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Troubleshooting kernel panics, stuck startups and other scary Mac problems

Troubleshooting kernel panics, stuck startups and other scary Mac problems
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We had a lot of good responses to our recent article on what to do when Windows freezes. However, plenty of Mac users have asked for a similar article, and we're happy to oblige.

Follow along as we talk about how to deal with kernel panics and other scary problems, such as stuck startups and spinning pinwheel freezes. Instead of making a frantic phone call or a trip to the Apple Store, give these tricks a try. You'll be a pro troubleshooter and problem-solver in no time.

Kernel panic

On a Mac, a sudden restart, followed by a screen that says the Mac restarted because of a problem, points to a kernel panic. In Lion and earlier, the kernel panic screen appears first and prompts you to manually restart. Do that by holding down the computer's power button for a few seconds.

Kernel panics are usually a software problem. After the restart, the Mac will ask if you want to reopen the apps you had running before the crash. Click on "Open" to try the programs.

If the kernel panic happens again, you likely have a program that's incompatible or needs updating. After the next startup, when the Mac asks if you want to reopen the apps, click "Cancel." The Mac should start up fine.

Next, start investigating those apps that were trying to open. Run each one separately to see if it triggers the kernel panic. Once you've narrowed it down, update the app through the App Store or check with the developer for other solutions.

You should also see if there are any system updates for OS X you need to install. That could fix performance and stability problems affecting several apps. Simply click on the Apple in the upper-left corner and choose Software Update. You can also open the App Store and look for the Updates tab in the top navigation bar.

If updating OS X and your apps doesn't do the trick, shut down the computer and start up again in Safe Mode. To enter Safe Mode, press the Shift key when you hear the startup chime, and then release it when the Apple logo appears.

Safe Mode runs a directory check of the Mac's startup disk and performs some other housekeeping duties. Only essential kernel extensions and fonts are loaded. Log-in items are disabled.

If your Mac runs fine in Safe Mode, download and install any OS X updates that are available. Restart and see if the kernel panic has gone away. If not, read on for some hardware-based tips.

Next page: Let's continue with a frozen startup
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