problem on my mac mini late 2012, it’s a lot less than before but still there!! I hope that apple will address this problem in El Capitan.

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