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So, what do you do on a Mac when a process (as opposed to an application) is hogging CPU, swamping your machine, and you need to kill it?

I know you can use top or open Applications > Utilities > Activity Monitor and kill it from there.

But what happens when the process is already using so much CPU that doing either of those tasks is impossible?

On Windows, you can just do Ctrl/Alt/Delete and the process list will reliably open. So no matter how much your computer is thrashing, you always have access to the list of processes.

On Mac OS, there's Cmd/Alt/Escape, which reliably shows running applications. Fine when it's an application causing the problem. But: what do you do if it's a process?

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4  
Sure. Cmd/Alt/Escape only shows applications: I want it to show all processes. –  AP257 Sep 24 '10 at 8:53
    
@Bobby - it sounds like you've never worked on a Mac and had to use Force Quit. I'm pretty sure AP257 got it right. –  jww Jun 21 at 13:24
    
@noloader: Well, I've got no idea what I tried to say with that comment... –  Bobby Jun 21 at 13:26
    
@AP257 - another useful one Macs are missing is a way to quickly lock the Mac. Like Windows' Ctrl/Alt/Delete → Lock Workstation. –  jww Jun 21 at 13:27

3 Answers 3

up vote 19 down vote accepted

Based on your desire to kill an individual process, I'm assuming that you are ok with a solution at the Terminal. The Terminal is pretty light so should be responsive even if your system is swamped, or if you're logging in via ssh.

Beyond the basic kill command, which kills processes via their pid (which you'd need to get from either a ps command, or the Activity monitor), a neat trick at the terminal is the killall command, which allows you to kill a process by name rather than pid.

For example, if you know the name of your process is my-prog-0 or whatever, you can go to the terminal and do:

% killall my-prog-0

There are a number of good options (see man killall for more info):

-s : Shows the kill commands that will be generated so you can be safe.
-u : Limits to a specified user

One thing to note about OS X is that some system processes will be automatically restarted if they are killed by the launchd daemon (I think??). For example, if the Dock is not responsive you can do a killall Dock and it will restart automatically.

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Thanks for the detailed answer and suggestions, even though it doesn't really solve the problem. Terminal can take a few minutes to start up if the machine is trashing.... and by the time it's started up, the mystery background process has usually gone away... Thanks anyway. –  AP257 Sep 25 '10 at 11:45
    
If that's the case then I'm not sure there's much to be done, other than figuring out what causes this thrashing process to occur and then avoiding these conditions. –  dtlussier Sep 25 '10 at 17:39

Force Quit is the alternative to Task Manager on Mac. It's fast, efficient, and kills applications really fast.

You can access this feature through two ways.

  1.  Apple Icon --> Force Quit...
  2. Hold Alt/Option +  Apple/Command + Escape. This can be useful if you memorised the keyboard command and in the rare case that Finder misbehaves and freezes along it too.
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Yes, it kills applications. That's my point! There's a background process on my machine that sometimes causes the machine to slow down massively. Force Quit doesn't show it. –  AP257 Sep 25 '10 at 11:46
    
Activity Monitor can be used to show all processes and kill them through there. You can quit them or force quit them within the application. –  JFW Sep 26 '10 at 13:06

The is no process killing keyboard shorcut, only for running applications. The only way to kill processes is through Activity Monitor or through Terminal using UNIX commands.

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