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Mac troubleshooting FAQ: start-up woes

Christopher Breen, | May 6, 2011
In his Mac 911 blog, Chris Breen answers reader questions about their Macs and their apps. Some questions keep popping up, over and over. Here are our answers to the most common ones about powering up your Mac.

Without a doubt, the issues that cause the greatest consternation to Mac users are those that keep the computer from starting up or, if the computer deigns to boot, that prevent the Mac from operating as it should once it eventually makes its way to the Finder. Here are common startup issues and their solutions.


Why won’t my Mac start up when I press the Power button?

If your Mac does nothing when you mash the Power button—no whirring, blinking lights, or startup sound—you should immediately investigate whether it’s receiving the life-giving power it craves. Ensure that the power cord is plugged in—both into the Mac as well as a live power receptacle. If you have a wall switch or power strip that controls a power receptacle, check that it’s switched on. If all the power connections appear correct, try swapping in a different power cord or power adapter.

If all seems right in the power world, press your ear to your Mac and listen for sounds of life. It’s possible that it is powered on but no image is being displayed on its monitor. If you have an external monitor, make sure it’s plugged into your Mac, powered on, and set to the correct input. Regardless of the monitor you’re using, adjust its brightness in case it’s completely dimmed. If you’ve done all this and the Mac remains completely unresponsive, it’s time to take it to the shop.


My Mac starts up but then stops: I see nothing but a gray screen/blinking folder icon/Apple logo with spinning gear.

Plenty of things could be causing the problem, and they range from the benign to the deadly. Starting with the most benign, the culprit could be a peripheral or its driver. To find out if that’s the case, shut down the Mac (hold down the power button until the Mac shuts off), unplug as many peripherals from your Mac as you can (even the keyboard and mouse), and then reboot. If the Mac starts up normally, shut it down again and then plug in one of the peripherals (keyboard or mouse first), and start up your computer again.

If it does so successfully, repeat the process, adding one peripheral at a time until your Mac acts up. At that point, disconnect the last peripheral you added, reboot your Mac, and search the peripheral vendor’s Website for an updated driver. If no driver exists, or if the problem remains after installing the new driver, try a different cable or a different port on your Mac.


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