If you’re a veteran of Windows, you’re probably familiar with using Task Manager to deal with applications that freeze or checking memory usage. On a Mac, those tasks fall to a Force Quit dialog or a utility called Activity Monitor, which has shipped with every version of Mac OS X and macOS since 2000. Here’s how to use them.

Terminating Stubborn Programs with “Force Quit”

If you’re familiar with pressing Ctrl+Alt+Delete on a Windows PC to kill a stubborn program, you’ll be glad to know that a similar three-finger combo exists on the Mac. When a program becomes unresponsive, simply press Command+Option+Esc to open the “Force Quit Applications” dialog.

A window will pop up that lists currently running apps. To close a stubborn one that refuses to quit normally, select it from the list, and click the “Force Quit” button.

The "Force Quit Applications" dialog on a Mac.

After asking for confirmation, macOS will close the application you selected. Very handy.

Troubleshooting with More Detail: Activity Monitor

If you have a deeper system resource issue to look into on a Mac, such as memory consumption or detailed information on a particular app or process, you’ll want to use Activity Monitor. By default, Activity Monitor lives in a folder called “Utilities” within your Applications folder on your Mac.

Locating Activity Monitor in Finder on a Mac.

One of the fastest ways to open Activity Monitor is by using Spotlight. To open “Spotlight,” click the small “magnifying glass” icon in your menu bar (or press Command+Space).

When the “Spotlight Search” bar appears, type “activity monitor,” and hit “Return.” Or you can click the “Activity Monitor.app” icon in the Spotlight results.

Open Spotlight Search on Mac and type "Activity Monitor" then hit Return.

Once the “Activity Monitor” window opens, you will see a list of all the processes running on your Mac, similar to this:

An overview of the CPU tab in Activity Monitor on Mac.

Using the five tabs across the top of the window, you can visit displays that show information on running processes sorted by CPU usage (“CPU”), memory usage (“Memory”), energy usage (“Energy”), disk usage (“Disk”), and network usage (“Network”). Click the tab corresponding to the section you’d like to visit.

The various tabs in Activity Monitor on Mac.

At any time while listing processes, you can select a process from the list, and click the “Stop” button (which looks like an octagon with an “x” inside it) to force it to quit, or click the “Inspect” button (an “i” in a circle) to see more information about the process.

The "stop" and "inspect" buttons in Activity Monitor on Mac.

And if you’re overwhelmed by the number of processes listed, you can narrow them down using the “View” menu up in the menu bar. For example, you could select “My Processes,” to see only a list of processes associated with your user account.

You can also search for a process using the search bar in the upper-right corner of the window. Just type in the name of the app or process you’re looking for, and it will appear in the list (if it is currently running).

Use the search box in Activity Monitor to search for processes on a Mac.

Activity Monitor is very handy, so take some time to explore it, and you’ll become that much more adept at using it to troubleshoot your Mac. Have fun!

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Profile Photo for Benj Edwards Benj Edwards
Benj Edwards is a former Associate Editor for How-To Geek. Now, he is an AI and Machine Learning Reporter for Ars Technica. For over 15 years, he has written about technology and tech history for sites such as The Atlantic, Fast Company, PCMag, PCWorld, Macworld, Ars Technica, and Wired. In 2005, he created Vintage Computing and Gaming, a blog devoted to tech history. He also created The Culture of Tech podcast and regularly contributes to the Retronauts retrogaming podcast.
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