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How to Fix Freezing on a Mac

Authored by:
Support.com Tech Pro Team
This Guided Path® was written and reviewed by Support.com’s Tech Pro team. With decades of experience, our Tech Pros are passionate about making technology work for you. We love feedback! Let us know what you think about this Guided Path® by rating it at the end.

Introduction

It is known by many names, including spinning pinwheel, spinning beach ball, spinning lollipop of doom, or the spinning pizza of death. On a Mac, the spinning wait cursor is used to indicate when an application is busy. The application could be temporarily unresponsive while it catches up on performing lengthy operations, or may be in an unrecoverable state or infinite loop. During this, you may be unable to close, resize, minimize the windows affected by this and it may even appear as though your Mac is freezing or frozen.

Main reasons a Mac can freeze:

  • Too many apps running
  • Too many browser tabs open
  • Not enough hard drive space
  • Hardware issues such as problems with your RAM or hard drive
  • Malware

No matter the reason for the freeze, do not panic and start pushing every button to try and wake it up. We can walk you through unfreezing your mac and fixing these problems. The first step is getting your Mac unstuck. Then we'll investigate what caused the issue.

Spinning Beach Ball

1 Unfreeze the Mac

Let's see if we can get access to your workspace by unfreezing your Mac first.

Quit the Frozen Program

If your freezing issue is just a program or happened while a program was open let's try to force that program to quit.
  1. Click the application menu at top, then choose Quit at the bottom.
    Safari menu with quit safari highlighted
  2. Make sure the application leaves your Dock at the bottom or no longer has a dot underneath it.
    Running Application
    Dock icon with black dot indicating it is running
    Closed Application
    Dock icon without black dot indicating it is closed
    If the program does not quit properly
    1. Click on the Apple menu, then click Force Quit.
      Apple menu with Force quit highlighted
    2. Select the app you want to force close, then click Force Quit.
      Force quit dialog with application and force quit button highlighted
    3. Click Force Quit when prompted.
      force quit confirm dialog with force quit button highlighted

If You Can't Quit the Program Then Force a Restart

You can press the Control + Command ⌘ + Eject (Power) keys simultaneously to force a restart of your Mac.
Mac keyboard showing the eject, control, and command keys

If That Doesn't Work, Physically Turn Off the Mac

If you computer will not respond to any input and appears frozen, press and hold on the Power button until the computer shuts off.

Power Button

Once it shuts off, wait a few seconds and turn it back on.

The power button on a Macbook is typically located on or near the keyboard while the power button on a Mac Pro will vary depending on the model. 

Unfortunately any unsaved work will be lost. 

2 If Your Mac Is Frozen Because of Apps

If you were able to get access to your workspace by force quitting a program, your freezing issue is most likely caused by the app you were using.

Test the Program by Restarting It

  1. Open the program you were using again.
  2. Try to use it normally.
  3. If it freezes, force quit it again.

Reinstall the Program

If your app keeps freezing and you can't seem to get it to stop freezing, you can try reinstalling it.
To Remove an App Installed from the App Store
  1. Open the Launchpad from the dock.
    Launchpad highlighted
  2. Click and hold on an icon until all icons start to jiggle.
    Shaking icon
  3. Click the "x" on the top left of the icon you want to remove.
    X highlighted
  4. Click Delete to confirm removal.
    Delete button highlighted
To Remove All Other Apps
  1. Open the Finder from the dock.
    Finder highlighted on the dock
  2. Click on Applications on the left.
    Application highlighted
  3. Drag the app you wish to remove to the trash can.
    Drag app to the trashcan
  4. Right click on the trashcan and click Empty Trash.
    Empty Trash highlighted
  1. Once uninstalled, you may be asked to reboot. Even if you're not asked, go ahead and restart your Mac.
  2. Once restarted, install the program again and test it.
  3. If you experience no freezing in the meantime and then experience freezing again after testing your program, there's clearly an issue with it and you might want to get in contact with the app developer.

Check Drive Space and Clean It Up

Do you have enough space to run the program? You may have had enough space to download and install it, but programs also need space to run. Let's check your drive space.
  1. Select Apple menu and then About This Mac.
    macOS Mojave Apple menu with About This Mac highlighted.
  2. Select Storage.
    About This Mac with Storage highlighted
  3. Free space is the first number you see below the name of your hard drive.
    About This Mac Storage with available space highlighted

    Disk space needs will vary depending on how you use your computer. In general, if you have over 15 GB of free space, you should be fine for updates and upgrades.
    Only proceed if you have less than 15 GB of free space.

  4. Select Manage.
    About this Mac with Manage button highlighted
  5. Under Recommendations on the left, you'll see some very easy-to-use tools to help optimize and clean up your disk space, such as optimizing the files already stored in iCloud, removing items from iTunes you've already watched or listened to, emptying the Trash automatically, and reviewing the files stored on your Mac to delete unused or old ones.
    macOS recommendations

Check for Updates

It's good practice to check for software updates for your Mac computer from time to time. Updates can provide fixes to software issues your computer may have, can bring new features or improve existing ones.

  1. Select the Apple menu, then App Store.
    macOS Mojave Apple Menu with App Store highlighted.
  2. You will now see the app store pull up. Select Updates.
    If Your Mac is Running 10.14 Mojave or LaterThe App Store has a side bar. On the bottom you'll see Updates.
    App Store side bar with Updates highlighted.
    If Your Mac is Running 10.13 High Sierra or Earlier The App Store has a menu bar on the top. Updates will be on the right.
    App store menu bar with Updates highlighted.

Any version of macOS 10.7 (Lion) or older can check for available updates through the Apple Menu and Software Updates.

3 If Your Mac is Frozen Because of Hardware or OS Issues

If you're not just experiencing freezing because of an app, there could be an issue with your hardware or operating system.

Booting to Recovery

If you're unable to properly use your Mac, for example it freezes as soon as you try to boot up or move your mouse, let's use the Recovery option.
  1. Power on the computer.
    Power Button
  2. Immediately after your Mac turns on (some Mac computers play a startup sound), press and hold the command ⌘ and R keys until the Apple logo appears, then release the keys.
    Command key. Illustration.Plus symbol.R key. Illustration.
  3. You will see a macOS Utilities page once recovery mode loads.
    Recovery Options

Using the Disk Utility

Disk Utility is designed to be easy to run, and help fix many small issues with your Mac's storage disk. Keep in mind, though, it is also designed to do major repairs and has the capabilities to cause problems if not used correctly. This guide will walk you through the proper options to select to use it safely.

Running Disk Utility can take a long time, especially on larger hard drives. Please make sure you won't need your computer for at least 1 hour before beginning this step.

  1. Click Disk Utility, then Continue.
    Disk Utility and Continue highlighted
  2. In the bar on the left, highlight your hard disk.
    Internal HDD Selected
  3. Click the First Aid button at the top.
    First Aid button highlighted
  4. Click Run.
    Run button highlighted
  5. Disk Utility will scan your hard drive, and attempt to repair any issues it has.

    If you are prompted to complete the repairs yourself, or get an error about disk failure, reach out to Apple Support immediately.

  6. Click Done to finish.
    Done button highlighted

Resetting NVRAM

NVRAM (nonvolatile random-access memory) is a cache of settings specific to your Mac. Resetting NVRAM is safe, however you will need to reset some of your minor customizations, such as volume, time zone, or screen resolution.

  1. From the menu bar across the top of the screen, select the Apple menu (1), then select Shut Down... (2).
    Apple menu icon highlighted with menu beneath highlighting the shut down option.
  2. Wait for your computer to shut down, and turn off.
  3. Turn your Mac back on by pushing the Power button.
    Macbook power button highlighted on the keyboard.
  4. Immediately push and hold the option, command ⌘, P, and R keys on your keyboard.
    option keyPluscommand keyPlusP KeyPlusR Key
    • If your Mac plays a startup sound, release the keys after the second time it plays.
    • If there is no startup sound, release the keys after the second time the Apple logo disappears.

Run the Apple Hardware Test

  1. Shut down the Mac.
  2. When turning back on, immediately press and hold the D key until you see the Test icon.
  3. Select language and click the right arrow or press the Return key.
  4. Click the Test button to begin. You can also press T or Return.
  5. Upon completion, take a look at the lower part of the window and study the results.
  6. To quit, hit Restart or Shut Down at the bottom.

4 How to Prevent Future Freezing

Checking Start Up Programs

Certain non-essential apps can start up on your Mac at the time when you log in. They can be disabled from starting up automatically if you think they hinder your computer's performance or cause even bigger issues.

  1. Select the Apple Menu and then System Preferences.
    macOS Mojave Apple Menu with System Preferences highlighted.
  2. Select Users & Groups.
    macOS Users and Groups Preferences
  3. Select Login Items at the top, then your Username on the left. Finally, select the Lock in the bottom-left corner to unlock these settings.
    Users and Groups Preferences with Login Items, User, and Lock highlighted.
  4. Enter your macOS password, and select Unlock.
    System Preferences unlock prompt with password and Unlock button highlighted.
  5. Look through the list on the right. If you see an item you don't recognize, or an item you don't use frequently, highlight it by clicking its name, then click the Remove (–) button below to remove it.
    Users and Groups Login Items with an item and minus button highlighted.
  6. Restart your Mac to observe the effects.

Resolving Performance Issues

If you feel your Mac is having performance issues, this may be the result of hardware limitations. We can help you fix these issues if possible.
Fixing Performance Issues Such as Freezing

Resolving Boot Issues

If your Mac appears to have issues booting up, we can help that as well.
How to Fix Startup Issues Like Freezing

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It is known by many names, including spinning pinwheel, spinning beach ball, spinning lollipop of doom, or the spinning pizza of death. On a Mac, the spinning wait cursor is used to indicate when an application is busy. The application could be temporarily unresponsive while it catches up on performing lengthy operations, or may be in an unrecoverable state or infinite loop. During this, you may be unable to close, resize, minimize the windows affected by this and it may even appear as though your Mac is freezing or frozen.

Main reasons a Mac can freeze:

  • Too many apps running
  • Too many browser tabs open
  • Not enough hard drive space
  • Hardware issues such as problems with your RAM or hard drive
  • Malware

No matter the reason for the freeze, do not panic and start pushing every button to try and wake it up. We can walk you through unfreezing your mac and fixing these problems. The first step is getting your Mac unstuck. Then we'll investigate what caused the issue.

Spinning Beach Ball

Let's see if we can get access to your workspace by unfreezing your Mac first.

Quit the Frozen Program

If your freezing issue is just a program or happened while a program was open let's try to force that program to quit.
  1. Click the application menu at top, then choose Quit at the bottom.
    Safari menu with quit safari highlighted
  2. Make sure the application leaves your Dock at the bottom or no longer has a dot underneath it.
    Running Application
    Dock icon with black dot indicating it is running
    Closed Application
    Dock icon without black dot indicating it is closed
    If the program does not quit properly
    1. Click on the Apple menu, then click Force Quit.
      Apple menu with Force quit highlighted
    2. Select the app you want to force close, then click Force Quit.
      Force quit dialog with application and force quit button highlighted
    3. Click Force Quit when prompted.
      force quit confirm dialog with force quit button highlighted

If You Can't Quit the Program Then Force a Restart

You can press the Control + Command ⌘ + Eject (Power) keys simultaneously to force a restart of your Mac.
Mac keyboard showing the eject, control, and command keys

If That Doesn't Work, Physically Turn Off the Mac

If you computer will not respond to any input and appears frozen, press and hold on the Power button until the computer shuts off.

Power Button

Once it shuts off, wait a few seconds and turn it back on.

The power button on a Macbook is typically located on or near the keyboard while the power button on a Mac Pro will vary depending on the model. 

Unfortunately any unsaved work will be lost. 

If you were able to get access to your workspace by force quitting a program, your freezing issue is most likely caused by the app you were using.

Test the Program by Restarting It

  1. Open the program you were using again.
  2. Try to use it normally.
  3. If it freezes, force quit it again.

Reinstall the Program

If your app keeps freezing and you can't seem to get it to stop freezing, you can try reinstalling it.
To Remove an App Installed from the App Store
  1. Open the Launchpad from the dock.
    Launchpad highlighted
  2. Click and hold on an icon until all icons start to jiggle.
    Shaking icon
  3. Click the "x" on the top left of the icon you want to remove.
    X highlighted
  4. Click Delete to confirm removal.
    Delete button highlighted
To Remove All Other Apps
  1. Open the Finder from the dock.
    Finder highlighted on the dock
  2. Click on Applications on the left.
    Application highlighted
  3. Drag the app you wish to remove to the trash can.
    Drag app to the trashcan
  4. Right click on the trashcan and click Empty Trash.
    Empty Trash highlighted
  1. Once uninstalled, you may be asked to reboot. Even if you're not asked, go ahead and restart your Mac.
  2. Once restarted, install the program again and test it.
  3. If you experience no freezing in the meantime and then experience freezing again after testing your program, there's clearly an issue with it and you might want to get in contact with the app developer.

Check Drive Space and Clean It Up

Do you have enough space to run the program? You may have had enough space to download and install it, but programs also need space to run. Let's check your drive space.
  1. Select Apple menu and then About This Mac.
    macOS Mojave Apple menu with About This Mac highlighted.
  2. Select Storage.
    About This Mac with Storage highlighted
  3. Free space is the first number you see below the name of your hard drive.
    About This Mac Storage with available space highlighted

    Disk space needs will vary depending on how you use your computer. In general, if you have over 15 GB of free space, you should be fine for updates and upgrades.
    Only proceed if you have less than 15 GB of free space.

  4. Select Manage.
    About this Mac with Manage button highlighted
  5. Under Recommendations on the left, you'll see some very easy-to-use tools to help optimize and clean up your disk space, such as optimizing the files already stored in iCloud, removing items from iTunes you've already watched or listened to, emptying the Trash automatically, and reviewing the files stored on your Mac to delete unused or old ones.
    macOS recommendations

Check for Updates

It's good practice to check for software updates for your Mac computer from time to time. Updates can provide fixes to software issues your computer may have, can bring new features or improve existing ones.

  1. Select the Apple menu, then App Store.
    macOS Mojave Apple Menu with App Store highlighted.
  2. You will now see the app store pull up. Select Updates.
    If Your Mac is Running 10.14 Mojave or LaterThe App Store has a side bar. On the bottom you'll see Updates.
    App Store side bar with Updates highlighted.
    If Your Mac is Running 10.13 High Sierra or Earlier The App Store has a menu bar on the top. Updates will be on the right.
    App store menu bar with Updates highlighted.

Any version of macOS 10.7 (Lion) or older can check for available updates through the Apple Menu and Software Updates.

If you're not just experiencing freezing because of an app, there could be an issue with your hardware or operating system.

Booting to Recovery

If you're unable to properly use your Mac, for example it freezes as soon as you try to boot up or move your mouse, let's use the Recovery option.
  1. Power on the computer.
    Power Button
  2. Immediately after your Mac turns on (some Mac computers play a startup sound), press and hold the command ⌘ and R keys until the Apple logo appears, then release the keys.
    Command key. Illustration.Plus symbol.R key. Illustration.
  3. You will see a macOS Utilities page once recovery mode loads.
    Recovery Options

Using the Disk Utility

Disk Utility is designed to be easy to run, and help fix many small issues with your Mac's storage disk. Keep in mind, though, it is also designed to do major repairs and has the capabilities to cause problems if not used correctly. This guide will walk you through the proper options to select to use it safely.

Running Disk Utility can take a long time, especially on larger hard drives. Please make sure you won't need your computer for at least 1 hour before beginning this step.

  1. Click Disk Utility, then Continue.
    Disk Utility and Continue highlighted
  2. In the bar on the left, highlight your hard disk.
    Internal HDD Selected
  3. Click the First Aid button at the top.
    First Aid button highlighted
  4. Click Run.
    Run button highlighted
  5. Disk Utility will scan your hard drive, and attempt to repair any issues it has.

    If you are prompted to complete the repairs yourself, or get an error about disk failure, reach out to Apple Support immediately.

  6. Click Done to finish.
    Done button highlighted

Resetting NVRAM

NVRAM (nonvolatile random-access memory) is a cache of settings specific to your Mac. Resetting NVRAM is safe, however you will need to reset some of your minor customizations, such as volume, time zone, or screen resolution.

  1. From the menu bar across the top of the screen, select the Apple menu (1), then select Shut Down... (2).
    Apple menu icon highlighted with menu beneath highlighting the shut down option.
  2. Wait for your computer to shut down, and turn off.
  3. Turn your Mac back on by pushing the Power button.
    Macbook power button highlighted on the keyboard.
  4. Immediately push and hold the option, command ⌘, P, and R keys on your keyboard.
    option keyPluscommand keyPlusP KeyPlusR Key
    • If your Mac plays a startup sound, release the keys after the second time it plays.
    • If there is no startup sound, release the keys after the second time the Apple logo disappears.

Run the Apple Hardware Test

  1. Shut down the Mac.
  2. When turning back on, immediately press and hold the D key until you see the Test icon.
  3. Select language and click the right arrow or press the Return key.
  4. Click the Test button to begin. You can also press T or Return.
  5. Upon completion, take a look at the lower part of the window and study the results.
  6. To quit, hit Restart or Shut Down at the bottom.

Checking Start Up Programs

Certain non-essential apps can start up on your Mac at the time when you log in. They can be disabled from starting up automatically if you think they hinder your computer's performance or cause even bigger issues.

  1. Select the Apple Menu and then System Preferences.
    macOS Mojave Apple Menu with System Preferences highlighted.
  2. Select Users & Groups.
    macOS Users and Groups Preferences
  3. Select Login Items at the top, then your Username on the left. Finally, select the Lock in the bottom-left corner to unlock these settings.
    Users and Groups Preferences with Login Items, User, and Lock highlighted.
  4. Enter your macOS password, and select Unlock.
    System Preferences unlock prompt with password and Unlock button highlighted.
  5. Look through the list on the right. If you see an item you don't recognize, or an item you don't use frequently, highlight it by clicking its name, then click the Remove (–) button below to remove it.
    Users and Groups Login Items with an item and minus button highlighted.
  6. Restart your Mac to observe the effects.

Resolving Performance Issues

If you feel your Mac is having performance issues, this may be the result of hardware limitations. We can help you fix these issues if possible.
Fixing Performance Issues Such as Freezing

Resolving Boot Issues

If your Mac appears to have issues booting up, we can help that as well.
How to Fix Startup Issues Like Freezing