There are many reasons why you might find that your Mac won’t turn on or your MacBook won’t start up, but you probably just want to restart it. We’ll go over the various checks and changes you need to make to get your Mac up and running again.
There are a few simple tips that should get your Mac working again, ranging from the obvious things like checking the power connection, performing a power cycle, booting into recovery mode, and checking the file system. And if your Mac is really dead, we’ll also tell you where to turn.
The fixes in this article apply to the latest versions of macOS. The menus and interfaces may look slightly different depending on the operating system you are using, but their functions are basically the same. Likewise, if you have an M1 Mac, some changes have been made to the way certain functions are performed – such as booting your computer to safe mode or recovery, we’ll detail them below in detail.
1. Make sure your Mac turns on
First, let’s check if the problem is that your Mac won’t start or turn on – it may sound the same, but it’s actually a big difference.
Press the power button on your Mac. If you don’t hear the startup sound, hear no fan or drive sound, and there are no pictures, videos or visuals on the display, your Mac won’t turn on at all. You don’t even get to the point where it refuses to run.
A Mac that won’t turn on requires a different approach than one that won’t start. If the computer does not turn on, do the following:
i) Check the power connection
Don’t be clichéd: make sure the power is on and your Mac is properly connected. If it’s a laptop, make sure the battery isn’t drained – and if it needs charging, give it a moment to charge before deciding it won’t work. If your MacBook is not charging, read this.
ii) Try a different power cord or adapter
There may be a problem with the power cord. If you have a friend with a Mac power cord that fits your computer, try to see if that fixes the problem. If so, it could be a simple fix for finding a used power cord on eBay (although we advise against buying third-party power cables that are not manufactured by Apple as they are much more defective and possibly unsafe).
If there’s been a recent power outage, you may be responsible: Your power supply may have been damaged by an overvoltage and you may need a new one.
Finally, it’s possible that the cable is loose and pulling it out and reconnecting it will fix the problem. But we doubt it will be that simple.
Apple sells a variety of cables to charge Apple Mac computers and laptops. You should find the one you need here: Apple Power Adapters. Also read: What MacBook charger do I need?
iii) Disconnect all accessories
Disconnect any accessories (such as printers and USB hubs) connected to your Mac. It is possible that one of the peripherals is causing problems with the boot sequence.
If you recently installed new RAM or a new hard drive, make sure they are properly installed and compatible. (If possible, reinstall your old memory or hard drive and see if that helps).
If none of these steps work, it’s time to move on to the next step.
2. Perform a power cycle (Macs other than M1)
If you don’t hear any signs of life then you can do a power cycle which is forcing your Mac to restart after it powers down.
- On a MacBook, you need to hold down the power key for ten seconds. You will usually hear a squeak when your Mac’s power is forcefully cut off. Hopefully after waiting ten seconds and restarting it all will be fine.
- If your Mac is a desktop computer, you’ll need to unplug it and leave it unplugged for at least ten seconds before plugging it back in and trying to restart it.
- On the M1 Mac, if you press and hold the power button you’ll eventually see Loading Startup Options – assuming your Mac is working properly. If you can access the startup options by pressing and holding the power button, you can use the options below to start your Mac. We will discuss this below. We also cover how to bring your M1 Mac to life using a second Mac and the Configurator app below.
If completing a power cycle on your Mac doesn’t help, such as if pressing the power button on your M1 Mac doesn’t open a startup option, there are a few other simple things you should try before proceeding to more complicated steps.
3. Check the display
If you are using a desktop Mac such as a Mac Pro or Mac mini, this may be the case for you. If you do not have a separate display connected, you can skip this step.
You may have an issue with the connected display and not the Mac itself. Listen to your Mac to see if it makes any noise when it starts up.
It’s possible that your Mac is turning on but not starting up because it can’t access the display – in which case you most likely have an issue with your display hardware (instead of the broader startup issue).
If you think this is a monitor issue, see this Apple Support document for tips on troubleshooting screen issues. If the display is not working, we advise you to:
- Check your Mac’s power (and display’s power if you’re using a separate device).
- Check that all cables are securely connected.
- Remove all screen extenders and switches, and any other devices between your Mac and the monitor.
- Disconnect the video cable (if using a separate monitor) and reconnect it.
- If you are using more than one monitor in a “daisy chain” disconnect all monitors and test using only one.
- If possible, try using a different display or a different adapter (for example, use DVI instead of VGA).
- Apple also advises you to adjust your screen resolution in System Preferences.
4. Start your Mac in Safe Boot mode
Safe Boot restricts the checks and functions your Mac focuses on at startup and performs specific diagnostics. It’s rare, but sometimes you can get your unfortunate Mac to boot successfully using Secure Boot, then restart it normally and it all goes back to a slice. If you need additional help at this stage, please read: How to Start Your Mac In Safe Mode.
- To enter Safe Mode on an Intel-based Mac: Start your Mac while holding down the Shift key. It may take a while for Secure Boot to start (if it works at all).
- To enter Safe Mode on an M1-enabled Mac: Press and hold the Power button until the startup options appear on the screen. Select your startup disk. Now press and hold Shift and then click Continue in Safe Mode. Then release the Shift key. You will see the words Safe Mode in the menu at the top right corner of the screen.
- For more feedback on what’s going on, you can boot your Intel-based Mac by holding down the Shift, Command, and V keys: this takes you both to safe boot mode, and something called verbose mode that spits out a few messages about what Safe Boot is actually trying to do.
Now you’re in Safe Mode, we are going to cover how to use Safe Mode to troubleshoot Mac startup problems.
In safe mode, the interface will look a bit different, with color blocks instead of transparency. The biggest highlight is the Dock at the bottom of the screen like in the picture below.
Once in safe mode, you may be able to perform certain checks (we’ll review them below) and make changes that can fix your Mac. For example, you can reinstall macOS or update other software.
If it turns out that you can start your computer in safe mode, the problem is probably related to one of the startup items, in which case go to: System Preferences> Users and Groups and delete all items (click -). You can use trial and error to find out which startup item is causing the problem.
Back in the days of PowerPC, we talked about resetting PRAM. On an Intel-based Mac, this term means NVRAM reset. The NVRAM on the M1 Mac is reset automatically, but there is a way to reset the NVRAM on the M1 Mac – we cover that here: How to Reset NVRAM on the M1 or Intel Mac.
The name refers to special sections of memory on your Mac that store data that is retained even when your Mac is turned off, such as volume settings and screen resolution.
Resetting this data isn’t harmful, but honestly, it’s rarely genuinely useful either. But it can’t hurt.
You may need to grow an extra finger or two for this one or ask a friend for help. Here’s how to reset PRAM / NVRAM on an Intel-based Mac:
- Hold down all these keys: Command, Option (Alt), P, and R and turn on your Mac (the same keys are used to reset PRAM).
- Keep holding the keys down until you hear your Mac restart again.
- Wait for the reboot, then release the keys.
For M1 Mac, resetting NVRAM means using Terminal, the method is discussed in the article linked above.
In some cases, after you complete this step, your Mac will restart normally. In other cases, you may see a progress bar during startup instead. If the progress bar fills up and then your Mac starts up, you’re probably fine. However, in some cases, the Mac shuts down about halfway through the progress bar.
In some situations, you may need to reset your SMC (System Management Controller) on MacBook. This is largely the last attempt to repair the current version of macOS before trying to recover your data and going to reinstalling the operating system.
The SMC is absent from the M1 Mac so it cannot be reset. However, you can change the settings that SMC was taking care of. We cover how to do that here: How to Reset Your Mac’s SMC.
Here’s what to do if you want to reset the SMC (Intel Mac):
On a Mac laptop:
- Turn off your MacBook.
- Disconnect and then reconnect the power cord.
- Press Shift + Ctrl + Option / Alt and the Power button at the same time.
- Now release all these keys and the power button at the same time.
- You may notice a flickering light on the power cord.
- Restart your MacBook.
On the Mac desktop:
- Shut down your Mac.
- Disconnect it.
- Press the power button for 5 seconds.
- Reconnect your Mac.
- Turn on your Mac.
7. Launch Disk Utility in recovery mode
If your Mac starts up but the operating system won’t load, you may have a damaged disk. Luckily, this can be fixed in Recovery Mode. We have a detailed tutorial on how to use Recovery Mode here, but we’ll cover the detailed basics below.
Once again, accessing Recovery Mode is a bit different on the M1 Mac (read about all the new ways to do things on the M1 Mac).
The first step is to run Disk Utility. On a Mac running Mountain Lion or later, which will make up most Macs, you can run Disk Utility by booting into Recovery Mode.
- On an Intel-based Mac, you need to make sure your Mac is turned off. If it’s unresponsive because it’s stuck on a gray, blue, or white screen, just hold down your Mac’s power button for a few seconds until it gives up and turns off. (Here’s what to do to fix blue screen of death on Mac). Hold down the Command and R keys and turn on your Mac again. Keep pressing Cmd + R while your Mac starts up until you see the Apple logo.
- On the M1 Mac, press and hold the power button until the Mac starts up and finally shows the startup options. Select Options> Continue entering recovery.
Now you’re in recovery mode, here’s what to do:
Once your Mac boots into recovery mode, you will have access to the tools. Click Disk Utility.
Locate your Mac’s disk – possibly Macintosh HD, select it.
Click on First Aid.
If there are errors on your disk, Disk Utility should find them and either fix them automatically or ask you if you want to fix them. In this case, click Repair Disk.
In recovery mode, you can also do the following:
- Restore from a Time Machine backup.
- Get online help.
- Install or reinstall macOS (we’ll cover that below).
8. Bring the M1 Mac to life
If you have an M1 Mac and still can’t revive it, the next option to try is to use a second Mac with Apple Configurator 2 to update the firmware.
You will need a second Mac, a USB to USB cable, an internet connection, and Apple Configurator 2 software.
- Connect two Mac computers with a USB-C to USB-C or USB-C to USB-A cable.
- Open Configurator 2 on a working Mac.
- Now, on a non-working Mac, press and hold the power button while pressing the following key combination: right shift, left option / Alt, left control. You will need someone to help you, unless you have giant hands, as you have to press the power button at the same time.
- After about 10 seconds, release the keys, but keep pressing the power button. Hopefully the M1 Mac will show up in the Configurator app on your other Mac by this point (however, the M1 Mac will still not show any screen activity).
The process is slightly different for the M1 Mac mini.
- In this case, you need to disconnect it and wait about 10 seconds.
- Press and hold the power button.
- Plug it back in while still holding the power button.
- Release the power button.
How to use Configurator software to revive M1 Mac.
- The M1 Mac should be displayed in Configurator on the other Mac. Select the M1 Mac you want to revive.
- Click Actions> Advanced.
- Select Revive Device.
- This will revive the firmware on the M1 Mac.
9. Check the file system
This step is actually fun – at least when there’s no weather on your Mac. It’s funny because it seems so geeky.
Before you get too excited, however, this isn’t an option for the Mac M1.
- Shut down your Mac and restart it while holding Cmd + S to boot into single user mode. You can release the keys when you see an intimidating black screen with white text messages.
- Wait for the command prompt to appear after you have finished scrolling all text. Then type fsck -fy and hit Return. And wait. Probably for several long minutes.
- Eventually, after five different checks that take different amounts of time, you should get one of two messages: “Volume [Mac name] looks OK” or “FILE SYSTEM HAS BEEN MODIFIED.”
- If you encounter the first message, type reboot and press Return.
- If you see the latter message, you need to run fsck -fy again. You can retype the command and press Return, or you can press the up arrow once and then press Return.
If that doesn’t work and your Mac still won’t start up, continue to the next step.
10. Use target disk mode to copy files
This step must be completed before reinstalling macOS, depending on your backup status. You do regular backups, or at least sync your important documents, music, and photos to the cloud, right?
If you’re not sweating at the moment and you’re confident about your Time Machine or other backup solution, skip to step 11 below. But if you want to back up your Mac, it’s time to see what you can salvage from the machine.
You will need a second Mac for this. If you don’t have one, ask a friend. Follow these steps to use Target Disk Mode:
- Connect both Macs with an Apple Thunderbolt cable (£ 39 from Apple). If you have an older Mac, the same process works with FireWire cables.
- Turn off your Mac.
- Start your Mac by holding down the T button on your keyboard.
- Hold down the T button when you hear the startup sound, and hold it down until the Thunderbolt icon appears on the screen.
This will put your Mac in target disk mode. In target disk mode, your Mac acts like an external drive. Hopefully, you should now see the faulty Mac’s hard drive in the second Mac’s Finder.
You should be able to download the files you need from an unresponsive Mac and even clone your entire hard drive to another external drive.
11. Reinstall macOS
This is pretty drastic, but if you’ve tried everything else, reinstalling your operating system can fix the problem that is preventing your Mac from booting properly.
Remember macOS Recovery from the step above? You can also use it to reinstall macOS.
- Boot into recovery mode as above (hold down the Command and R keys while booting, or press and hold the power button if you’re using an M1 Mac).
- After going into recovery, click to install the latest operating system and follow the on-screen instructions.
Our article on resetting a Mac to factory settings has more information on cleaning your Mac and reinstalling macOS.
12. Make an appointment at the Genius Bar
If you’ve made it this far and your Mac still isn’t working, you’ll need to take it to the Apple Genius Bar to see if they can help you fix it (or arrange a repair under warranty). Hopefully, you have enough data from your Mac to be able to back up or continue working on your new Mac.
Wondering how many years your Mac should last? Read: How Long Do Macs Last?