How to Fix Your Frozen Mac

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Whether it’s caused by a single app or the operating system in general, many macOS users have experienced a frozen computer at least once. The good news is that most of the time these problems will sort themselves out without any action on the user’s part. If a freeze does happen, however rare, there are some easy steps that can be takem to fix a frozen Mac.

Note: the solutions below are for frozen Macs during normal usage and not when you are updating the operating system. For that, we have other fixes.

Why Is My Mac Freezing?

Before we can fix a frozen Mac, we need to know why it is freezing. The most likely suspects are too many apps fighting for CPU processing power. The same scenario can also lead to your Mac being unresponsive, the trackpad not working and the mouse icon freezing in place. A crashing app is definitely a most likely culprit, but not the only possibility. You may also be using a browser with too many tabs open, don’t have enough free space on your hard drive or have a hardware problem with lack of RAM.

Force-Quit Unresponsive Apps

The first thing you should do with a frozen Mac is to check if an app is frozen. You can check this by right-clicking the icon in the dock. If the app is frozen, the pop-up window that appears will say “Application Not Responding.” When that occurs, you can select “Force Quit,” and the app will close. If the app (or apps) are the culprit giving you the frozen Mac, this should free up memory and unfreeze the computer.

Fix Frozen App Unresponsive Apps

Alternatively, you can also hit Control + Click (with the mouse) on the potentially frozen icon in the Dock and then click on the “Force Quit” option.

Fix Frozen App Unresponsive Apple Menu Frozen

To enter the “Force Quit” menu, you can click on the Apple menu in the top left corner and click on Force Quit. An even quicker way is to press Command + Option + Escape at the same time. That takes you directly into the Force Quit menu. No matter how you get there, force-quitting an unresponsive app should likely be the first thing you try with a frozen Mac.

Shut Down Your Mac

Fix Frozen App Unresponsive Power Key

If force-quitting applications did not solve your frozen Mac, it’s time to move on to another solution. The easiest way to shut down your Mac is to simply hold down your Mac power button until the computer turns off. On non-Touch-ID Macs, your computer has a dedicated power button at the top right of the keyboard. On Touch ID-enabled Macs, press and hold the Touch ID button at the top right of the keyboard. If you are using a desktop like the iMac or Mac mini, press and hold the power button on the computer until the system turns off.

Fix Frozen App Unresponsive Power Key Imac

The downside of this approach is that you will lose your place with whatever you were previously working on. Your browser will likely save your last open tabs, but any other open applications will be closed. That said, it’s best to use this approach only when absolutely necessary.

Reset System Memory Controller

While it’s not something more general Mac users should mess with, resetting your System Memory Controller (SMC) may help resolve some freezing issues. SMC is responsible for some of the most critical elements of your Mac, like battery management, keyboard backlighting, etc.

Fix Frozen App Unresponsive Reset Smc

If your Mac has a T2 security chip (MacBook laptops 2016 or newer), start by shutting it down. then press and hold down the power button for 10 seconds. Follow this by letting go of the power button and turning on the computer.

If the issue persists, shut down the Mac, then hit Shift + Control + Option + Power at the same time. Hold all four keys down for 10 seconds and then let go. You may now power the computer on.

If you are using an iMac without the T2 chip (only the 2020 27-inch iMac has it), shut down the computer, unplug it and wait 15 to 20 seconds before rebooting.

Preventing Freezes in the Future

Ultimately, the best way to avoid a frozen Mac is to follow these easy steps:

  • Make sure macOS is always up to date. Sometimes freezing computers are caused by a technical issue Apple is aware of and will release a software update to fix it.
  • Always ensure you have enough free disk space. This includes both space on your hard drive (or SSD) as well as available RAM.
  • Update all of your applications. Like the macOS update, some freezing issues could be related to a bug with a favorite application.
  • Only use drivers approved by or released by Apple. Connecting external devices can add a lot of extra value (and fun) to your Mac, but not all of them are optimized to run well. Apple-approved drivers can help.
  • Reset your PRAM. This mostly affects display resolution, voice volume and other peripherals of your Mac, so not likely to be a freezing issue but better safe than sorry. To reset, shut down your Mac. As soon as you turn the Mac back on, immediately press and hold down on the Option + Command + P + R keys for 20 seconds. On Mac with the T2 startup chip, you can release the keys as soon as the Apple logo appears and disappears for a second time during startup.
  • When all else fails, reset your Mac to factory defaults. To do this, boot into recovery mode by holding Command + R while your Mac reboots. When you enter recovery mode, select “Reinstall OS X” under the utilities window and follow the onscreen instructions.

While It is not common for Mac to be freezing, it is relatively easy to fix a frozen Mac. However, if you are having the “Service Battery” warning, you will need another set of solutions.

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David Beren David Beren

David Beren is a freelance tech writer with over 10 years of experience in the tech industry. He loves dogs, his kids and all things Nintendo.

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