How to manage intermittent lag in OS X Yosemite

YosemiteInstallerIconXOne of the more common complaints about OS X Yosemite is that it appears to run slowly for some users; however, this is not because it is always slow. In many cases, the OS runs just fine but then will run into a period of intermittent but frequent pauses where input like clicks and typed text will halt and the system may show the spinning color wheel. This is followed by all of the paused activity suddenly catching up with itself a few moments later.

If you have upgraded to OS X Yosemite and are experiencing this issue, then it is very likely from a common bug in the OS X WindowServer that results in system console messages similar to these (the Console app is in the Applications > Utilities folder):

08/01/15 20:40:51,204 WindowServer[116]: disable_update_timeout: UI updates were forcibly disabled by application "TextEdit" for over 1.01 seconds. Server has re-enabled them.
08/01/15 20:40:51,828 WindowServer[116]: common_reenable_update: UI updates were finally reenabled by application "Finder" after 1.23 seconds (server forcibly re-enabled them after 1.00 seconds)

The WindowServer process in Yosemite (that which is responsible for drawing and managing window elements) has a few problems, and this timeout and forced update issue seems to be one of them. The problem happens more when you have more windows open (as one might expect from the Window management process), so until Apple issues an update to manage this bug, the best workaround is to simply reduce the number of open application windows by closing and quitting them. Unfortunately, merely hiding windows does not seem to work. If the problem persists, then restart your system, or log out and log back in.

Beyond this approach, there seems to be little you can do, but since it can’t hurt, you might as well do a quick maintenance routine on your Mac to ensure everything is running as smooth as possible:

  1. Reboot into Safe Mode by holding the Shift key at startup
  2. Use Disk Utility to perform a permissions fix on your boot drive
  3. Shut down your Mac and Reset your Mac’s SMC
  4. Start up your Mac, but immediately hold down the Option-Command-P-R keys to reset the PRAM (release the keys when your system auto-reboots)

When this is done, you will have reset various hardware variables and checked for filesystem setup issues on your Mac, that while likely benign, might be contributing to the problem.

32 thoughts on “How to manage intermittent lag in OS X Yosemite

    1. Lawrence

      No it’s not. Compared to the early days of OS X Yosemite is rock solid. Then there was System 9 and its constant conflicts with extensions, plugins, and the like. There was even a third party utility called Conflict Catcher that attempted to resolve these issues.

      I can only assume you are a relatively new or inexperienced user of OS X because your statement simply does not reflect the reality of the situation.

      1. Stephen

        Sorry, but I regularly experience the bug discussed in this article, and have to agree with Vic. I’ve been using the Mac OS since the 90’s. When it comes to OS X, Yosemite is definitely the most bug-ridden, “flaky”, frustratingly obnoxious version of OS X that Apple has released in the past decade — Finder bugs, WindowServer bugs, Wi-Fi issues, app crashes, etc. Yosemite is amazingly great *when it works*, but it’s a 50/50 crapshoot whether one of these bugs is going to appear and interrupt my workflow (and thus reduce my productivity).

        I recently purchased two new Macs (after having delayed upgrading for a few years more than I usually would), and these bugs exist even on “virgin” installs on high-end hardware. Extremely disappointing.

        Apple QA has nosedived since 2012, whether we’re talking OS X or iOS…. is it a coincidence that it’s all happened after Steve Jobs’ death? I don’t think so. The Mac was always rock-solid (for me) up until the past few years, so either they’ve suddenly hired a bunch of idiots, or the ship isn’t being run as tightly as it once was, or god forbid — both. Either way, the overall quality is lacking and Yosemite is the crowning star in that “achievement”.

        Here’s hoping they get off their nether regions and fix these bugs sooner rather than later in a point release vs making us wait for OS X 10.11 “Cleanup in Aisle 2”.

          1. Zhora

            Since 10.7 fits in well with my recent experience. Snow Leopard, concentrating on improving the OS X internals while letting the external features remain basically stable seemed to produce a great product. After that it feels like the “need” to put out a new version of OS X each year has allowed shipping products that just aren’t quite ready to go. Often the basic features work well (though I’m tiring of waiting to see what bugs have shown up in Preview, one of OS X’s better designed applications IMHO before it started showing wear during it’s various revisions); I was amazed to have problems just assigning a few keyboard shortcuts to some menu items, on the surface the same problem that initially cropped up a few versions ago back once again!

            Yesterday, checking out a console message saying that a specific private (Apple’s use only) framework was not valid I found that that it was broken because at some point someone had duplicated the top of the actual dylib (it was the same name as the correctly named directory at the same location with the Finder’s telltale “copy” suffix added to the name (“DataclassOwnersManager copy”). That sort of mistake is the kind of thing that good QA will likely catch, especially with the console error pointing right to it and it being so obvious just looking at it.

            I’ve been personally using a Mac since starting with my Mac II 25 years ago more or less and sure there have been some bad things along the way. But the current issues, sometimes not even seen externally by many, especially if they are new to using a Mac or have a really new fast machine that covers up (somewhat) things like 4000 line console logs filled with nearly identical errors generated within a few minutes time span (and I’ve seen that several times so far with Yosemite) just seem to be of a different nature than the more disconnected problems that cropped up in the past.

            I’ve spent a large amount of time weeding out specific issues that I have encountered with Yosemite and now it feels like a reasonable system, enough so that I really don’t want to backtrack and compared to the first couple months after my installation of it it’s many times better than it was. But those 4000 line logs still happen (I saw that there were 160+ system logs over a 5 day period at one point before they started to be archived or removed by the system…that’s nuts!) and when they do, yes, that spinning wheel pops up, everything just slows to a halt and usually, after a while, it all starts moving again…but happens more often the longer you go without logout/in or reboot. So I wait for Apple to fix it up (since they make it harder and harder for non-Apple persons to do much to solve problems that occur and then don’t get around to fixing them themselves.

            I appreciate that a complex operating system requires a good deal of work to keep functioning not even considering adding and changing features to it and that it needs skilled people to handle that work. From the outside it looks like those skilled people have either just given up hope and consequently stopped doing good work or just don’t have time, have jumped ship and left things in the hands of less experienced people or have gotten so powerful and in control that they can decide what they will and won’t do. I’ve run into that point in development when that project just isn’t as exciting anymore…and it works, right?…and the idea of doing the required testing and thinking about what happens when things don’t take the exact path you designed for makes you just want to be done with it and get on to something else. But getting things to work right, getting through that less pleasant end stage of development feels better after all than producing something unfinished and there needs to be those checks and balances that good QA enforces to make sure that the necessary yet not so fun parts of developing a large system like OS X actually do get done. I’m hoping the problem is just lack of time since that issue, if recognized and handled, is usually the easiest to correct.

            [I still love my Mac. My feelings about Apple have become tarnished but could change back. And now, with their assets they actually could do amazing things if they don’t become complacent. But if the quality continues to slide, judging from the feelings expressed by more and more of the people who do use a Mac and would prefer to continue to do so, they might find themselves sliding out of existence like so many of the “so large as to be infallable” companies have fallen to in recent times.]

            [Hmm, that got long! Back to those console logs!]

        1. B. Jefferson Le Blanc

          I agree. Steve Jobs was famous – or notorious – for pushing too hard. Apple had it’s share of foulups under his regime. Regardless, quality control has been going downhill for years now. I noticed it long before now. Anyone who thinks Yosemite is rock solid isn’t paying attention – or maybe they just can’t see beyond the tip of their own nose. Reports of problems with Yosemite are legion.

          Beginning with Lion Apple accelerated the upgrade cycle for OS X. The operating system has not benefitted from this faster pace, nor have Apple customers. It’s clear Apple is blind or indifferent to quality control problems because such problems continue to occur regularly. Apple software development is broken, it’s as simple as that. Blaming Tim Cook for it is a copout; the trouble goes deeper than that. But it is his responsibility to get things straightened out. His smart moves, like allying with IBM, are tarnished by his failure to get quality control back on track. It won’t matter how much money Apple makes if they become just another feckless Microsoft.

        2. Bob

          As a Mac user from ‘day-1’ I totally agree – Yosemite is a total POS…. (too many after hours parties at HQ and not enough quality control….. been beta testing and the latest 10.10.4 is still very ‘laggy’…… perhaps they need a total overhaul…..

      2. Victor Panlilio

        Ah, System 9…I remember going from System 7.1.2 to System 7.5 and muttering under my breath whenever the bomb icon would show up… 🙂

      3. perfectlyGoodInk

        Can’t speak for Yosemite, but El Capitan is pretty bad compared to Snow Leopard. I was forced to finally upgrade when Chrome and R and other programs stopped supporting Snow Leopard. Google Drive does work faster (probably because Google wasn’t really supporting Snow Leopard anymore), but why on earth do small and simple programs like TextEdit and Preview work SLOWER? Why would I care about iCloud when I use Drive and have an Android phone? Side-by-side would be nice if it was actually stable.

        Yeesh. There are some nice new features, so I consider OS X to still be rather decent and not bloatware yet, but it’s definitely on the declining side of the software life cycle. They definitely unfixed something that wasn’t broke, and I’m rather resentful app developers just went along with these unnecessary OS “upgrades” that I suspect serve Apple’s income sheet more than its user base.

  1. Victor Panlilio

    Each person’s experience is anecdotal, but I can say that I have yet to see a grey screen of death under 10.10.x Yosemite (touch wood) after installing it on a 27-inch iMac Core i7 (Late 2009) with 16GB RAM and multiple external FW800 drives, whereas I distinctly recall seeing the occasional grey screen (and countless beachballs) in 10.6.x Snow Leopard to 10.9.x Mavericks. YMMV.

  2. Jeff Leigh

    How quickly people forget the days of Conflict Catcher and rebooting over and over trying to track down a weird extension conflict.

    I’m personally very happy with Yosemite and haven’t experienced the ‘major’ issues that people are complaining about.

    1. Stephen

      Not all of us have forgotten! We’d rather just not remember. 😛

      I do kind of miss the parade of extensions along the bottom of the screen during startup, though; more interesting to watch than a spinning gear.

    2. Nate

      It is really silly to compare an OS X version to pre-OS X. That is merely a way to disguise the fact that quality control with OS X has fallen, and that Yosemite is the worst iteration of OS X to be released. That is the point.

      1. nmt1900

        If we try to be honest then one of biggest problems on modern Mac with OS X is actually a thing from pre-OS X times – actually not even from System 9, but from System 8.1. It is the very foundation on which everything is working. Yes, it is the file system, which is from last century – from the times, when Motorola 68000 machines run from floppy drives. Global locks on metadata structures – only one process can update the file system at a time. Kind of embarrassing in times of modern Mac Pro machines. It is really possible, that if this major shortcoming could be addressed somehow, many other (intermittent) problems might get solved for good.

        It is sad, that official porting on ZFS went south after Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems.

        1. NateS

          Where in the world did you get the wacky idea that System 8.1 is the foundation for OS X and that “…It is the very foundation on which everything is working.”!?

          OS X “… is built on technologies developed at NeXT between the second half of the 1980s and Apple’s purchase of the company in late 1996. The ‘X’ is also used to emphasize the relatedness between OS X and UNIX. UNIX 03 certification has been achieved for versions 10.5 for Intel CPUs and versions 10.6 through 10.10…”

    3. NateS

      Conflict Catcher was actually an ingenious product! I wish we had a Conflict Catcher for Yosemite! Users could simply sit back and watch it track down and find the problem!

  3. xgman

    Apple’s closed ecosystem for reporting bugs etc means that threads like this or ones on other forums (eve their own) with real world experiences, go unnoticed. It really is a shame since even with all the junk, there is still a wealth of user info to be gleaned. I suspect that issues like this go on much longer than they would if Apple paid attention to this. Alas.. it just won’t happen though…..

  4. forkboy1965

    I’m curious… you mention to boot into Safe Mode to run a permissions fix. Is there a reason why I should do this in Safe Mode instead?

  5. Bruce Kay

    Thanks of this really interesting article. I had always thought that the spinning beachballs were the result of memory management. If it’s really the windows manager, this should be a bit easier to fix. I “solved” my problem accidentally when my hard drive went south. Replacing it with an SSD banished the beachballs, but it’s admittedly an extreme solution if the hard drive is not failing SMART tests.

  6. Ian Ridpath

    Odd that the efficiency of the OS has been going downhill since they dropped Rosetta emulation, but my impression agrees with those who find the performance of Mavericks and Yosemite to be generally poorer than Snow Leopard.

    1. bob latterman

      Yosemite is horrible…….. its a huge memory hog and very disappointing so far. I would run Snow Leopard if not for the fact that a couple of the apps I like to run now only support Yosemite (Oh – I suppose I could just go back to the much older versions – but as for Pixelmator…. think it was only made for Yosemite (maybe Mavericks too?) …… Miss OS9 days and PageMaker 6.5 🙂 …… those old machines really screamed……. 🙂

  7. Geoff

    “Yosemite is horrible.” In comparison to what? It does seem a bit more flaky than I’m used to from previous OS X releases, which I’ve been using since 10.3. But hey, I also have to use Windows often and I’ll take flakey Yosemite over Windows any day.

  8. oxygenlinep

    Yosemite is more than horrible, and 10.10.3 didn’t help (update to update to update, all supposed to fix issues that are still there…). I completely agree with some comments here. most flawed OS i can remember. So buggy I actually went to put the console, activity monitor and easyfind in the dock!! Yosemite is actually making me loose money. The relativists on this thread must be working in say, carpentry or gardening and welcome any new useless gadget and flacky gizmos only good to intrude the other processes and leak memory for no reason. Enjoy your bullshit shiny Photos app and Icloud glitters while professionals are in despair.
    Take it from a guy who hasn’t slept in 2 days fighting with absurdity and still haven’t made any progress on his actual work with a deadline in a few hours. Thank you apple.

  9. Nate

    In April of 1983 I bought three of the very first Macs, and a long parade of Mac models since then. Ran my business with a network of Macs for years. Loved Macs. Anyone who thinks Yosemite is a big “improvement” in OS X must not rely on their Macs to earn a living. Except for when John Sculley fired Steve Jobs from Apple, Yosemite is definitely the worst thing that has ever happened to Apple, and I say that as a loyal shareholder and serious user. Anyone who is gaga about Yosemite and blind to its many faults must be a mere recreational, not professional, user of Macs.

    1. Jose Mancini

      Agreed with Nate, with each new release users suffer one frustration after another.

      Those users that have the time and love to research on forums in order to find out what could be wrong feel very well for their contribution to the poor research on the Apple side. Most of the times these forums alert Apple about thing they never toke into consideration before releasing a new SW version, it happened to me twice.

      Unfortunately, for those that rely on the OSX to perform their daily work cannot waste all that time. With all the problems (mostly sluggish behavior) I ended installng an old Hard Drive with a previous OS Version (Lion) in order to at least move forward with my small productions. I have a MAC PRO, 2 x 2.8 GHz Quad Core with 10 GB 800 MHz memory bank that worked quite right before the upgrade.

      Thanks for all the good information.

  10. Yeah.... ermm.... no....

    Just relaunch the finder… terminal — killall Finder — It will relaunch and be fine. There’s no need for safe mode/rebooting/PRAM reset and all that. And I agree OS108+ have been pretty bad, 10.10 being the worst where Finder is concerned…

  11. Joe MocoLoco

    Still have this issue with El Capitan on a new Macbook Pro, with the spinning ball every now and then, and after having checked this blog, I looked in Console, and look what we see:

    12/15/15 12:52:36.110 WindowServer[188]: disable_update_timeout: UI updates were forcibly disabled by application “Activity Monitor” for over 1.00 seconds. Server has re-enabled them.
    12/15/15 12:52:36.110 WindowServer[188]: common_reenable_update: UI updates were finally reenabled by application “Activity Monitor” after 1.21 seconds [0.82fps] (server forcibly re-enabled them after 1.21 seconds [1.00fps])


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