There are few things more frustrating than your Mac crashing at work. If you’ve ever lost your work to a frozen Mac, or simply experience frequent slow-downs as a result of your machine locking up, we have a solution for you. We’ve rounded up the most common solutions to Macs freezing or becoming unresponsive, so try these and you should be able to get your Mac back on its feet and running smoothly.
And if you’re having problems with your Mac continually restarting, we’ve got a guide for that as well.
Force quit unresponsive apps
The first thing to try if your Mac is unresponsive is checking if an app has frozen, as sometimes this can also lock up your Mac. If an app has frozen and quitting it won’t work, Ctrl+click its icon in the Dock, then hover the pointer over the Quit button. Hold Option (labelled as Alt on some Mac keyboards) and Quit becomes Force Quit; click this.
Alternatively, try pressing Opt+Cmd+Esc to open the Force Quit window. Select the app you want to close, then click Force Quit (or Relaunch if Finder has frozen), then click Force Quit on the confirmation dialog box.
If your Mac is entirely locked up and the above steps won’t work, press Ctrl+Opt+Cmd and the power button at the same time; this will reboot your Mac.
Reset the System Management Controller
The System Memory Controller (SMC) manages all sorts of things behind the scenes in your Mac, from battery management to keyboard backlighting. If your Mac keeps freezing, it could be that the SMC needs to be reset.
What you do depends on whether your Mac has a T2 Security Chip. If you’re using a MacBook that doesn’t (meaning you don’t have at least a 2016 or newer MacBook Pro), shut it down, then press Shift+Ctrl+Opt and the power button at the same time. Hold all these keys for 10 seconds, then let go. Now press the power button to switch on your Mac. If you’re using a Mac desktop without a T2 chip (such as an iMac), switch it off, unplug the power cord and wait 15 seconds, plug it back in, then turn on your Mac.
If your Mac has a T2 chip, the process is different. For both MacBooks and desktop Macs, turn off the device, then press and hold the power button for 10 seconds. Let go and wait a few seconds, then press it again to turn on the Mac.
If you’re using an older MacBook with a removable battery, you’ll need to follow the steps on Apple’s website.
Your Mac’s PRAM and NVRAM are small sections of memory that store certain settings that need to be accessed quickly by the computer. If your Mac is freezing, it could be that there’s an error with either the PRAM or NVRAM.
Resetting them could help, and the process is the same for both. First, shut down your Mac, then turn it on and immediately press Opt+Cmd+P+R. Hold these keys for 20 seconds; your Mac may restart during this time, but keep holding them for the 20 second duration.
If your Mac normally plays a startup sound when you turn it on, you can release the keys when this plays. If your Mac has a T2 Security Chip, you can release them once the Apple logo has appeared and disappeared a second time.
Note that if you have a firmware password set, you’ll need to turn it off before you can reset the PRAM and NVRAM. Apple has instructions on how to turn off the firmware password on its website.
Boot up in safe mode
Loading your Mac in safe mode could fix problems associated with freezes or may help you identify what’s causing the issue in the first place. Safe mode verifies the integrity of your startup disk and disables certain apps and processes from running.
To start in safe mode, shut down your Mac, then turn it back on and immediately press and hold the Shift key. Release the Shift key when you see the login window. If you’ve encrypted your startup disk with FileVault, you may have to log in twice — once to unlock the startup disk, and the second time to log in to Finder.
Now try rebooting your Mac using the normal startup procedure. If you’re able to use your Mac without it freezing, then safe mode may have fixed the issue. If the freezing persists when you use your Mac outside of safe mode, you may have an issue with login items (apps that load when you first log in), Wi-Fi networking or an external device, as all these are disabled or limited by safe mode.
Apple’s support page has more information on safe mode, which may help.
Run the Apple Diagnostic Test (or Apple Hardware Test on older Macs)
If the freezing continues and you think it could be caused by a hardware issue, run the Apple Diagnostic Test. First, disconnect any external devices except the keyboard, mouse, display, Ethernet connection (if you’re using one) and the power cord. Make sure your Mac is on a solid, flat surface and is well-ventilated, then shut it down.
Turn your Mac back on, then immediately press and hold the D key. Keep holding it until a screen appears asking you to select your language. Choose your language, then wait while the diagnostic test is run. This should only take a couple of minutes.
If the test finds any issues, it’ll list them along with potential solutions. It also gives you reference codes for any detected problems, plus ways to contact Apple so it can fix the problem.
If your Mac was released before June 2013, you should use the Apple Hardware Test instead.
Take your Mac to an Apple Store
Sometimes, the only thing you can do is take your Mac to Apple and have them look at it. This is the best course of action to take if you’ve tried all the above steps and still can’t stop your Mac from freezing.
To find your nearest Apple Store or Apple Authorized Service Provider, visit locate.apple.com and follow the on-screen instructions.
You don’t have to go directly to Apple to get your Mac fixed — third-party repair shops can also help. It’s a good idea to ensure the one you pick is an Apple Authorized Service Provider, as these shops use only genuine parts and must be approved by Apple for the quality of their services.