What’s more frustrating than a frozen Mac? One that stops working altogether.
When a MacBook Pro freezes, you can hit Command + Shift + Option + Escape to kill a frozen app or do a hard restart by holding the power button, but if those freezes keep happening, there’s a bigger underlying issue.
Some problems warrant a trip to an Apple Genius Bar, but there are actually quite a few simple things you can try yourself to fix a frozen MacBook.
From changes in computer habits to updating your macOS, here are five solutions to consider when your MacBook Pro keeps freezing.
1. Close Applications
Often, MacBook freezes aren’t caused by certain applications, but from running too many programs at once. A computer’s RAM (Random Access Memory) is the working memory, and when that fills up, it needs to reach into the hard drive space to operate. Besides making your MacBook Pro slow, filling up the RAM by multitasking can cause MacBook Pro freezes.
Once you’ve re-started your Mac from that freeze, open Activity Monitor (do a quick Spotlight Search to find it). Click on the Memory tab and take a look at the Memory Pressure graph on the bottom.
Green means you have enough RAM left to open additional programs, but once the graph starts turning yellow, you should close unnecessary programs or take a look at what applications are hogging your memory by looking at the programs listed above that graph. When you see red on that graph, your MacBook is using hard drive space, not RAM, to run, and a random or permanent freeze is likely coming if you don’t close out some applications.
Updating your physical RAM, especially with an older MacBook Pro (prior to 2013 models), would help, but that can get expensive and isn’t always necessary. Try identifying programs that are using the most memory and swapping them for an alternative like replacing Firefox with Safari. Avoid using multiple programs at once when possible, and limit the number of tabs you open when browsing the Internet.
2. Free up Disk Space
Click on the Apple icon in the upper left corner right now, then click About This Mac and go to the Storage tab. How much space do you have? To keep your MacBook Pro running at its peak, you should keep your disk drive no more than 85 percent full (source: Apple Support Communities).
If your disk is full, it’s time to delete unnecessary files and apps you don’t use anymore, or use an external drive to store files that you don’t access very often. Take a look at where your disk space is going with the color-coded graph to know where to start freeing up space. In my case, photos are usually the culprit, so I now store them on an external hard drive.
You can also use a third-party app like CleanMyMac to find and delete unnecessary files. It’s a fantastic app made by MacPaw that can help you reclaim tons of free disk space quickly.
3. Check Third-Party Software and Add-Ons
When does your MacBook Pro keep freezing? If your Mac is only freezing when you are using a certain program or only when you are surfing the Internet via a web browser, the issue might not be your MacBook at all.
Start by checking for updates for the program that’s causing all the issues and re-installing them. If that doesn’t fix the issue, try contacting the support team for that particular program.
You can also consider using a different program instead. Software developed by Apple tends to run much better on a Mac machine than a third-party program. For example, I managed to speed up my MacBook Pro and stopped an occasional freezing issue by swapping out Firefox for Safari. If you can identify a program that’s always open during the freezes, consider an alternative, like Apple Pages instead of Microsoft Office Word.
4. Update macOS
Running new programs (and even new websites) on an old operating system may cause computer freezes too — and so can bugs within the system itself. Apple now allows Mac users to download macOS updates for free — accessing the latest Mojave version could fix your freezing issue, provided your MacBook model is newer than 2012. Here are a few things to check before updating your MacBook Pro to the latest macOS Catalina (version 10.15)
One word of caution on OS updates first though — sometimes, the updates have a few bugs of their own. Make sure you back up your Mac using Time Machine so that in the unlikely event the update makes the issue worse, you can revert back to the old version while Apple fixes any bugs in the new system.
5. Run Apple Diagnostics or Hardware Test
You don’t have to be a computer expert to diagnose just what’s wrong with your MacBook. If closing programs, freeing up drive space and updating software doesn’t help, try looking for hardware issues with Apple’s built-in testing. For newer MacBooks, the program is called Apple Diagnostics, but pre-2013 models will use Apple Hardware Test.
Follow the instructions from Apple based on the year of your computer (you can check the year by clicking the Apple icon then About This Mac). Since the process involves shutting down your computer, you may want to print out the instructions or access them for another device.
Once the process is complete, you’ll have an error code that you can use to determine where the issue is and exactly how to fix it. Write that code down before restarting your computer, you’ll use that code with Apple Support to determine the best solution.
MacBook Pro freezes are frustrating, and while sometimes paying for an extra RAM or SSD upgrade, or replacing an old MacBook altogether is the best plan of action, there are often a few things you can do to fix the issue without spending anything.
Check to see if you are simply multitasking beyond your computer’s abilities or if your hard drive is full. Pay attention to when the freezes happen — an application may be to blame, and not the Mac. You can also run diagnostics to identify hardware issues or update your software for the latest bug fixes from Apple.
Hillary is a freelance technology writer and wedding photographer based in Michigan. She worked as a photojournalist for several years and then started her own business. While her favorite tech brands are Apple and Nikon, she enjoys exploring all but the most frustrating new devices.