5 Warning Signs Your Mac Has a Problem (And What to Do About Them)

Rahul Saigal Updated 17-12-2019

Your Mac is not immune to problems. Occasionally, issues crop up in either macOS or your computer components. They can gradually worsen over time, or occur suddenly.


Sometimes your Mac will give a warning sign before these become major issues. It’s up to you to take notice and keep a close watch on the system. We’ll show you some common warning signs and discuss how to fix these problems.

1. Mac Won’t Turn On

You press the power button on your Mac, and nothing happens. There’s no power light, no sound Sound Not Working on Your Mac? Easy Fixes for Audio Problems Is sound not working on your Mac? Here's how to reset your Mac's sound to fix glitches and a total lack of audio. Read More , and a completely black screen. Instead of panicking, try these steps one at a time to diagnose the problem:

  • Check the power connections to make sure they’re secure on both ends. Next, check the wires for damage and try a different charger or cable.
  • Check the video-out cable connection with the external display (if any). Also, try raising the monitor brightness to make sure that it’s not turned down extremely low.
  • There might be a problem with your accessories. Unplug all peripherals except your keyboard and mouse, then try to boot. Plug in your peripherals after a reboot and see if it all works properly.
  • Perform a power cycle. On a modern MacBook, press the power button and hold it for ten seconds. If your Mac is running, it’ll cut the power and force it to restart. On a desktop Mac, unplug the cable and wait ten seconds. Then plug it in and restart.
  • Reset the SMC and NVRAM How to Do an SMC and PRAM/NVRAM Reset on Your Mac A reset of the SMC and PRAM/NVRAM can help any Mac, including MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, run smoothly again. Read More . This is the last step you should try before taking your Mac in for a repair.

See our dedicated guide to get your Mac booting again Mac Won't Turn On? How to Fix It and Make It Boot If your Mac or Macbook won't turn on, don't despair. Our guide to troubleshooting all Mac boot problems will get it fixed quickly. Read More if you still have trouble.

2. Mac Stalls During Startup

Once you power on your Mac, a sequence of booting events occurs until the login screen or desktop appears. But if the startup process gets stuck, no matter how long you wait, you’ll see only a plain gray screen or one with symbols.

Depending on what you see, follow these instructions.


Plain Gray Screen

If you have a simple gray screen when you boot, here’s what to do:

Gray Screen With No Disk Icon

gray screen with no disk icon

If the gray screen has a folder with a flashing question mark, then it means your Mac can’t find a valid startup volume. But when it shows a “Do Not Enter” symbol, it means that your macOS installation is corrupted.

To fix this:


3. Repeated Kernel Panics

kernel panic in Mac

Occasionally, you may find that your Mac restarts spontaneously. When the screen comes back on, you’ll see a warning message, as shown above. This is known as a kernel panic—a type of low-level, system-wide crash that your macOS can’t recover from. It’s a bit like a blue screen of death on Windows.

The presence of this warning sign is what distinguishes kernel panics from app-related crashes and restarts. A single kernel panic is usually not a problem. But when it happens often, something more serious may be afoot. Since kernel panic tends to occur randomly, they’re often difficult to reproduce.

Causes and Solutions for Kernel Panics

4. Mac’s Fan Runs Excessively

computer fan


Your Mac contains some vital sensors that respond to temperature changes inside your system. These turn on your fan and provide necessary airflow to cool critical components. They’re important because overheating can lead to physical damage.

Sometimes an app requires a great deal of processing power to complete its task. In such cases, your fans will run heavily and make noise. This is perfectly normal, and you shouldn’t worry about it. But when your fan runs constantly even though it isn’t experiencing heavy usage, that’s a red flag.

Here are some places to check when your fans are going crazy:

  • Your Mac has vents that let fans bring in cold air and expel hot air. Make sure they aren’t blocked. Avoid using your Mac in places like the couch, a pillow, in bed, or on your lap for extended periods of time.
  • Dust can accumulate on the vents, fan, and the surface of any parts. When dust blocks the airflow, the heat that does escape has nowhere to go. Periodic cleaning with a cloth or compressed air will help remove this dust.
  • A faulty temperature sensor, or an erroneous System Management Controller (SMC) setting, could cause your Mac to run the fan all the time. Reset your SMC using the guide linked earlier to fix the problem.
  • An app might be consuming too much CPU. Open Activity Monitor and visit the CPU tab. Check for any updates for apps using too much CPU, or report the issue to the developer.

5. Mac Keeps Turning Itself Off

You’re working on your Mac, and then it suddenly turns off for no obvious reason. MacBooks can randomly power off despite having an internal battery. This unpredictable issue results in the loss of unsaved work. Worse, it might damage your hardware and macOS.


When your Mac shuts off randomly, here’s what to do:

  • Check to make sure that the power cord is firmly seated on both ends. Next, review the cables for any damage. Try a spare cable if you have any doubts. And if you’re using a UPS, make sure that it’s working properly and you can power your Mac from the battery.
  • Go to Energy Saver settings in System Preferences and click the Schedule button to verify that your Mac is not scheduled to shut down automatically.
  • The SMC chip is responsible for power management and thermal fan controls. When it goes haywire, the fan starts running fast in response to heat and shuts down your Mac. Thus, this is another issue that resetting the SMC in your Mac can fix.
  • If your fan is not working, then your Mac can shut down due to overheating. To check the health of your Mac’s fan, try apps like Macs Fan Control and TG Pro.
  • Start your Mac in Safe mode and run it for a while to see if the problem happens there.

Regular Mac Backups Keep Data Safe From Trouble

Macs can have problems just like other computers, though Macs are less likely than Windows to get malware. Defective components, the age of your Mac, and user-based errors can cause a variety of issues. You’ll notice from the tips here that there’s not a single clearly defined solution for these problems. As a result, these warning signs require thought and care.

That’s where the importance of backups comes in. When you back up your data regularly, you won’t lose your important information if your Mac suddenly stops working. See our guide to backing up your Mac with Time Machine How to Use Time Machine to Back Up Your Mac Time Machine is your Mac's built-in utility for backing up your computer. We'll show you how to set up Time Machine, make backups, and more. Read More to protect your files.

Related topics: Blue Screen of Death, Boot Errors, Computer Maintenance, Hardware Tips, Mac Tips, Troubleshooting.

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  1. Elyas AlFaraj
    April 26, 2019 at 9:07 am

    I am hearing a big ben noise from my MacBook and I have closed everything on my mac but it seems to still happen, what does this mean, is my computer under a problem??

  2. Jackie
    September 20, 2017 at 11:10 am

    Just tried to turn my iMac on and there is a scraping noise coming from the main body of the computer and there is nothing but a white screen. After unplugging and trying again the scraping noise is now accompanied by a beep both of which are now coming at approx 4 second intervals with no sign of the computer starting up. I'm presuming it's terminal and considering I haven't backed it up for a few months I think I may be least there is no burning electrical smell. Thank the Lord for my iPad, I may still have all my contacts etc to install when I buy a new computer... will try to find an Apple guy to see if anything can be salvaged though..

  3. Jim
    November 6, 2016 at 8:36 am

    I've got a weird one. I power up and the last 3 out of say 5 or 6 times the screen is just blank, black. I hear the Apple C tone but nothing. I did a hard stop/cancel and this time did the 'Command/R/Option/P' thing and the second time around after I did that the screen came on powered up then the screen goes off then on then a crazy PsychDelic dayglo green glob thing flashed twice within the 4 flashes of the screen.
    (Disclaimer: No Paoti, Mushrooms or LSD were used to prepare or preform this project)
    So then everything seemed I am writing about it while smashing Iron Butterfly records.
    What the hell kind of cyber dope is my Imac on?

    Oh I should mention I have another screen hooked up to it a Vizio into that firebolt or whatever the heck it's called.
    If no one comments back it's all good just wanted to see if anyone had this.......

  4. RustyPolo
    March 20, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    good article. i'm glad it hasn't happened for me yet

  5. Osama Idris
    January 17, 2013 at 11:53 pm

    Very useful and well written article guys! Big thanks for this one!

  6. Scott Macmillan
    January 17, 2013 at 11:48 pm

    I'm happy using PC.There isn't any way that I'm going to pay Apple's huge price difference just because its prettier.

  7. Adam Campbell
    January 17, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    Great article, I had the chirping HD fiasco occur to my mac, but now I have a SSD and its faster than ever.

  8. AP
    January 17, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    You have given some interesting way to diagnose a problem.

  9. michel
    January 17, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    the price tag is the biggest problem. Followed by the false promise that it's any better than any other computer.

  10. Florin Ardelian
    January 17, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    Also, remember that it's "Apple" not "Eaten Apple" so make sure your logo is a full apple, not one of those broken ones I see everywhere.

  11. Sashritha Peiris
    January 17, 2013 at 4:29 am

    Watch out for a grey bar that starts filling up at the bottom of the screen. It meant a corrupt hard disk for me.