How to Fix Hardware Problems on a Mac

Introduction

Like any computer, your Apple computer can experience some potentially serious issues over the course of its life. A wide variety of things can go wrong, from a complete failure to start up, to unexpected kernel panic screens. In this guide, we'll go over how to troubleshoot what's plaguing your Mac.
Stock photo of an Apple Macbook displaying the sad mac logo.

This guide will go over potential generic solutions that should work on all versions of Mac OS X, but the images depicted within this guide will vary depending on how old your Mac is, and what version of OS X it is running.

? What kind of issue are you having?

  1. I only see a blue or gray screen at startup
  2. I constantly see the spinning wait cursor
  3. I get a message that says I need to restart my computer (Kernel Panic)
  4. My screen isn't working or is distorted

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Like any computer, your Apple computer can experience some potentially serious issues over the course of its life. A wide variety of things can go wrong, from a complete failure to start up, to unexpected kernel panic screens. In this guide, we'll go over how to troubleshoot what's plaguing your Mac.
Stock photo of an Apple Macbook displaying the sad mac logo.

This guide will go over potential generic solutions that should work on all versions of Mac OS X, but the images depicted within this guide will vary depending on how old your Mac is, and what version of OS X it is running.

One of the main causes of a grey or blue screen on startup can be incompatible or problematic hardware connected to the machine. This might be anything like a printer, an external hard drive, or even a USB hub. Follow these steps to attempt to rid yourself of these startup issues.
Photo of a MacBook stuck on a gray screen.
  1. Remove all peripherals from your Mac computer.
    • If you are using an iMac, your ports will be on the rear of the machine.
      Photo of the rear-facing USB ports on an iMac.

    • If you are using a Macbook, your ports will be on either side of the machine.
      Photo of the USB ports on the side of a MacBook.

This works nearly the same on any modern Mac, with the difference being whether the Mac has a physical power button on the back of the machine or if it is a MacBook, where the power button is a part of or slightly above the keyboard.

  1. Hold down the Power button on the Mac until it shuts down completely, this may take 5-10 seconds or so.
    iMac rear-facing power button.
  2. Wait a few seconds then press the Power button again to boot the Mac.
    MacBook power button on the keyboard.
  1. From the menu bar across the top of the screen, select the Apple menu (1), then select Restart... (2).
    Apple icon in the upper-left corner displaying a menu beneath with the restart option highlighted.
  2. Immediately press and hold the Shift key on your keyboard.
  3. Release the Shift key when you see the login window.
  1. From the menu bar across the top of the screen, select the Apple menu, then Restart...
    macOS Mojave Apple Menu with Restart highlighted.

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.

Disk Utility can take a long time to run, especially on larger hard drives. Please make sure you won't need your computer for at least 1 hour before beginning this step.
  1. Select Apple Menu > Restart.
    macOS Mojave Apple Menu with Restart highlighted.
  2. Immediately after your Mac restarts (some Mac computers play a startup sound), press and hold the command ⌘ and R keys until the Apple logo appears, then release the keys.
    Mac keyboard with command and R keys highlighted
  3. Select Disk Utility, then Continue.
    macOS Utilities with Disk Utility and Continue highlighted
  4. Select your hard drive, then select First Aid at the top.
    Disk Utility with drive and First Aid highlighted.
  5. A message telling you First Aid will check and repair errors. Select Run.
    Disk Utility First Aid dialog with Run highlighted.
  6. 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.
  7. If the repairs complete successfully, select the Apple Menu > Restart to restart your Mac.
    Apple menu with Restart highlighted.
The spinning wait cursor on Mac computers indicates that an application is busy. The most basic reason that this cursor appears is because your Mac's hardware can not handle the software task at hand. It is not unusual to see the spinning wheel cursor when your Mac is performing complex computing tasks. Even everyday activities, such as syncing with iTunes, can temporarily overtax the CPU. However, if your Mac is constantly displaying this cursor, this may indicate a deeper issue. These steps may help resolve a constant spinning wait cursor issue.
macOS spinning wait cursor.

There may be occasions when a piece of software on your Mac will crash or become unresponsive and take up too much CPU or memory. The best option is to go to the Activity Monitor and see what is causing the congestion.

Activity Monitor shows the processes that are running on your Mac, so you can manage them and see how they affect your Mac's activity and performance.

  1. Click on the Spotlight icon.
    Spotlight
  2. Type Activity Monitor in the search bar.
  3. Click on Activity Monitor in the list
macOS utilities folder highlighting the activity monitor icon.

Items in the list can be arranged alphabetically or numerically, by clicking each heading at the top of the column (Process Name, %CPU, CPU Time, and so on).
macOS activity monitor.

  1. Click the title bar at the top called %CPU. A small arrow will appear and should point downwards. This will show the items with the highest percentage of CPU usage at the top. If there is a process that is running very high, it may be malfunctioning and causing a problem.
    macOS activity monitor highlighting CPU usage.
  2. To terminate a process that may be causing a problem, click on it with your mouse to highlight it, then click the X button in the upper-left corner of the Activity Monitor window.
    macOS activity monitor highlighting a process and the end process button.
  3. You will be asked if you really want to quit the process. Click Force Quit.
    Confirmation prompt with force quit button highlighted.
  1. From the menu bar across the top of the screen, select the Apple menu, then Restart...
    macOS Mojave Apple Menu with Restart highlighted.
  1. Open the Apple Menu and click About This Mac.
    Apple menu icon highlighted with about this mac highlighted in the menu below.
  2. Click on Storage.
    macOS about window with storage button highlighted.
  3. Click on Manage.
    macOS about window displaying the storage tab with manage button highlighted.

Optimize Storage

  1. Click on Optimize.
    macOS manage storage window highlighting the optimize button.

    When storage space is needed, iTunes movies or TV shows that you already watched are removed from your Mac. Click the cloud icon next to a movie or TV show to download it again.

Empty Trash Automatically

  1. To automatically delete your trash, click Turn On.
    macOS manage storage window highlighting the turn on button.

    Enabling this feature will permanently delete any items that have been in the trash for 30 days.

Reduce Clutter

  1. Click the Review Files button, then choose any of the categories in the sidebar, such as Applications, Documents, GarageBand, iOS Files, iTunes, or Trash.
    macOS manage storage window highlighting the review files button.

    You can delete files or programs by either clicking on the "x" when hovering over the item or by right clicking and choosing delete.

  1. From the menu bar across the top of the screen, select the Apple menu, then Restart...
    macOS Mojave Apple Menu with Restart highlighted.
macOS kernel panic
If you've ever experienced a black and grey kernel panic screen, it can be very abrupt and frustrating. When one application has a problem, you may simply see a spinning wheel cursor, but when multiple programs fail - or the operating system fails itself - you may experience a kernel panic. These steps will help you try to overcome an unexpected kernel panic error.

This works nearly the same on any modern Mac, with the difference being whether the Mac has a physical power button on the back of the machine or if it is a MacBook, where the power button is a part of or slightly above the keyboard.

  1. Hold down the Power button on the Mac until it shuts down completely, this may take 5-10 seconds or so.
    iMac rear-facing power button.
  2. Wait a few seconds then press the Power button again to boot the Mac.
    MacBook power button on the keyboard.
  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.
    macOS 10.14 Mojave or LaterApp Store side bar with Updates highlighted.
    macOS 10.13 High Sierra or EarlierApp 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.
  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.
  1. From the menu bar across the top of the screen, select the Apple menu, then Restart...
    macOS Mojave Apple Menu with Restart highlighted.
If your Mac's screen suddenly starts misbehaving for what seems like no reason, it can be very scary. Before you start wondering how much it may cost to repair, always remember: many times a display glitch is just that; a glitch, temporary in nature, and not necessarily an indication of continuing troubles to come. These steps may help resolve what might only be a temporary glitch of your Mac's display.
iMac with screen distortion.

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.
  1. From the menu bar across the top of the screen, select the Apple menu (1), then select Restart... (2).
    Apple icon in the upper-left corner displaying a menu beneath with the restart option highlighted.
  2. Immediately press and hold the Shift key on your keyboard.
  3. Release the Shift key when you see the login window.
  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.
    macOS 10.14 Mojave or LaterApp Store side bar with Updates highlighted.
    macOS 10.13 High Sierra or EarlierApp 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.
  1. From the menu bar across the top of the screen, select the Apple menu, then Restart...
    macOS Mojave Apple Menu with Restart highlighted.
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