[Technology] kernel_task consumes almost 100% of CPU on Mac OS X

The Problem

A friend spilt tea on their MacBook Air and this has probably killed their battery.  In an attempt to see if it was just a firmware problem, they attempted an SMC reset, which resulted in their computer becoming incredibly slow (and the battery still not working).  Reviewing CPU usage showed that kernel_task was opaquely consuming all available CPU cycles.  Oh nos!

(spoiler: this post does not end in a working battery, just in eliminating the excessive CPU usage)

Possible solutions

I googled a bit.  Some people recommended trying a PRAM reset (which did nothing (to do it, use command + option + P + R at boot after the tone, until you hear a second tone)).  Starting up in safe mode to see if disabling all non-core kernel extensions helped did not (to do that, hold shift at the start up tone until the grey Apple logo appears).   Finally, someone suggested disabling one of the plists for power management in one of the kernel extensions.  The idea there was that the kernel thought the computer was overheating and was trying to take misguided measures to deal with it that resulted in total CPU consumption (and more heat).  I thought this might be relevant, not due to heat, but because a part of the device was no longer working, and perhaps the kernel didn't understand and was making a bad decisions.

The solution

This turned out to be the right idea.  Under /System/Library exist many kernel extensions, and the relevant one is the IOPlatformPluginFamily.kext.  There suggestion was to disable the plist for your model of computer that was located in that kext's Contents/PlugIns/ACPI_SMC_PlatformPlugin.kext (a sub kext!).  First, his MacBook Air didn't have a relevant plist, and second, disabling that entire kext (simply by renaming it to something else so Mac OS X wouldn't find and load it) did not help.

I then tried disabling IOPlatformPluginFamily.kext altogether, and it worked!  Thinking that a bit too brutish, though, I re-enabled it, and tested disabling a variety of its sub kernel extensions (under /System/Library/IOPlatformPluginFamily.kext/Contents/Plugins) to see which one was the culprit.

Here are the sub kernel extensions within IOPlatformPluginFamily.kext:

  • ACPI_SMC_PlatformPlugin.kext

  • AppleSMCPDRC.kext

  • IOPlatformPluginLegacy.kext

  • X86PlatformPlugin.kext

  • X86PlatformShim.kext   < this is the one I had to disable.


Here are the steps for disabling them.  Pardon any errors, as I'm doing this from memory and photographs after the fact.

1. Open a Terminal (Applications > Utilities > Terminal).  This took a dreadfully long time, given how slow the computer was running.

2. Run these commands (text precede by a # is just a comment)

> cd /System/Library/IOPlatformPluginFamily.kext # enter main kext directory> cd Contents/Plugins  # enter kext's plugins (other kexts)

> ls  # list the available kexts


> sudo mv X86PlatformShim.kext X86PlatformShim.kext.disabled # rename the culprit .kext (after trial and error) to something different so it can't be loaded (doesn't need to add .disabled specifically); start  with sudo to do this as the root user (or you won't have permission); this will request your user password

3. Then, restart your computer to see if it works.

You should be able to actually rename /System/Library/IOPlatformPluginFamily.kext as a quick test to start to see whether a problematic .kext exists within it, and then try this (or maybe ACPI_SMC_PlatformPlugin.kext's specific plist, depending on your actual problem) to be more specific (who knows, some of the plugins might actually be there for a reason ;). 

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