The Common Causes of Freezing Macs and How to Troubleshoot It


Occasionally, your MacBook will start behaving strangely, and the screen will freeze completely. You may not even be able to move your mouse cursor, plus the entire system may get unresponsive, preventing you from doing anything.

When your Mac starts behaving this way, you can’t even handle and complete that demanding project in time. In a worst-case scenario, you could lose all your progress and start from scratch when it starts functioning normally again.

If you want to know what causes your Mac to freeze regularly, this blog is for you. We’ll explore why your Mac freezes more often and how to troubleshoot this issue. Let’s get started!

What causes Macs to freeze

Your Mac doesn’t just decide on a bad day and start freezing without any definitive cause. There has to be something behind causing it to behave strangely. This could stem from an issue such as running too many programs, apps, and browser tabs.

Even though your Mac is better than most computers in terms of reliability and performance, it can’t handle too many tasks simultaneously. If numerous processes are fighting for the available CPU processing power, chances are high that your device will become unresponsive.

A frozen Mac can be a productivity killer, and the earlier you know the cause, the higher the chance of dealing with the issue in time. Below are some of the common causes of freezing on Mac you should be wary of:

1.   Running too many applications

Running too many apps strains your Mac’s memory and CPU resources. This has the potential to cause overall unresponsiveness on your device. It’s like a crowded highway during rush hour, where everything slows down.

This may also involve simply processing a particularly demanding app. For example, heavy resource-consuming software such as those for design or gaming can effectively slow down your Mac, causing it to freeze.

2.   Overloading your Mac with background processes

Behind the scenes, your Mac runs various background processes to keep everything smooth. But beware not to let too many processes run at a go— they can lead to performance setbacks.

Overloading your Mac with many unnecessary processes only leads to chaos and an overall decrease in performance. Your Mac will need help efficiently allocating resources, resulting in sluggishness and, sometimes, freezing.

3.   App crashing

Sometimes, apps fail to quit as expected, ending up crashing. This mostly happens when they can’t meet system requirements while responding to users’ requests. Others keep on crashing right when they’re about to launch due to faulty disk permission.

An app crash is a common issue on Mac, but unfortunately, it can cause it to freeze. One way to prevent this problem is to keep apps up-to-date as developers regularly release updates to make them work better and smoother. This will ensure your Mac runs well.

4.   Opening too many tabs

Having lots of open tabs in your web browser is unhealthy for your Mac. First, it keeps the internet data streaming to each active website on each tab. This will consume too much macOS software/hardware resources, including the battery.

And if your Mac doesn’t have enough to do that, you’ll start experiencing some lags with the computer’s response becoming variable. It will eventually lead to overburdened memory and potentially cause your Mac to freeze.

5.   macOS clutter or update needs

Your Mac might also slow down and start freezing due to an outdated macOS. The operating system could also be cluttered with bugs that affect its performance when handling demanding tasks.

A clean, up-to-date macOS is the secret to an optimal-performing Mac. If you haven’t updated or cleaned up your system by removing unnecessary files and junk, be ready to experience performance issues and freezing on your device.

6.   Hardware issues

Common hardware issues on Mac, such as a faulty RAM or failing disk drive, are most likely to cause freezing. Similarly, there could be connectivity issues causing your Mac to freeze, especially if you use an external keyboard or trackpad.

This will likely happen when you’re unable to move the pointer on your Mac or control it with the keyboard. On average, your Mac should last for more than 3 years before developing any hardware issue, depending on how you care and use it.

7.   Malware and viruses

MacBooks have robust built-in security features that make them secure against most external attacks. These include the XProtect—which checks for any malware threats every time you download a new application.

MacBooks also have Apple’s Gatekeeper software that blocks apps created by malware developers. Still, this doesn’t make them completely immune to malware. A malware infection often comes with an increased load on the CPU and memory.

This load is heavy enough to cause your Mac to freeze.

How to troubleshoot freezing on your Mac

It’s always a frustrating experience when your Mac keeps freezing at random. For most people, this may lead to a substantial loss of highly productive hours and even cost you much more.

Depending on the cause, it’s possible to deal with the issue of freezing on your computer. Here is an outline of the steps to salvage your Mac and prevent it from experiencing constant freezing.

1.   Force quit unresponsive applications

When an application hangs, it may be a temporary glitch. Give it a minute to recover, but if it doesn’t, try force quitting it. macOS allows you to force quit an app in case it fails to quit normally.

This is available via a keyboard shortcut and will even work when your Mac is frozen or unresponsive. It relieves the stress of dealing with apps that aren’t responding, ensuring you get your device back to normal functioning.

Here are the options to force quit an unresponsive app on your Mac:

  1. Press Command-Option-Esc, choose the problematic app in the Force Quit window and click Force Quit
  2. Right-click on the app icon, and if you see Quit, hold down the Option key and select Force Quit
  3. Click the Apple menu, choose Force Quit, select the app, and click Force Quit. If this doesn’t work, move on to other problematic apps.

2.   Restart your Mac

If force-quitting applications don’t resolve the issue, the next step is to restart your Mac. It’s one of the easiest steps and among the first measures you should take when you notice a problem with your computer.

Restarting or rebooting your Mac will depend on how frozen it is. In most cases, it’ll work when a few apps on your Mac have frozen, but it can still perform a few tasks.

However, restarting won’t be the best solution if your computer is completely unresponsive and you can’t even access the Apple menu.

Here is a simple process on how to restart your Mac:

  1. Click on the Apple icon
  2. Click Restart.

You can deselect the Reopen windows when logging back in option to prevent app windows that are open to reopen when your Mac restarts.

3.   Stop background processes

Your Mac is undoubtedly a powerful computer, equipped with some of the best processors. However, it has its limitations in terms of processing power. When you burden your device’s processor with excessive demands, it can lead to freezing.

This situation can arise from various sources, such as running numerous software applications or particularly resource-intensive apps. In other cases, poorly coded software or even malware can be the reason behind this issue.

Fortunately, there’s a solution to ending all background processes on your device. Head to the Activity Monitor utility to see what is running on your Mac. The Activity Monitor also lets you watch apps that consume the most power and resources.

Below are steps you can follow to end any process from within the Activity Monitor

  1. Double-click the background process you want to end
  2. Proceed and click the Quit button in the popup window
  3. Click Quit again if prompted to confirm this action.

4.   Update your software

A software bug can occasionally cause a Mac freeze, either within macOS or a specific app. Keeping your software updated is crucial if you want to maintain system stability. It also resolves key compatibility issues that can cause your Mac to freeze.

When you update your macOS, you get new features and security improvements that can resolve potential software-related issues. You can be sure your Mac won’t freeze in the future due to issues related to outdated software.

Check for macOS updates by:

  1. Clicking the Apple menu
  2. Selecting System Preferences
  3. Go to General
  4. Click Software Update.

Final thoughts

Your Mac freezing and becoming unresponsive is a frequent occurrence that you’ll most likely experience once in a while. But equipped with the right knowledge, you can promptly address these issues and guarantee the smooth operation of your Mac.

So, don’t worry if your MacBook needs to be more responsive, follow the above-outlined steps to resolve the issue. Remember that the key to preventing freezing on your Mac is to keep your system well-maintained and free from unused apps or extensions.

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