When your Mac unexpectedly tells you that you have to restart, that's a kernel panic.
There are few things more terrifying when using a Mac than the dreaded kernel panic. A kernel panic occurs when your Mac runs into a problem that is so serious it is unable to continue running. When it happens, your Mac displays a dark grey screen with the words “You need to restart your computer. Hold down the Power button for several seconds or press the Restart button.”
How to troubleshoot a kernel panic
The only way to fix a kernel panic is to do exactly that and restart your Mac. Fortunately, kernel panics are very rare these days and when they do occur, restarting your Mac may be all you need to do to never see one again.
If you suffer repeated kernel panics, however, you’ll need to investigate the cause and solve the problem — it could be a conflict between poorly written apps or services, or a problem with hardware. Software is the most likely culprit. But thanks to apps from Setapp, fixing problems with software and avoiding kernel panics is very easy.
Here’s how to vastly reduce your chances of needing to fix a kernel panic in the future.
- Shut down your Mac and disconnect all hardware except your keyboard and mouse. If you use a third-party keyboard and mouse, swap them for the Apple versions, where possible. Restart your Mac. If your Mac runs ok and there are no more kernel panics, it’s likely a device connected to your Mac was to blame.
- Shut down your Mac again and re-connect one device. Restart your Mac. Repeat this process until you get another kernel panic. When that happens, you’ll know the last device you connected was the culprit. You can now either use your Mac without the device, or check to see if it has updated drivers and install those, then try again with the device connected.
- First, rule out a deep-rooted problem with macOS. Restart your Mac in safe mode by holding down the shift key when you restart. This disables login items, kernel extensions, and all fonts not used by the system. It also does a check of your startup drive’s directory structure. If you can reboot in safe mode and use your Mac without a kernel panic occurring, the likely cause of the problem is files installed by an application or a login item.
- If you experience a kernel panic in safe mode and you’ve ruled out a problem with hardware connected to your Mac, the problem could be your Mac’s basic hardware or system. Try doing a clean install of macOS, and starting from there.
- Assuming running in safe mode worked, you can reboot normally and use the techniques below to reduce the likelihood of experiencing a kernel panic in the future.
Identify potential problems with iStat Menus
iStat Menus makes it easy to monitor the performance of your Mac and see whether any applications are hogging resources, like CPU cycles or RAM.
- Launch iStat Menus from Setapp, and set up monitoring.
- Use the Dashboard to choose which components you want to display in the menu bar. At the very least, choose CPU.
- Click on CPU in the menu bar to see which processes are consuming the most cycles — it’s an indication that an app or system component is having problems. If an app consistently uses a significant percentage of CPU cycles, uninstall it using CleanMyMac (see below) and reinstall it.
- It’s also a good idea to use the sensors tab to keep an eye on your Mac’s fans. An overheating Mac is likely to run into problems.
Uninstall applications with CleanMyMac
CleanMyMac allows you to easily uninstall problematic login items and applications.
To uninstall an application:
- Launch CleanMyMac (if you haven’t already installed it, launch Setapp, search for it and click Install).
- Click on Uninstaller in the Utilities section in the left-hand window. Navigate to the application you want to uninstall and click the checkbox next to it.
- Click Uninstall
To uninstall a login item:
- Click on Extensions in the Utilities section, then Login Items.
- Navigate to the login item you want to uninstall and click the checkbox next to it.
- Click Remove.
You can do the same for System Preferences panes, browser extensions, audio plugins, and other system files. Before you attempt to remove something, however, make sure you know what it does and how its removal will affect your ability to use the application it is associated with.
Cleanup your hard drive / SSD with Disk Drill and Gemini
While you’re troubleshooting and solving problems with your Mac, it’s a good idea to cleanup its hard drive or SSD and remove duplicate files. There are a couple of apps available in Setapp that make this a breeze.
Disk Drill allows you to quickly identify files that are taking up lots of space on your drive and remove them. It’s quick and easy to do and can free up several gigabytes.
Gemini identifies duplicate files on your Mac and allows you to remove copies very easily. It’s a simple way to free up space on your Mac.
Cleaning up your hard drive or SSD is important because to have room for virtual memory, you need to keep at least 10% of your disk’s capacity free.
Find out how to use Disk Drill and Gemini to free up storage space on your Mac and reduce the chances of it having a kernel panic.
As you can see, kernel panics aren’t nearly as worrisome as they first appear. Following the process above, you can quickly fix the problem. Or, better still, you can take steps now to avoid one altogether.