2020-10-17: YouTube + AV1 = High CPU Usage

Okay, today I learned that YouTube and MacBook Pros (running Firefox, and possibly affects Chrome too) don’t mix very well.

I noticed that YouTube is using newer codecs (AV1, VP8, VP9) to deliver more of the video with less data, but does so at the expense of eating up your CPU because these codecs aren’t fully accelerated yet (compared to hardware-accelerated H.264 / AVC) and has to use your CPU to process video.

This issue might not affect those with dedicated GPUs, but if your PC doesn’t have hardware acceleration on these codecs, it’ll have to rely on your CPU. And for computers with terrible ventilation like the MacBook Pro, it’s going to heat up very badly. God forbid if you have a setup like I do with the MacBook in closed-clamshell mode (with the lid closed while connected to a monitor)

Do I have this issue?#

If you believe your laptop is heating up when watching YouTube videos, here’s a series of steps you can do (sorry, Mac only. Look up CPU temperature monitors if you have to on Linux or Windows).

On a Mac enter this command in the Terminal to watch your CPU die temperatures.

sudo powermetrics --samplers smc | grep -i "CPU die temperature"

Use this to see your temps, then try watching a YouTube video.

  • If it reaches 90–100℃ with the (fan) label, your Mac is occasionally overheating and you’ll want to follow my instructions in the next section.

  • If it doesn’t, it looks like your Mac can handle videos well. Keep in mind though, good temps should be at around 60–85℃ and should rarely show the (fan) remark.

Handling CPU overheating while watching YouTube videos#

If things are heating up while watching videos, here’s my tips to handle the overheating issues.

  • Install enhanced-h264ify to force your browser to block VP8, VP9 and AV1 (already set by default.).

  • Alternately, consider disabling Turbo boost using Turbo Boost Switcher. This approach is more effective and it’ll give you more insights about your computer, but it will affect performance while turbo boost is disabled.

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