Mac High CPU After Copying PDF Books ATSServer mdworker

Apple Spotlight PDF ATSServer

I recently copied over a set of PDF ebooks from an external drive to my “home” folder (usually your login name under Places within Finder) and a few minutes after that my Macbook Pro fan started to go nuts and I noticed my CPU temperature was up near the 70 degree C mark.

Cutting to the chase (fix): Open up System Preferences -> Spotlight Preferences -> Click Privacy button -> Click + button at bottom left and add the directory where you’ve just put your PDF files. In a few minutes, ATSServer will stop going nuts.

I quickly loaded up Activity Monitor (found under Applications -> Utilities in Finder, if nothing shows up after starting Activity Monitor, hit Apple key + 1), sorted processes by CPU descending (by clicking on the CPU column) and noticed that a process called ATSServer was hitting about 60% CPU time with mdworker below it at about 23%.

These two processes were really chewing up processor time and I had no idea what I had done to set this off, having never seen ATSServer before, I googled “What is ATSServer?” and found a forum thread on where people were batting around theories of what was causing ATSServer to go nuts.

For me it turned out to be the PDF books that I had just copied over to my Documents folder. Turns out that Spotlight, Apple’s file and text indexing service, tries to parse text in files, make thumbnails of pdfs (dear god),
and many other things including the kitchen sink.

Here’s an excerpt from Apple on Spotlight (warning PDF file) when they released Spotlight with Tiger (OS X 10.4):

Spotlight is comprehensive. Spotlight searches across your documents, images, movies, music, PDFs, email, calendar events, and system preferences. It can find some- thing by its text content, filename, or information associated with it, known as metadata. This allows you to find a photo by entering the brand of camera that took it, the name of the person who emailed it to you, or the date you last opened it.

I guess Spotlight is a bit too ambitious when it comes to PDF files. Simply copying over 300MB worth of PDF docs shouldn’t cause Spotlight to lose its mind. My guess is that it’s attempting to parse all the text within the PDFs and put those results into Spotlights database. Result: nastiness. PDF’s are exactly “fun” to parse I guess.





9 responses to “Mac High CPU After Copying PDF Books ATSServer mdworker”

  1. Ivan Leo Avatar
    Ivan Leo

    I had the same problem this morning and I agree with you… Spotlight is too ambitious.

  2. […] los dos están tan activos y tan coordinados, el problema es el mismo: Spotlight. Mi problema apareció cuando empecé a descargar unos documentos en formato PDF y de texto de gran […]

  3. frank Avatar

    sounds like vista, nice work apple. how annoying can you get?

  4. Deryk Wenaus Avatar

    very helpful post. thanks. it solved my problem I had just downloaded many pdf files, but would have never imagined that this was the issue. thanks. Deryk

  5. bob s Avatar
    bob s

    I had the same problem, but the cause was not Spotlight. It was Quick Look. Opening a folder with the bad .pdfs in it caused my system to hang. I found a solution: download Adobe PDF reader, and change the default application for .pdf’s. Fixed it right away.

  6. […] found the solution here. It says that, if I have new pdf (and other kind of files), Spotlight will make a database of the […]

  7. despai Avatar

    this is a shit. i connected 2tb external drive and began scanning my hard drive!! i thought trojan, now i feel good with spotlight desactivated. Thanks for the info dude ;-P

  8. Richfiles Avatar

    I just let spotlight run overnight. I’ve appreciated spotlights search abilities on more than one occasion. I still have to remind myself to just use it though. I can wast 5 minutes digging through my files, before I face palm and take 5 seconds to do the same with spotlight. If it goes crazy from time to time, Then I’ll save and restart my machine. Usually, I let it run for months, so it actually serves me well to get a fresh start from time to time.

  9. marko Avatar

    Hello, if the consuming CPU situation persist after copying PDF’s; there may be some locked (PDF) files as in my case. The indexing was blocked with those locked PDF’s (Spotlight was without a plus sign in the center, CPU was cca. 50 %) To screen the locked files within the massive collection: make a copy of the folder with PDF’s, move it to trash and empty it. The locked files will remain in trash, ’cause they need to be manually unlocked; now you can find and unlock them in the original folder. The indexing (CPU cca. 40 %) was now able to proceed in normal way (Spotlight with a plus sign in the centre) Eventualy my CPU drops to 0-1-2% after the indexing was finished (after X (2-4) days for 51.1 GB of PDF’s).

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