Mac FAQs: How to fix common problems with macOS

If you’ve just switched over to Mac, you’ve probably got some questions. We’re here to answer them. Coming over from Windows, there are a lot of things that can be confusing. Moreover, you might run into some problems that you weren’t expecting in macOS, and that’s always the most frustrating thing.

In our previous post, we listed the most common terms useful to Mac users. Here are now some of the common problems that occur while using macOS.

Common macOS Problems

Unresponsive apps

Apps can stop working at any time, and macOS is no alien to this issue. The best solution at your disposal, in this case, is to quit the app and then relaunch it. To quit an unresponsive app, click on the app’s icon and then click on Quit. If the app doesn’t quit, click on the Apple logo on the top-left of the screen and then click on Force Quit. Here, you can force-quit any app that is troubling you.

You can also check out our guide containing four ways to quit an unresponsive app on macOS.

MacOS force quitMacOS force quit

Common Startup problems on Mac

Your Mac might show a dark or gray screen and may not start as intended. In that case, try to boot the Mac in Safe Mode. When the Mac boots in Safe Mode, it should self-diagnose and rectify any minor errors due to drivers, bad directories on the hard drive, or any other issue with the startup disk.

If the issue persists, reset the NVRAM on your Mac. If that does not help either, reset the SMC and check for any errors using the Disk Utility.

Spinning blue cursor

A spinning blue cursor often signifies that your Mac is slowing or burdened due to apps. This is most likely due to excessive utilization of system resources, including RAM and CPU. You can go to the Activity Monitor either through the Launchpad or using Spotlight search to fix this. In this app, you can determine which app is consuming most of the resources and terminate that app to prevent your Mac from freezing or crashing.

Internet or Bluetooth doesn’t work

An unresponsive internet or Bluetooth can usually be fixed by just restarting your Mac. If that doesn’t resolve the issue:

  • Clear all apps and connect to the network if you can.
  • Press and hold Option (Alt) and then click on the Wi-Fi icon.
  • Click on Open Wireless Diagnostics and let the test run.
  • On the screen that follows, select Monitor my Wi-Fi connection if the issue is intermittent. If there’s no internet whatsoever, select Continue to summary and then Continue.

The summary will provide information about the networks, including the performance, quality, and strength of the current network and any other Wi-Fi networks nearby. It will also use a tool called Sniffer to detect the congestion on your existing network and also the available bandwidth.

macos network diagnosticsmacos network diagnostics

If you still cannot identify the issue, then reset the SMC and restart the Mac in Safe Mode to see if the issue exists. If in case, the problem might not be very common and still exists in Safe Mode, then you might need to get the Mac serviced.

There’s no audio

If a restart doesn’t fix issues related to audio, reset the NVRAM, reset the SMC, and try again by booting in Safe Mode. If your Mac still has problems with audio even in Safe Mode, it’s time to take the Mac out for service.

Battery doesn’t charge or other power-related problems on Mac

Issues with the battery can usually be fixed by resetting the SMC. Make sure you do that and check that you have the original charging or power accessories. If you’re using a MacBook with an inbuilt battery, go to Battery Preferences and click on Battery Health at the bottom of the screen. If your battery needs to be replaced, you’ll be informed here.

macos battery healthmacos battery health

Another way to cross-check battery health is by installing the Battery Health – Monitor Stats app on your MacBook. This will give you detailed stats, including the total number of charging cycles, the existing battery capacity, and percentage deterioration in battery health.

Hard disk errors and trouble detecting external drives

You can check issues with the disk using Disk Utility.

MacBook Pro Touchbar not working or not responding

If you own a MacBook Pro model with a Touchbar, you might encounter a situation when it freezes or disappears. This can be one of the most challenging yet common Mac problems as the Touchbar has vital controls such as volume and brightness — and even the Escape key on 2018 and 2019 models.

To restart an unresponsive or masked Touchbar:

  • Open Terminal using Spotlight or Launchpad.
  • Type sudo pkill TouchBarServer; and press Return.
  • Then type sudo killall “ControlStrip”; and press Return.
  • Enter your password if prompted by Terminal. Do note that the password will not show — not even with asterisks — when you type it.
  • Press Return after you enter the password.

Hopefully, these steps should fix the Touchbar, but if they don’t, then reset the NVRAM, reset the SMC, and restart the Mac to see if that helps.


How to troubleshoot common problems and issues on macOS

How to restart your Mac

Restarting your Mac can fix a lot of temporary issues or malfunctions in macOS. To restart your Mac, click on the Apple logo at the top left of the screen and then click on “Restart…” If the Mac does not shut down to restart, click on the Apple logo and then on “Force Quit.” Then, force-quit all the apps.

If your Mac is still unresponsive or has frozen, long-press the power button for about 10 seconds, and that should restart the Mac.

Before restarting your Mac, make sure you’ve saved any open files and ejected external drives and media.

How to reset NVRAM

NVRAM, short for non-volatile random access memory, is a small portion of Mac’s memory used to store the information required while booting. NVRAM on Mac stores information such as the preferred startup disk, speaker volume, display resolution, time zone, etc. The non-volatility of the memory ensures that the data it stores stays even when you power off the Mac.

NVRAM on Mac seldom malfunctions, but you might come across signs such as a question mark while macOS is booting or issues like an incorrect startup disk, incorrect display resolution, no volume, etc. In those cases, you would need to reset the NVRAM.

mac combination reset nvrammac combination reset nvram

To reset the NVRAM:

  • First, shut down your Mac.
  • Press Option + Command + P + R and keep holding them until you hear the boot chime on your Mac.
  • On new MacBook models or other Mac computers that feature Apple’s T2 security chip, keep the keys pressed until the Apple logo appears and disappears twice.

Once the Mac boots up, go to System Preferences and fix any setting that was previously affected. These steps should be able to fix some common and widespread problems with audio, startup disk, display resolution, etc. on your Mac.

How to reset SMC

System Management Controller, abbreviated as SMC, manages aspects related to the power, the power button, or any accessories connected via USB ports, batteries, fans, thermal performance on Mac, and other features such as ambient sensors and automatic keyboard lighting on MacBook devices. Resetting the SMC is a good way to purge your Mac of bugs or issues related to the elements mentioned above.

To reset the SMC on a Mac:

  • Power off your Mac.
  • Press the Left Shift + Left Option (Alt) + Left Control on the keyboard.
  • Press the Power button.
  • Keep holding the four keys for 10-15 seconds. In this duration, the Mac is likely to remain switched off. If the Mac turns on when pressing the three keys, it will turn off when you press the Power button.
  • After 15 seconds, release the buttons and press the power key again to start the Mac.

On Mac computers with the T2 security chip, the key combination is slightly different. For these models:

  • Press Right Shift + Left Option (Alt) + Left Control.
  • Press the power button.
  • Keep holding the keys for seven to ten seconds, and then release them.
  • Press the power button to start the Mac.

Hopefully, resetting the SMC will have fixes some common problems you were facing on your Mac.

How to boot Mac in Safe Mode

Booting your Mac in Safe Mode can come in handy for checking if the issue you’re facing is due to a software fault or a hardware failure. If the problems on your Mac vanish in Safe mode, it’s probably a software issue and can be fixed by reinstalling macOS. However, if the issue persists in Safe Mode, it’s an indication of hardware failure, and your only resort would be to take the device to an Apple service center.

To boot your Mac in Safe Mode, first ensure it’s shut down. Then press any of the Shift keys and then the power button.

On Macs with Apple’s M1 silicon:

  • Wait for ten seconds after shutting it down.
  • Press and hold the power button until Startup options, including the option to choose the Startup disk, appear on the screen.
  • Select your preferred Startup disk and then press and hold the Shift key.
  • When you see the option to Continue in Safe Mode, click on it and release the Shift key.
  • Log in with your credentials when the login screen appears.

How to Repair a Disk

If you witness any significant issues on your Mac that don’t go away after multiple restarts or resetting the NVRAM and SMC, your current startup disk might have some errors, which can be the root of many disturbing but common Mac-related problems. Or, if any other disk malfunctions while copying or opening files, these disks might be corrupted. To find and fix errors on a disk, you can use Disk Utility. Above, we already have answers in the article What is Disk Utility on Mac and what can it do? The article also shares a guide on how to fix disk errors.

MacOS disk utility first aidMacOS disk utility first aid

If that method doesn’t work for you, there’s another you can follow. To start with the process:

  • Shut down your Mac.
  • If you own an M1 Mac:
    • Press and hold the power button until Startup options become visible.
    • Click the gear-shaped icon called Options.
    • Click Continue.
  • If you own an Intel Mac:
    • Press Command (Cmd) + R to boot into recovery.
  • In this menu, click on Disk Utility.
  • In Disk Utility, click on the View button on top and then click on Show All Devices. This will list all partitions in the Sidebar.
  • Choose the disk you wish to repair and click on First Aid near the top of the window.
  • This will run a diagnostics test on the selected disk.
  • Run the same test for all disks you think could be causing the issue. If you don’t know how to proceed, use this order — start with Volumes, then containers, and then individual disks.

How to clear the cache on macOS

Your Mac can slow down as it ages because of all the cache. In addition to keeping the RAM clogged, the cache can also take a considerable space on the storage. This is one of the most common Mac problems, especially if you use an old MacBook model. So to clear out the cache on your Mac:

  • Make sure you are either on the desktop or in Finder.
  • Click on Go in the Menu bar up top and then on Go to folder.
  • In the dialog box that appears, you will see an empty text field. Enter “~/Library/Caches/” in this text field and click on Go.
  • This will open up the folder where all of your Mac’s cache is stored. Select all files by pressing Command + A on the keyboard and then delete them by pressing Command + Delete or dragging all of these files into the bin.

If you want to take the automatic route while deleting an application, here is How to Completely Uninstall an App on Mac and Delete all Junk Files.

Conclusion

We hope this article gives you a good headstart during your first experience with Mac. Remember, while most of the features listed in the first part of the article are identical, you might need to proceed differently while troubleshooting common Mac problems if you own an Intel Mac versus if you own an M1 Mac.

    Apple iMac (24-inch, M1, 2021)Apple iMac (24-inch, M1, 2021)
    The new Apple iMac features the M1 chip, a 24-inch 4.5K Retina display, up to 16GB of RAM, and up to 2TB of storage.
    Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, M1, 2020)Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, M1, 2020)
    The Apple MacBook Pro features the M1 chip, a 13.3-inch Retina display, up to 16GB of RAM, and up to 2TB of storage.
    Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, M1, 2020)Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, M1, 2020)
    The Apple MacBook Air features the M1 chip, a 13.3-inch Retina display, up to 16GB of RAM, and up to 2TB of storage.
    Apple Mac mini (M1, 2020)Apple Mac mini (M1, 2020)
    The Apple Mac mini comes with the M1 chip, up to 16GB of RAM, and up to 2TB of storage.

Do you think we missed something in this article? Make sure to let us know in the comments below.

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