How to Recover From the White Screen of Death When Booting a Mac

5 min read

Sometimes when booting up a Mac, the screen will turn all white – the dreaded Mac white screen of death! It seems as though your Mac is broken, but there can be some simple ways to remedy the situation without visiting an Apple Store or buying a new computer.

In this article, we'll tell you why Mac white screen on startup may not be a big deal, what the MacBook white screen of death means, and how to solve it when your Mac boots to white screen.

What is the White Screen of Death

When you see the Mac or MacBook Pro white screen of death, it's indicative something is really wrong. Your Mac is totally unusable, and you're left waiting looking at a Mac or MacBook Pro white screen with no logo or anything telling you it's working properly.

Often, this occurs after an operating system update, which you may not have even been aware occurred if you have automatic updates on. The MacBook Pro white screen can also pop up when there are incompatible drivers on your Mac, or if an application has issues while upgrading. All told, the white screen of death means your Mac can’t figure out what to do next because a process is still working, and your computer wants it to finish.

How to Fix White Screen of Death on Your Mac

So you’re asking yourself “how do I fix the white screen of death on my Mac?” We’ve got five methods that should solve the issue for you:

Check your Mac’s hardware systematically

The cause of your Mac’s white screen issues may not be your Mac at all! It’s often a peripheral device or drive attached that’s somehow causing complications for your Mac. This can occur when your Mac updates; if an external drive is installed, it can confuse the Mac when it’s trying to spin up after an update.

Other items, like printers, have drivers that may be causing issues. The first thing you should do if you see a white screen on your Mac is unplug everything from it except the power source, then power your Mac down. Wait a few moments, then reboot your Mac.

If it boots normally, you know it was a peripheral device or drive causing issues. Plug them back in one by one to see if you can identify which was causing issues. 

The white screen issue can also be caused by peripherals, apps, or your system updating while your MacBook runs out of power. This is why an app like Endurance is so critical; it keeps tabs on your battery, and lets you go into low power mode whenever you like.

Endurance also allows you more control over low power mode for Mac, giving you options for throttling your CPU down, lowering the lights on your screen, and killing background apps that are taking up too much energy. 

Endurance battery monitor Mac

Boot your Mac into a safe mode and clean it up

Safe Mode can be a lifesaver. Before we go any further, here’s how to boot into Safe Mode on you Mac:

  1. Power your Mac down completely
  2. Press the power button to turn your Mac back on
  3. Immediately press and hold the Shift key
  4. When you see the Apple logo on screen, release the Shift key

The goal of Safe Mode is to get your Mac to actually power on. Safe Mode essentially blocks any outside forces,like printers or drivers, from interrupting your startup process. Safe Mode also sidesteps your system cache, which can fill up with unnecessary files over time and feed you the white screen of death.

Once your Mac is booted up, let CleanMyMac X take over. It can tidy up your Mac better than any other app on the market, and is incredibly simple to use.

CleanMyMac X has a Smart Scan feature that quickly cleans up your Mac. It also has other modules for malware identification and removal, privacy settings, speed optimization, routine maintenance, and it can handle updating or deleting apps.

The Maintenance module scrubs your Mac thoroughly, getting rid of weird, unwanted files and folders and resetting your Mac’s settings. So often, a setting is altered or destroyed, and it causes issues. CleanMyMac X fixes it for good. 

CleanMyMac X Mac

Reset PRAM/NVRAM

Settings can be to blame for your Mac’s white screen of death – and those settings live in the PRAM/NVRAM partition of your Mac’s memory. PRAM/NVRAM is a small section of memory set aside for settings your Mac needs to access quickly, often storing settings for startup services and apps. If one of those apps was corrupted or interrupted during an update, it’s reasonable to think its settings stored in PRAM/NVRAM could have been altered as well.

Here’s how to reset the PRAM/NVRAM on your Mac:

  1. Power down your Mac completely
  2. Press the power button to turn your Mac on
  3. Immediately press and hold these keys: Command + Option + P + R
  4. When you hear your Mac’s startup sound or see the Apple logo, release the keys

Here’s another great tip to solve the white screen of death: your Mac may actually tell you  it’s going to happen. When your Mac has trouble with settings, apps, or files, it can cause the CPU to work harder, and the fans may kick on. And you may not think anything of it – but you should. This is where iStat Menus comes in handy.

iStat Menus lives in your Mac’s menu bar and watches the system like a hawk. It monitors CPU usage, network reliability, memory use, which apps are using the most resources, how your Mac’s CPU load balance is handled, and battery life. It even tells you what the weather is like outside!

At a glance, you’ll get all the data you need, but you can also hover over sections of the dropdown to get even more information – and there are even sub-menus in those menus! All told, iStat Menus is as close as you can get to having your Mac tell you in real time what is going on with it, and when it may be at risk of failing you. 

iStat Menus Mac memory

Use Disk Utility to verify or repair disks

Rebooting your Mac into Disk Utility can help you repair disks, but don’t default to this option if you’re getting the white screen of death. It can take quite a while!

Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Power your Mac down completely
  2. Press the power button to turn your Mac on
  3. Immediately hold down the Command + R keys
  4. Release the keys when you see the Apple logo
  5. When prompted, select “Disk Utility”
  6. Select “Continue”
  7. Choose the disk you'd like to repair
  8. Select the ‘First Aid’ button

Disk Utility can’t always repair a disk, but it can tell you if a disk is prime to fail. If it does, you’ll unfortunately need to replace that disk’s hardware, which may be expensive.

The white screen of death can also mean a loss of files, but don’t worry! Disk Drill has you covered.

Disk Drill for Mac is an excellent tool for recovering deleted files due to data corruption, or disk utility errors. It supports all popular document formats, too, so you never have to question if a file type will be lost forever. Disk Drill can scan an entire drive, or a particular folder, allowing you to dig as deep as you like to recover files.

Reinstall macOS or upgrade to the new one

Finally, reinstalling macOS will almost always fix your white screen of death issue (unless the disk is corrupted). This won’t affect your files, apps, or other settings – it just reinstalls macOS. And if you want in on the latest build, here’s how to download and install macOS 11 Big Sur to your Mac.

Here’s how to reinstall the most current version of macOS for your Mac:

  1. Power down your Mac completely
  2. Press the power button to turn your Mac on
  3. Immediately hold down these keys: Command + Option + R
  4. When you see the Apple logo, release the keys
  5. When you see the Utilities window, select “Reinstall macOS”
  6. Select “Continue”
  7. Follow the on-screen instructions to complete the process 

Big Sur design

Conclusion

The white screen of death isn’t always as scary as it seems, but being proactive about the health of your Mac is always a great idea.

The apps mentioned here today – Endurance, iStat Menus, Disk Drill, and CleanMyMac X – are all available for free as part of a seven day trial of Setapp, an incredible suite of productivity apps for you Mac. Along with these four amazing apps, you’ll get unlimited access to the full Setapp suite of nearly 200 native macOS apps!

When the trial ends, retaining access to Setapp is only $9.99 per month, so why wait any longer? Give Setapp a try today!

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