Fix lagging display performance on retina MacBook Pro

This weekend my Mac suddenly started behaving strangely: moving windows around occurred with a nearly psychodelic delay, mission control (aka exposé) was “jerky”, and scrolling was not fun. Forcing the graphics card to the discrete NVIDIA GT 650 instead of integrated Intel GPU sped things up, but the overall experience still didn’t feel right. Since the onset was sudden I immediately though: imminent hardware failure! But thankfully that turned out not to be the case.

Scouring forums for answers led me here, which worked for me!. The basic idea: delete some preferences files and reset the PRAM:

  • Delete /Library/Preferences/com.apple.windowserver.plist
  • Delete ~/Library/Preferences/ByHost/com.apple.windowserver*.plist
  • Shutdown OSX
  • Startup, immediately press and hold the P and R keys while holding down the option (⌥) and command (⌘) keys before the gray boot screen appears, which resets the PRAM
  • You may have to reset your display preferences (resolution) once you login
  • Done!

2013-08-12: fixed typo in preference plist filename.

108 comments

  1. Andreas

    Thank you! My MBP (mid 2009) all of the sudden had this lag, but your instructions fixed it!

    • David

      Great! I can’t take credit for the instructions (found them in the above-mentioned Apple forum link), but I was so happy the solution was a simple reset and not a hardware issue! 🙂

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  3. Private

    You wrote “windowsserver” (with two ‘s’), but meant “windowserver” (with one ‘s’). There are no files with two ‘s’.

  4. thihasoe222

    is animation still left after this process?
    i just want to make sure as i have the same problem too

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  6. Alex

    Hey,
    I have the same problem but I am a noob with my mac book pro :-).
    I don´t really understand what I have to delete. Where I can find these lists?
    Sorry for my not existing knowledge ;-).
    Thanks for your help

    Cheers

    Alex

    • David

      Hi Alex,

      I would first try to reset the PRAM to see if that helps. If that doesn’t help then try the steps as in the post.

      Reset PRAM:
      * Shutdown and the start your Mac, and before the grey boot screen appears hold down the P, R, option and command keys simultaneously. See here for more info: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1379?viewlocale=en_US&locale=en_US

      If that doesn’t help, try deleting the preference files as in the post. There are multiple ways to do it, I would recommend via the terminal. So open the commandline terminal program (search for “terminal” using spotlight).
      * Open terminal
      * Type the following command (it will ask you to enter your password, as this file requires administrator privileges to delete, which is the ‘sudo’ command):
      sudo rm /Library/Preferences/com.apple.windowserver.plist
      * Type the following command (those files are in your account, so you don’t need admin access to delete):
      rm ~/Library/Preferences/ByHost/com.apple.windowserver*.plist
      * Then perform a PRAM reset again

      Hopefully that helps! Good luck!

      • Alex

        Hey David,

        thanks for your help now I know what to do :-).

        I tried it but it didn´t work. Now I will sent my Macbook back to Apple.

        Thank you

        Cheers

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  9. John Lyons

    Brilliant, thanks a million, I was searching for ages for a solution. Have you any idea what caused this issue in the first place. Thanks again for the fix.

  10. Kevin

    David, my friend, have saved my LIFE!!! its late, im tired and my new mac starts acting up!! google, google and google as you might know…..opened this article and BAMM!! solved!! that lag was scaring me! thought it was something serious! was about to call the guy who sold me the mac and have a nice “chat” with him…..Needless to say, this website is going to my favorites, along with the article. XD

  11. Jørgen

    Wow. This helped. Om Mavericks on my MBPr 13″ late 2013. Weird that this problem persists. It hit me after installing Autodesk’s AutoCAD 2014.

  12. Timothy Jason

    Wow! this works! I’d just to the sudo thing via terminal then phew! Those fcking lag gone in just a second! Thanks David! You saved my life :))

  13. Pingback: 升級 OSX 10.10 Yosemite 後 UI lag 的解決方法
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  15. Willem Luuk Nijdam

    Hai David, do you have a solution for the following problem?
    After installing OS X Yosemite 10.10, the WiFi connection drops regularly and/or when it stays connected (apple WiFi logo on)..it is not really connected. This is most annoying while working on-line.
    Only solution till now is switching WiFi Off and On.
    Hope to hear from you
    Rgds
    WL

    • David

      Hello, hmm… no I’m not sure what could be causing that as I myself haven’t upgraded to Yosemite yet. Your best bet is googling around and/or perhaps if it’s a bug in Yosemite, a future patch release from Apple. Sorry can’t help! 🙁
      ./david

    • Ron

      I did this workaround suggested, with Yosemite.
      Animations became laggier and the Wi-Fi dropping connections issues began to happen.
      Damn !
      help anyone?

  16. Mortimer

    Finally! This fixes the UI animation stutter and lag that’s been driving me nuts since upgrading to Yosemite. After upgrading my MBP Retina 15″ I was seeing probably 10fps with Mission Control, now with integrated graphics it’s probably 30fps, and with discrete graphics buttery at 60fps (the fps are just guesses). Thanks!

  17. Matthew

    I deleted window server but there is still lag and I also still see window server still in my activity monitor as a process. Any way to stop this? Also window server file always comes back to that folder after restarting it never stays gone.

    Thanks

  18. Lawrence

    This worked on my 2010 15″ Macbook Pro with 330M GT. I thought my laptop’s GPU couldn’t handle the animations, but now my Mac feels like a Mac again!

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  20. IMAN

    Hi.
    when i do rm for the second preference file, i got “no such file or directory”. i resets the rpm but no changes happened.
    I recently format and install Yosemite 10.10 on my early 2011 macbook pro. have you any idea that what’s the problem? thanks so much.

    • David

      Hmm… it could be that the file did not exist on your machine at that time (perhaps the pref file gets created at a later time, when needed). So if resetting the pram and removing the (nonexistent) file didn’t help, then you probably have another issue. Not sure what that could be, sorry! 🙁

  21. Nick

    Worked like a charm. My haswell retina 15″ had always been pokier after upgrading to Yosemite. This made everything behave as snappy as ever!

  22. Kadown

    Thanks so much!! it works like charm!!
    If I hadn’t seen your post, i would have downgraded my mac (MBP mid 2010) to Mavericks.
    You are my hero!!!

  23. mike

    I tried deleting the “byhost” windowserver.plist, however, mine has a crazy amount of numbers after it. Is that normal and the one I want to delete? it’s essentially:
    ~/Library/Preferences/ByHost/com.apple.windowserver. (insert lots of numbers and letters here) .plist

  24. James

    It works fine anyway because I restart the machine, but then it starts to become jerky again after a while 🙁

  25. will

    this resets your displays preferences, which probably turns off the scaling. the scaling is what caused the performance issues. it’s terrible this hasn’t been fixed these integrated GPUs are just not ready for retina yet.

    • David

      I have my display preferences set to have maximum screen resolution (the scaling option “more space”). I’m sure you’re correct, the hack resets the display preferences. After I performed the hack, I readjusted my preferences to have “more space” scaled screen resolution and haven’t experienced the lagging again… yet. So apparently YMMV with this “hack” 🙂

  26. b3yondl

    DO NOT DO THIS! I HAD TO REINSTALL YOSEMITE ON MY MID 2014 MACBOOK PRO BECAUSE OF THIS SHITTY ADVICE

    My boot would hang at 50% everytime I tried resetting the PRAM NVRAM SMC repaired disk permissions all kinds of shit! Deleting those files will FUCK up some directories and Yosemite will try respawn them but won’t be able to causing the boot to hang at 50%.

    JUST DONT DO THIS, I WOULDNT MAKE THIS UP, I WANTED THE STUTTER TO GET FIXED TOO.

  27. Igora

    Hey, man I did it once and it helped. But then an hour later, it started doing it again. I don’t I should be deleting / reseting this every day ? Is there a ‘real’ reason why it’s doing this ? Can I solve the problem rather than symptom ? Thanks.

    I

    • David

      Sorry, I don’t know the reason why this happens—wish I did! I agree, solving the root cause problem would be the best solution!

  28. Giorgio

    Hi,

    i tried to find the file: ~/Library/Preferences/ByHost/com.apple.windowserver*.plist with the terminal command but the terminal give me: no such file or directory… i tried to myself but i cannot find anything… do you have any ideas? (i’m using yosemite)
    thanks

    • David

      Hmm… not sure why they’re not showing up. You can open that folder up in Finder, or in the terminal, and manually see if there are any plist files there… to open the folder in Finder from terminal:
      $ open ~/Library/Preferences/ByHost/
      Then Finder should open up to that folder, you can scroll through and see if you see any plists matching com.apple.windowserver*.plist. But if the terminal command didn’t find any matching files, then they probably aren’t there. Not sure what to do then…

  29. Hobs

    Should this be done on the new MacBook Pro 13″ with Force Touch trackpad (March 9, 2015) ? I have experienced that just disabling transparency in the Accesibility settings in System Preferences does improve quite a lot the fluidity of the interface.

    • David

      No idea… if it isn’t broken, I wouldn’t recommend messing around with deleting the plist. Resetting the pram shouldn’t have any adverse affects (Apple says it’s ok), you could try that (though you might need to reset some preferences afterwards: sound, display, etc). The problems we all seem to be experiencing are _really_ slow, lagging display performance, really slow.

      • hobs

        I understand. Definitely this is just a low FPS issue, but maybe 15-20 FPS at specific scenarios like switching workspaces that stutters . Which still is a pain for a brand new machine but I will take your advise to keep it like that. One thing to note is that my old MBA mid 2011 with Mavericks is totally fluid. Love the new interface in Yosemite and continuity and all but sad that they didn’t pay too much attention to these things.

        Thanks

  30. Glavin Wiechert

    Thank you so much! I have been so upset recently that my Mac has been running slow. I thought it was just me or I was running too much at one time. My whole computer feels like new again! I am so happy. Thank you for sharing what you found!

  31. Andre

    I did notice considerable performance increase after doing this on Yosemite. Though I didn’t find /Library/Preferences/com.apple.windowserver.plist. It wasn’t there.

  32. TheWusman

    Was about to return my new Macbook retina 2015 model due to UI lag on all animations and changing workspaces, expose etc. You know the drill.

    This worked for me !

    Amazing. Big thumbs up.

    Why can’t apple just release an official fix themselves I wonder.

  33. Andy Summers

    Same as everyone else – this works perfectly and cured annoying laggy desktop animation and swipes on the magic pad. Yosemite 10.10.3 on MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Mid 2014). Thanks!

  34. Mark

    Speechless. I thought this was an issue I would have to live with for quite a while longer.
    Your article fixed ALL of the graphics issues on my upgraded-from-mavericks MBP 15 retina late 2014.

    Thanks so much for making this findable!

  35. Hubu

    Can’t find this file in my Library com.apple.windowserver.plist

    I have a MBPr 13″ with lastest osx

    • David

      Permanent? Not likely. Not even sure why it happens to begin with… hasn’t reoccurred for me since resetting PRAM and deleting the preferences file… yet.

  36. Lozza

    Been driving me mad for ages, Thanks for posting the fix -otherwise Im not sure I would have found it on on the OP’s message over on apple.

  37. Pingback: » Apple:UI Lag OSX Yosemite (10.10) on Retina MacBook Pro late 2013
  38. Hugo Ferreira

    Wow, congrats mate: life saver!
    Freshly bought MBP was driving me crazy with all the jittery space switching.
    Astonishing (in a bad way) that almost 3 years since you posted this, it’s still happening and it’s still working! :/

  39. Nathan

    2016 in El Capitan with a brand new rmbp 15” I seem to have the same issue. I’m not sure whether to try this advice, or to return the laptop. It sounds like some who tried this had the problem return?

    Does anybody know if this happens on the mb airs as well? I wonder if it is a retina thing.

    • David

      Hi — not sure exactly which macs this affects, but since the steps mentioned only affect software (not the mac hardware) it’s worth a shot trying. Worst case is that you could restore your OS from the recovery partition (make sure you have a backup). I presume that if you return the laptop (or take it to an Apple Genius Bar), they would probably first recommend erasing the hard drive and restoring a fresh copy of El Capitan anyway. If the problem persists with a fresh install without ANY changes whatsoever (no installed apps, nothing), then it’s a hardware issue and they would probably replace your Mac.

  40. Conor

    Do you know what causes this? Is there any way to prevent rather than fix? The fix worked perfectly, but I’d prefer it to just never need fixing cos im lazy.

  41. Miguel

    Thanks David! This really helped on my Macbook Pro 13′ Early 2011. Used to lag a bit after switching between fullscreen spaces, but now it’s gone! Will share with Facebook friends who use rMBP as well 🙂

  42. noordwesth

    Wow it actually worked. Just got a Gopro Hero 5 and was testing it. Thought it was broken. 🙁 Turns out you had the fix for the laggin experience on my 2013 rMBP! THANKS!

  43. Mk

    Thanks David!
    This solved an issue of the same kind on my MacBook Air 11-Inch running OS-X 10.9. I was as well experiencing that mission control (aka exposé) was “jerky”, scrolling was not good and switching from one Desktop to another was jerky too.

    Mirko

  44. Taoufik

    Thank you!
    My MBP started lagging whenever it is charging, now it works great after deleting the files and the PRAM reset.

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