Is your Mac frozen, unresponsive, or behaving in a way that defies logic? We’ve all been there: staring at the dreaded spinning wheel of doom, or worse, a frozen screen that leaves us questioning our life choices.
While the temptation to hurl your MacBook out of the window might be strong, take a deep breath and read on. In this comprehensive guide, I’ll cover the best ways to fix a frozen Mac, getting you back to peak productivity in no time.
Before We Begin
Your Mac may freeze due to viruses or other malware. I recommend running a full virus scan with MacKeeper to see if that’s the cause. MacKeeper is a comprehensive security and optimization suite for Mac. It can scan for and remove viruses, clean up junk files, protect your privacy, and optimize your Mac’s performance.
Why Is Your MacBook Frozen?
A MacBook can freeze for a variety of reasons, which may include but are not limited to:
- 🛠 Software Issues: Incompatible or outdated software can cause freezing. This could include operating system glitches or issues with specific applications.
- 💻 Hardware Problems: Insufficient RAM, aging hardware, or a failing hard drive could also contribute to a freeze.
- 📊 Too Many Open Applications: Running multiple heavy-duty apps simultaneously may overwhelm your system, leading to freezes.
- 🦠 Malware and Viruses: Malicious software can slow down your MacBook and even cause it to freeze.
- 🚫 Insufficient Disk Space: If your startup disk is full on Mac and lacks available storage space, it may also result in performance issues, including freezing.
- 🔥 Overheating: MacBooks can freeze if they become too hot, usually due to excessive CPU usage or inadequate ventilation.
- 🗂 Corrupt Files: Sometimes, a single corrupt file can cause an application or even the entire system to freeze.
- 🖥 Peripheral Issues: Occasionally, connected peripherals like external hard drives, mice, or keyboards can cause system instability.
- 🚦 Outdated Drivers: Out-of-date drivers can also result in poor system performance and freezing issues.
- 🌐 Network Issues: Sometimes, network-related activities can cause a system to freeze, particularly if they involve heavy data transfer or streaming.
How to Fix a Frozen Mac
If you’re experiencing the frustrating issue of a frozen Mac, it can cause productivity issues. Freezing can occur for a variety of reasons, from outdated software and hardware problems to issues with network connectivity or peripherals.
Fortunately, most of these problems are solvable with a bit of troubleshooting. In the following section, I’ll walk you through effective steps to identify the root cause and fix a frozen Mac.
1. Force Quit Applications
Force-quitting applications can fix a frozen Mac by terminating processes consuming too many system resources, stuck in a loop, or otherwise causing instability. When an app becomes unresponsive, it can tie up system memory and CPU resources, making it difficult for other programs to operate smoothly. This can lead to a system-wide freeze or slowdown.
Here are the steps to force quit an app on Mac:
- Click the Apple menu located in the top-left corner of the screen.
- Select Force Quit from the dropdown menu.
- A window will appear with a list of open applications. Select the application you want to force quit.
- Click the Force Quit button in the window’s lower-right corner.
- A confirmation dialog box will appear, asking you to confirm that you want to force quit the application. Click the Force Quit button again to confirm.
2. Reboot Your Mac
Rebooting your Mac is a classic but effective troubleshooting step that can resolve many issues, including a frozen system. It serves as a more drastic measure when other simpler solutions, like force-quitting applications, don’t work.
Here’s how to restart your Mac:
- Before restarting, save any open documents or projects to prevent data loss.
- Click the Apple logo located in the top-left corner of your screen.
- From the dropdown menu, choose Restart.
- Allow your Mac to shut down and restart fully.
- Once your Mac has rebooted, it shouldn’t freeze anymore.
3. Force Shut Down Your Mac
While this option should only be used as a last resort, it can be effective when your computer is completely unresponsive, and other methods have failed. A forced shutdown will immediately cut power to your Mac, stopping all processes and potentially resolving whatever issue caused the freeze.
Force shutting down your MacBook should be used sparingly and only when necessary, as it may lead to potential data loss or system instability.
To force shut down your MacBook and restart it, follow these steps:
- Locate the power button on your MacBook, typically found in the top-right corner of the keyboard.
- Press and hold the power button for about 10 seconds. You may hear a click sound, and the screen should go black.
- After holding it for 10 seconds, release the power button.
- Give your MacBook a moment to shut down completely.
- Press the power button again to turn on your MacBook.
You can also use Touch ID to force shut down your Mac. To do it, press and hold the Touch ID button for approximately six seconds, and it should trigger a force shutdown.
4. Check the Power Source
Believe it or not, power issues can sometimes be the culprit behind a frozen Mac. A fluctuating or inadequate power supply can cause the system to act erratically or freeze. In such cases, you may want to plug your Mac directly into a wall outlet to rule out any potential issues with your current power source.
Here’s how to check the power source for your Mac:
- Locate the battery icon in the top-right corner of your screen to ensure it’s not critically low or completely empty. Charge your MacBook if needed.
- Make sure the charger cable and MagSafe or USB-C adapter aren’t damaged. Look for fraying, discolored areas, or bent connectors.
- Plug the charger into a different wall socket to rule out the possibility of a faulty outlet. Also, try using another charger if available to see if the issue lies with your current charger.
- Ensure the charger is securely connected to your MacBook and the LED indicator (if available) shows the charging status.
5. Disconnect Peripheral Devices
Sometimes, the root cause of a frozen Mac can be external hardware like USB drives, printers, or even a mouse and keyboard. These devices could malfunction or have compatibility issues that make your system unstable.
Follow these steps to check your peripherals:
- Make a list of all the peripheral devices connected to your Mac, including keyboards, mice, external drives, printers, monitors, etc.
- Safely disconnect one peripheral device at a time. Start with external storage drives, the most common culprits for causing freezes.
- After disconnecting each device, restart your Mac to check if it continues to freeze.
- If your Mac runs smoothly after disconnecting a specific device, you’ve likely found the culprit.
- If available, connect the suspected device to another computer to see if it causes similar issues there.
- If you’ve identified a specific device as the cause of your problems, consider replacing it or seeking repairs if it’s under warranty.
6. Stop Demanding Background Processes
Some background tasks can consume significant system resources, causing your Mac to freeze or slow down. This could be anything from software updates downloading in the background to resource-heavy applications running automated tasks.
Please note that force quitting an application may result in unsaved data being lost, so use this feature carefully and only when necessary.
Here’s how to use Activity Monitor to kill background processes on your Mac:
- Open Activity Monitor by going to Finder > Applications > Utilities > Activity Monitor.
- Once Activity Monitor is open, you’ll see a list of active processes displayed in the main window, sorted by their usage of system resources such as CPU, Memory, Energy, Disk, Network, or Cache.
- Identify the background process you want to terminate by browsing the list or using the search box at the top-right corner.
- Select the process you want to terminate to highlight it and click the X button in the top toolbar.
- A confirmation window will appear, asking if you want to Quit or Force Quit the process.
- Click the Quit button in the confirmation window to terminate the selected process.
Alternatively, you can use MacKeeper to free up RAM on your Mac and kill background processes:
- Download and install MacKeeper on your Mac.
- Open MacKeeper and click Memory Cleaner under the Performance tab.
- Click Open.
- Click Clean Memory.
- It will clean your Mac and free up available memory. You can see how much memory it freed under Last Cleanup.
7. Update Your Apps
Outdated applications can often cause compatibility issues, leading to system instability and freezing. Developers regularly release updates to fix bugs and improve performance, so keeping your apps up-to-date is essential.
Here’s how to update apps on macOS via the App Store:
- Click the Apple menu in the top left corner of the screen and select App Store.
- Click the Updates tab in the App Store window.
- If updates are available, you will see a list of apps that can be updated.
- Click the Update button next to each app that has an update available.
- And just like that, you’ve updated an app on your Mac. Now, follow the same steps for all apps to get them up to speed.
Alternatively, you can use Update Tracker to update apps on macOS:
- Download and install MacKeeper.
- Launch MacKeeper and click the Update Tracker tab in the left sidebar.
- Click Scan for Updates.
- MacKeeper will scan your Mac for outdated apps and display a list. To select an app, check the little box next to it or click Check All to select all apps.
- Click Update All.
- Wait for the updates to complete. Depending on the number and size of updates, this can take a while.
- You’ll get an Update Completed notification. Click Rescan if you want to update more apps.
8. Uninstall Problematic Apps
Sometimes, the best course of action is to remove the apps causing your Mac to freeze. Some apps can do more harm than good, Whether due to compatibility issues, corrupt installations, or bugs that haven’t been fixed yet.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to using Finder to uninstall apps on your Mac:
- Click the Finder icon in the Dock.
- Open the Applications folder from the left sidebar.
- Scroll through the list of apps in the Applications folder until you find the app you want to uninstall. Click the app icon and drag it to the Bin icon in the Dock. Alternatively, right-click the app icon and select Move to Bin from the context menu.
- After dragging the app to the Bin, right-click the Bin icon in the Dock and select Empty Bin.
- Restart your Mac to ensure that all changes are applied.
You can also use MacKeeper to uninstall apps on your Mac. Follow these steps to remove unwanted apps in no time:
- Download and install MacKeeper on your Mac.
- After installation, launch MacKeeper and click the Smart Uninstaller in the left-hand menu.
- Click Start Scan.
- Select the applications you want to delete from the list and click Remove Selected.
- Tap the Remove button on the pop-up to confirm the deletion.
- MacKeeper will uninstall the apps and remove associated files and folders. You will get a Removal Completed notification. If you want to scan your Mac again, click Rescan.
9. Free Up Disk Space
A lack of available storage space can cause your Mac to slow down significantly and even freeze. The operating system needs sufficient free disk space to function smoothly, including room for temporary files and caches.
- Check storage on your Mac by navigating to the Apple menu > About This Mac > More Info > Storage Settings to view how much free space you have left.
- Always empty the trash on your Mac. To do this, right-click the Bin icon and choose Empty Bin. This action will permanently delete files you’ve moved to the trash.
- Your system and applications store cache files, taking up valuable space. You can find and delete these by navigating to ~/Library/Caches and /Library/Caches in the Finder. Make sure you know what you’re deleting to avoid removing essential files.
- Uninstall unused apps by navigating to the Applications folder and dragging the apps you no longer use to the Bin. Remember to empty the Bin afterward.
- Clean downloads and temporary files by navigating to the Downloads folder and deleting files you no longer need. You can also search for and delete temporary files that end with .tmp.
- Over time, you may accumulate duplicate files on your Mac—documents, photos, or even media files. Use the built-in search function in Finder to identify duplicates manually, or consider using third-party software designed to find and remove duplicate files.
- If you have files like videos, photos, or documents you don’t often use but want to keep, consider moving them to an external hard drive.
- Another option to free up space is to move files to cloud storage like iCloud, Dropbox, or Google Drive. Just make sure to actually remove them from your local storage after uploading.
10. Declutter Your Desktop
It may sound trivial, but a cluttered desktop can actually contribute to a slower, more unstable Mac. Each icon on your desktop takes up a small amount of system memory to display. While it’s generally minimal, if your desktop is overcrowded with files, folders, and app shortcuts, it can add up and contribute to system sluggishness or even freezing.
Here’s how to declutter your Mac:
- 📂 Organize Into Folders: Create subject-specific folders to house related files. For example, you could have folders for Work, Photos, Utilities, etc.
- 🚚 Move Unused Files: Drag and drop files you don’t regularly use into appropriate folders or directories other than the desktop.
- 🔗 Use Shortcuts: If you need quick access to certain files or applications, consider creating shortcuts rather than storing the actual files on your desktop.
- 🗑️ Delete Unnecessary Files: Review each file and folder and delete unnecessary ones. Don’t forget to empty the Bin after deletion.
- 🗂️ Sort Files: Use the sort function by right-clicking the desktop and selecting Sort by. You can sort icons by name, kind, date added, or tags to maintain a level of organization.
- 📦 Implement Stacks: macOS offers a feature called Stacks that automatically organizes files on the desktop into neat groups based on file type. To enable Stacks, right-click the desktop and choose Use Stacks.
11. Repair Your Disk Health With Disk Utility
Over time, your Mac’s hard drive can develop errors that may lead to various issues, including freezing. macOS has a built-in Disk Utility tool that can scan for and attempt to repair these errors. Disk Utility will scan for errors and offer to repair them if any are found.
Note that this process may take some time, and you should have a backup of your data before proceeding, as there is always some risk of data loss when repairing disks.
Follow these steps to use Disk Utility to repair disk permissions on Mac:
- Launch Disk Utility by going to Finder > Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility. Alternatively, you can search for it in Spotlight (Command ⌘ + Space) by typing Disk Utility.
- Select the disk you suspect has permission issues from the list on the left side of the Disk Utility window.
- Click the First Aid button in the top toolbar.
- Click the Run button to initiate the permission verification and repair process.
- Tap Continue to confirm your decision.
- Disk Utility will scan your disk for errors and repair any permissions it finds.
The process may take some time, depending on the size of your disk and the number of permissions to be repaired.
12. Reset Your Mac’s NVRAM/PRAM
Non-volatile random-access memory (NVRAM) or parameter RAM (PRAM) stores certain settings on your Mac that are accessed during boot-up. Issues with these settings could lead to a variety of problems, including a freezing system.
Resetting NVRAM/PRAM can resolve these issues by restoring these settings to their default state. Here’s how to reset the NVRAM/PRAM on your Mac:
Manually resetting the NVRAM/PRAM only works for Intel-based Macs. If you have an M1 or M2 Mac, all you have to do is restart your system, and it will take care of the rest itself.
- Turn off your Mac.
- Press the power button to turn on your Mac.
- Press and hold the Option ⌥ + Command ⌘ + P + R keys simultaneously on your Mac’s keyboard before the gray screen appears.
- Keep holding the keys until your Mac restarts, and you hear the startup chime twice.
- Release the keys and let your Mac start up normally.
13. Reset Your Mac’s SMC
The System Management Controller (SMC) is responsible for low-level functions on Intel-based Macs, such as power management, system performance, and hardware system management. If your Mac is experiencing issues like freezing, abnormal fan activity, or issues with charging an SMC reset could help.
Here’s how to reset the SMC on your Mac:
With a Removable Battery
- Remove your MacBook’s battery.
- Press and hold the Power button for 5 seconds while the battery is removed.
- Release the Power button and reinstall the battery.
- Turn on your Mac by pressing the Power button.
With Non-Removable Battery
- Tap the Apple icon and select Shut Down from the drop-down menu.
- Press and hold the Shift ⇧ + Control ^ + Option ⌥ keys with the power button for 10 seconds.
- Release all the keys and press the power button to turn on your MacBook.
14. Boot Your Mac Into Safe Mode
Safe Mode is a diagnostic mode designed to troubleshoot various issues and perform disk maintenance tasks. When you boot your Mac into Safe Mode, it will run a disk check and only load essential system software. This can determine if the issue causing your Mac to freeze is related to your operating system or third-party software.
Here’s how to boot your Mac into safe mode:
Apple Silicon Macs
- Click the Apple icon and choose Shut Down from the drop-down menu.
- Wait for your Mac to shut down completely, and press the Power button to turn it on.
- Keep holding the Power button until you see the Loading startup options screen.
- Select a volume from the options.
- Press and hold the Shift ⇧ key and click Continue in Safe Mode.
- Your Mac will restart automatically, and you will see Safe Boot in the menu bar when the login screen appears.
- Restart or turn on your Mac and press and hold the Shift ⇧ key immediately.
- Keep holding the Shift ⇧ key until you see the login screen.
- Release the Shift ⇧ key and log in to your Mac.
- You may be asked to log in again.
- You’ll see Safe Boot in the menu bar on your first or second login window.
15. Run a Virus Scan
Malware and viruses can compromise your system’s stability and performance, potentially causing it to freeze. Running a comprehensive virus scan can identify and remove malicious software that could be at the root of the problem.
Here’s how to run a virus scan on Mac using MacKeeper:
- Download and install MacKeeper.
- Launch MacKeeper and navigate to the Antivirus tab in the left sidebar.
- Initiate an instant virus scan by clicking the Start Scan button.
- If any viruses are detected during the scan, click the Fix Items button to resolve the issues.
- If your system is threat-free, you’ll see a No threats found message. You can tap the Restart button to run the scan again.
- Enable real-time antivirus protection to safeguard your Mac from future threats by clicking the Enable button.
Once you have configured your security settings, MacKeeper will continue to operate in the background, diligently scanning for threats and actively blocking any malicious activity.
What Else Can MacKeeper Do?
Besides freeing up RAM, uninstalling apps, updating apps, and scanning your Mac for viruses, MacKeeper can do many other Mac maintenance tasks. You can use it to connect to the internet privately via VPN, remove cache files, and delete login items. Learn more about its features in my detailed Mackeeper review.
16. Run Apple Diagnostics
Apple Diagnostics is a tool built into Mac computers to check the internal hardware for issues. Running this diagnostic test can help you identify problems causing your Mac to freeze, ranging from issues with memory to logic boards or power supply.
Here’s how to run Apple Diagnostics on your Mac:
On Apple Silicon Mac
- Disconnect all peripheral devices except the keyboard, mouse, Ethernet, display, and power cable.
- Power off your Mac.
- Power on your Mac and hold the power button until the startup options screen with the Options icon appears.
- Press the Command ⌘ + D keys.
On Intel-Based Mac
- Disconnect all external devices except the keyboard, mouse, Ethernet, display, and power cable.
- Shut down your Mac from the Apple menu.
- Press the power button and immediately press and hold the D key on your keyboard until a list of languages appears.
- Select a language, and Apple Diagnostics will start automatically.
- Apple Diagnostics will provide solutions or suggest next steps based on the test results. Follow these recommendations to resolve the Mac freezing issue.
- If Apple Diagnostics identifies a hardware problem you can’t fix, you may need to take your MacBook to an Apple Store or authorized service provider for repairs.
17. Update Your macOS
Outdated operating systems can have bugs and compatibility issues that may lead to system instability, including freezing. Apple frequently releases updates to improve performance and fix bugs, so keeping your macOS up-to-date is crucial.
Here are the steps to update your macOS on Mac:
- Click the Apple menu in the upper left corner of your screen and select System Settings.
- Click General and select Software Update to open the updates menu.
- Your Mac will check for updates automatically. If your Mac is up-to-date, it will show your current macOS version.
- If an update is available, click the Update Now button to download and install it.
- Wait for the update to finish downloading and installing.
Unfreeze Your Mac Quickly
Dealing with a frozen or sluggish Mac can be frustrating, but thankfully, you can employ several strategies to get things running smoothly again. Here are a few more tips to help you get the most out of your Mac:
- Is your Mac running slow? If yes, close unnecessary apps, update your apps and macOS, run built-in diagnostics, and scan your Mac for malware.
- To speed up a slow Mac, consider clearing cache files, uninstalling unused apps, upgrading your RAM, keeping your macOS up-to-date, and running disk cleanup utilities.
- If you’ve tried all methods, but your Mac still runs slow, you may need to defrag your Mac.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I restart Mac when it’s frozen?
If your Mac is frozen, you can perform a hard reset by holding the power button for 10 seconds until the computer shuts off. Wait a few seconds, then press the power button again to restart. Alternatively, use the Control ^ + Command ⌘ + Power button shortcut to force a restart.
How can I shut down Mac when it’s frozen?
If your Mac is completely frozen and unresponsive, you can perform a forced shutdown by holding the power button for approximately 10 seconds. This action will turn off the computer. Wait a few seconds before turning it back on to ensure the system fully shuts down.
How can I quit a Mac program when it’s frozen?
When a program on your Mac is frozen, you can try force-quitting the application. To do this, simultaneously press the Option ⌥ + Command ⌘ + Esc keys to bring up the Force Quit Applications window. Select the unresponsive program from the list and click Force Quit. Be aware that force quitting will close any unsaved work in that program.