Suddenly, your Mac responds. You have the spinning wheel of death, or worse, no marker at all. Nothing you do brings your computer back to life. Here are some things to try.
Wait a minute or two
Please wait a while before shutting down your Mac or breaking back control by hammering on the keyboard. Many chills are caused by a particularly demanding task or problem application. Give your Mac some time to break down the problem before doing anything.
How long you wait depends on how patient you are, but we recommend a minute or two. Get up and stretch or make a cup of coffee and see if your Mac is back when you get back. If you actually know that a demanding process is causing the slowdown, like a video playback, it will give it time to complete.
Restoring your machine may not be as quick or hard, but it comes with less risk. When you finally have control of your Mac again, save your work, close all the apps you do not need, and restart your computer.
The second possibility is that you get enough control back to kill rogue apps or processes that cause the problem. Let’s take a look at how you can do that.
Force out all problem apps
If your Mac is crawling, but still has mouse pointer control, you can try forcing it to stop (or “kill”) any problem apps that may be causing the slowdown. This can be a browser with hundreds of open tabs, a demanding image editor, such as Photoshop, a game or other software that uses 3D graphics, or a large spreadsheet or word document.
To kill apps quickly, press Command + Options + Esc to open the “Force Quit Applications” macOS dialog box. In this window you will see all programs running. You can select them with one click and then kill them by clicking “Force Quit.”
All apps that do not respond will be listed as such and these should be killed, as they will probably require a reboot to function normally. Kill as many apps as you need until your system feels stable again. Be aware that you may lose unsaved data.
You can also start Activity Monitor to view a list of all running processes. Many apps, like Safari or Chrome, use multiple processes that separate each tab into a separate process. You can start Activity Monitor via Spotlight (or access it under Applications> Utilities) and look for all processes that use more than their fair share of your available CPU.
If you have cursor control, you can also right-click (or control + click) on an app icon in the dock, press and hold the option, and then click “Force Exit” to kill an app.
RELATED: How to troubleshoot your Mac with Activity Monitor
Force your Mac to shut down
If you’ve been patient and forced some problem apps to quit without success, it may be time to admit defeat and shut down your Mac by force. You can do this by holding down the power of your Mac until it shuts down.
The power switch is pretty obvious on most models. If your MacBook has a Touch ID sensor instead of a power switch, press and hold the Touch ID button at the top right of the keyboard (see image below).
On desktop models, such as the iMac, Mac mini, and Mac Pro, hold down the power button on the computer.
You lose all stored information in open apps when you do so. This is unlikely to cause harm, but there is a reason why Apple recommends that you turn off via the Apple menu. To minimize the risk of something going wrong, do so only if you have no other choice.
Even if things go wrong, you can rest easy and know that you have backed up your Mac with Time Machine.
Does your Mac freeze during or shortly after startup?
If your freezing problem is regular, it could be caused by a hardware failure. To rule this out, make sure your Mac is running the latest version of macOS and that you have installed all the necessary firmware updates under System Preferences> Software Updates.
Disconnect all external peripherals, including mice, keyboards, USB audio interfaces, storage devices, and webcams, and then test again for the problem. If you seem to have resolved the issue, you may also want to consider updating software related to the peripheral device.
If the problem is easily replicated, try restarting your Mac in safe mode to see if the problem persists. Safe Mode starts your Mac with the small number of drivers required to run the system. It also scans the hard disk for problems at startup, which can help solve the problem.
To start in Safe mode, turn off (or restart) your Mac, and then press Shift when it starts. Release the key when you see the login window and log in. “Safe Boot” should appear at the top right. Once your Mac is started in Safe Mode, try again to freeze the problem.
If you no longer encounter the problem, you can try restarting and testing again. It is possible that the problem has been fixed by checking for errors on your disk.
If you still have the problem, make sure external peripherals are connected, then try again. Crop your login objects to remove any software that starts at startup and may cause the problem.
If you still have a freezing issue, it may be time to reinstall macOS from the beginning. However, the problem can also be hardware related.
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Diagnose hardware problems
If the problem is slow enough that you suspect it is hardware related, try diagnosing the problem with “Apple Diagnostics” (or “Apple Hardware Test” on machines older than June 2013).
To do this, turn off (or restart) the machine and then hold down D while it starts. A gray screen and progress bar should appear indicating that your Mac is being scanned for problems. If Apple Diagnostics is not running, try restarting and pressing and holding Options + D at startup. This will download the test from the internet instead.
Unfortunately, Apple Diagnostics can only tell you if there is a problem. It will not provide too much information about what the problem is. You should get a vague idea of where the error was discovered. However, you will not receive more than one error code that an Apple technician can use.
If you want to dig a little deeper, you can download Memtest86 + to a USB stick. Then press and hold Options when you turn on your Mac, and then boot from the USB stick instead. This tests your RAM for errors without starting the operating system. In this way, the RAM is not partially used when the test is performed.
If it detects that faulty RAM is the cause, it may be possible to replace it. Unfortunately, the RAM in most modern MacBooks has been soldered to the logic board, making repairs difficult, if not impossible.
How to prevent freezing in the future
While Mac freezes can be a sign that something is wrong, they are more often a sign of a temporary problem that will go away when you restart. There are some things you can do to reduce the risk of freezing happening again in the future.
The first is to make sure you are running the latest version of macOS. Apple also issues firmware updates for specific components, which can make a big difference in terms of system stability. For best results, set your Mac to install updates automatically when they become available.
Failure to maintain a decent buffer with free space can also cause performance issues and freezes. Apple does not specify how much space macOS needs to “breathe”, but we recommend 10 percent of the total space. This should also give you a decent buffer to download files before storing them elsewhere, if needed.
Sometimes performance is directly linked to your Mac age. Some modern websites can cause old hardware to crawl, so it pays to know the limitations of the machine. Avoid heavy browsers, such as Chrome. Use Safari instead and think twice about editing videos or playing demanding games.
More things you can try
If your Mac is not completely frozen, you have a better chance of recovering all unsaved work. Here are some other things you can try to bring an outdated Mac back from the brink.
We also have some tips for handling a frozen computer.
RELATED: How to fix a slow or unresponsive Mac