How to Fix Crashes From Userspace Watchdog Timeout

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Mac crashes can be frustrating, especially if it’s a kernel panic. Kernel panics are similar to blue screen errors on Windows and mean that your computer encountered an irreparable error.

Recently, several Catalina users have been complaining about multiple crashes from userspace watchdog timeout. Watchdog or watchdog timer is the software timer that macOS uses to detect and recover from malfunctions.

According to some reports, the users encounter multiple crashes from userspace watchdog timeout when there are more processes running on the computer at the same time. For example, this error is more likely to happen when apps like Chrome, Spotify, Microsoft Office, and other resource-intensive programs are open. In some cases, the error happens when switching between dual monitors.

The userspace watchdog timeout error doesn’t pop up out of the blue. Usually, the apps will freeze up first, with the cursor and trackpad not responding as well. In most cases, the entire system freezes up before the screen goes white or reboots automatically. Once the Mac restarts, the “Your computer restarted because of a problem” message appears and the following crash message appears: panic(cpu 10 caller 0xffffff7f94cf9ad5): userspace watchdog timeout: no successful checkins from com.apple.WindowServer in 120 seconds

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Other users encountered this error when waking up the Mac from Sleep or when the Mac has been left idle for some time. Getting this error can be annoying because the system can freeze up anytime and reboot, resulting in possible data loss. The frequency of the crash varies per user, with some getting multiple crashes from userspace watchdog timeout three to five times a week while others get pestered by the error almost every hour every day.

What Causes Crashes From Userspace Watchdog Timeout

The userspace watchdog timeout error can be triggered by a wide range of apps and processes, but all the affected users have one thing in common: their Macs are all running macOS Catalina.

The affected users noted that the error started happening after upgrading to macOS Catalina. It seems like the upgrade has broken something in the system which causes the userspace watchdog to malfunction.

According to one Mac user, the problem is probably triggered by Mac’s usage of discrete GPU since the error affects various Mac models with different GPUs. The user arrived at this conclusion because most of the applications that cause the crash are using Mac’s discrete GPU. This is particularly true for those using an external monitor, which relies heavily on the discrete GPU.

That same user even came up with a scenario that would help recreate the error on Catalina. Here are the steps:

  1. Open System Preferences from the Apple menu.
  2. Click on Energy Saver, then uncheck Automatic Graphics Switching. Turning this off will ensure that your Mac will use the dedicated GPU by default.
  3. Look for any 4K video on your computer or download one if you don’t find any. Here is the example provided by Mac user who came up with this: https://www.videezy.com/urban/2820-aerial-footage-of-new-york-city-4k
  4. Open the video in Quicktime.
  5. In the menu bar, click on View > Loop to play the video repeatedly.
  6. Play the video and wait for the error to happen.

Several users have tried this method and it indeed resulted in a crash and the userspace watchdog timeout error. Others were able to reproduce the issue when switching between Desktops by swiping left and right.

Other users, however, argued that the crashes don’t just happen to Macs with discrete graphics because the problem also occurs to devices running intel iGPUs.

How to Resolve Crashing From Userspace Watchdog Timeout

Apple has not released any information about this bug because it is probably busy with the release of macOS Big Sur. So if you’re experiencing multiple crashes from userspace watchdog timeout, here are some of the solutions you can try:

Step 1: Power Cycle Your Mac.

A simple restart will not fix this error because it will probably just keep on coming back. What you need to do is power cycle your Mac by following the steps below:

  1. Remove all the external devices and peripherals connected to your Mac, such as the power cable, mouse, keyboard, external monitor or TV.
  2. For laptops, take out the removable battery, if possible.
  3. Press and hold the power button on your Mac for at least 10 seconds. This should drain out the static electricity on your device.
  4. Plug in all the cables back and turn on your Mac.

Performing power cycle usually resolves simple crashing, freezing and other issues on your Mac.

Step 2: Disable Screen Saver.

Sometimes your screen saver can cause trouble more than it’s worth. If this is the case, you should try turning it off to see if it makes any difference:

  1. Go to Apple menu > System Preferences.
  2. Click on Desktop and Screen Saver.
  3. In the Screen Saver tab, click the Start after dropdown at the bottom, then choose Never.

Step 3: Modify Your Energy Saver Settings.

Making some changes to your Energy Saver preferences can also help.

  1. Go to Apple menu > System Preferences.
  2. Click on Energy Saver.
  3. In Turn display off after, drag the slider to NEVER.
  4. Tick off Prevent computer from sleeping automatically when the screen is off.

Step 4: Disconnect External Devices.

If you’re using multiple monitors or external monitors, disconnect them and restart your Mac to see if the error appears. If it does not have pop up, then the automatic graphics switching is causing the userspace watchdog timeout error to occur.

If you’re not using an external monitor but an external HDD instead, you should try the same. The error might be triggered whenever you try to access the external drive, such as when Time Machine is performing a backup.

Step 5: Reset Your PRAM/NVRAM and SMC.

To reset your Mac’s PRAM/NVRAM, follow these steps:

  1. Turn off your Mac.
  2. Restart your Mac, then press and hold the Option + Command + P + R keys together.
  3. Hold these keys down until the computer reboots and you hear the startup sound.

To reset your Mac’s SMC, follow these steps:

  1. Shut down your Mac.
  2. Press and hold the left Shift + Control + Option keys, then press the power button.
  3. Hold these keys for about 10-15 seconds.
  4. Release all keys, then press the power button again to start your Mac.

While you’re at it, you might want to consider using a third-party tool like cleaning up your Mac to get rid of elements that might be interfering with your processes. However, bear in mind that this isn’t a guaranteed solution and you should consider the security and reliability of any third-party tool before using it.

Final Thoughts

If all the solutions above don’t work, a possible last resort could be to downgrade to macOS Mojave. However, this option should be carefully considered as it may involve data loss and compatibility issues. It’s also important to note that this option only applies to older Mac models. Macs that were shipped with macOS Catalina pre-installed won’t be able to downgrade to Mojave.

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Bill Janky
1 year ago

Even though this seems like an old problem, I have it now on Ventura with my wife’s 2019 MacBook. It started happening on Monterey so I updated. Now it seems more frequent. I’ve tried most/all of these fixes to no avail. I also have the touchscreen function bar that flashes like a disco ball. I usually keep a ruler over the top of it to keep from having a seizure. Really disappointed in the quality degradation of Mac over the years, not to mention the idiotic decision to only have USB-C on this version of MacBook. I’ve started to try and convince her to move to PC, but the photos/contacts/etc integration with her phone makes her a captive.

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