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Tips to fix spinning wheel on Mac

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6 min read

Few things give Mac users that sinking feeling more than the sight of a spinning color wheel that leaves a cursor frozen. Luckily, this rainbow circle is not a sign of any crash, and there are many relatively easy ways to fix the problem. 

What is a spinning color wheel? 

Known as a rainbow wheel, spinning beach ball of death, or SBBOD, its official name is the Spinning Wait Cursor, and it’s a system indicator signifying that macOS cannot handle all the tasks given to it at this moment. Usually, it’s due to a specific app not responding that a spinning wheel is triggered. 

Why does my Mac have a spinning color wheel? 

The spinning wheel of death appears as a sign that an application is trying to deal with more processes than it can handle at the moment. Naturally, it will freeze and stop responding — which results in the spinning wheel.  

Sometimes it will last only a few seconds and disappear when processing cycles are freed up and the application is ready to process further tasks. Other times, the application will become persistently unresponsive and 'hang'. When that happens, the only solution is to force quit the app.  

How to stop the spinning ball on Mac

Getting rid of a spinning beachball is only part of the solution — if it happens repeatedly, you should find out which process causes the rainbow cursor Mac problem. Fortunately, there are a number of tools that will help you here. 

Quit All is the first aid. It can fix the color wheel Mac problem instantly by quitting all active processes in a click. This includes background processes, which might be tricky to quit with other tools.  

quit all mac

If you tend to experience the same rainbow loading wheel Mac issue over and over again, you should dive deeper into the problem and try to identify which applications are putting the greatest strain on your Mac. 

iStat Menus, available in Setapp, is a powerful performance monitoring tool for your Mac, which will help you find performance hogs. It sits in your Mac's menu bar and allows you to easily check which apps are hogging processor cycles or RAM. If you need more detailed information or need to quit specific processes (rather than applications), you can launch Activity Monitor from within iStat Menus. 

istat menus mac

iStat Menus and Activity Monitor will help you get to the apps and processes that are overloading your Mac. The next step is to uninstall them completely and reinstall them, making sure you remove all the temporary and preference files associated with them. More on app uninstalling in a sec. 

More ways to stop spinning wheel 

The thing with the spinning wheel is that it might return unless you fix the underlying problem. Here are more fundamental fixes that could help you boost Mac’s performance in general, as well as learn how to get rid of rainbow wheel for good. 

Uninstall apps and extensions

The easiest way to completely uninstall apps is to use CleanMyMac X, also available in Setapp. Here's what you should do: 

  1. Open CleanMyMac X through Setapp
  2. Look in the sidebar for the Applications section and click Uninstaller
  3. The window on the right will fill up with all the apps you have installed on your Mac — select the one you want to uninstall 
  4. Click Uninstall at the bottom of the main window.

cmm

 

It's a good idea to remove any apps you don't use. You'll free up disk space and could prevent conflicts with other apps. Same way, delete redundant extensions. 

Reindex Spotlight

Spotlight is an incredibly useful tool for searching for files on your Mac, among many other things. In order to search your Mac, Spotlight needs to build and maintain an index. 

Occasionally that index can become corrupt and when that happens, the dreaded spinning color wheel is likely to appear. Here's how to fix it. 

  1. In CleanMyMac X, choose the Maintenance in the left sidebar
  2. Select Reindex Spotlight
  3. Click Run. 

Re-index Spotlight CleanMyMac

Install more RAM

The spinning wheel of death can appear when your Mac is using virtual memory and the storage space is limited. The more physical RAM you have, the less your Mac will need to resort to virtual memory. So installing more RAM can fix the spinning color wheel problem.  

Unfortunately, it's not as easy as it used to be to add more RAM to your Mac. You'll probably need to visit an Apple Store or an authorized service center and ask them to install it for you. To avoid that, it's worth installing as much RAM as your Mac can take, or as much as you can afford when you first buy it. Money spent on RAM is never wasted and usually means your Mac will perform better for longer before you eventually need to replace it.

CleanMyMac X can help you fix the problem with low RAM without installing additional virtual memory. CleanMyMac X has a one-click option to free up RAM — you’ll find it under Maintenance. 

free up ram mac

 

App Tamer is another solution — it prevents RAM hogs in the first place by slowing down or completely taming the resource-hungry apps. It works completely on its own, in the background, so your only task is to install App Tamer on your Mac.  

app tamer mac

Free up disk space

macOS uses your startup disk to host virtual RAM and then regularly reads and writes files to it. If you don't have enough free space (at least 10% of the disk's total capacity), your Mac will struggle noticeably and you'll see the spinning beachball more often. 

To free up disk space, you can either manually trawl through your startup disk, backing up important files and then deleting them, or use Get Backup Pro or ChronoSync Express to back up the disk and then use CleanMyMac X to free up disk space. It's also a good idea to use Disk Drill to analyze the disk and identify which files are taking up the most space. 

CleanMyMac X makes it super easy to free up disk space: 

  1. In the CleanMyMac X menu, choose Smart Scan and then click Scan
  2. Wait for it to finish, then click Review Details or remove the redundant junk right away. 

The results can be enlightening. For example, we found that cache files for the Photos app could be taking up as much as 8GB of space on Mac.  

For more information on how to free up space on your Mac, check out these quick tips

Note that most of the tools mentioned above — CleanMyMac X, Quit All, App Tamer, and more — are available with the Setapp subscription, which means you can try all of them for 7 days free. Hopefully, this guide, along with the Setapp toolkit, helps you fix the rainbow cursor Mac problem and boost your Mac’s performance. 

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