Although Macs are reliable computers, these machines are still only computers and susceptible to a variety of errors that stop them from booting up. There are a few steps to follow when this happens, however. First off, a Mac that doesn't start up needs a different approach than a Mac that won't turn on. It may sound like we are talking about the same thing, but there is a huge difference. A Mac that won’t turn on means the power button has no effect and, once it is pressed, does not activate the start up process. If this is the problem then there is likely an issue with the machine receiving power. The focus of this article is on any startup issues, so we’re assuming that your Mac does turn on.
Flashing Folder With a Question Mark
The usual scenario is that when you press the power button, you'll hear a startup chime (if your Mac is from early 2016 or earlier), it initializes its BootROM and memory, then performs a power-on self-test (POST) and a BootROM test. If an Apple logo appears on a gray or black screen, it means that the system has found the startup file “boot.efi” on the startup disk. After that, a progress bar appears, followed by the login window.
If you see a flashing folder with a question mark instead of the Apple logo, that means your Mac couldn't find either a local or network-based startup disk. In this situation you should wait a few seconds to see if macOS succeeds, and if it doesn't continue startup then do the following:
- Turn off your Mac by pressing the power button for a few seconds.
- Press the power button again to turn it on, and immediately press and hold the Command + R keys to start your Mac in macOS Recovery. Hold these keys until you see an Apple logo or globe. Wait until the macOS utilities windows appears and, if prompted, select a Wi-Fi network to connect to the internet.
- When the macOS Utilities window appears, click on the Apple menu, and select Startup Disk.
- Select your startup disk, and click Restart.
If you don't see the startup disk in the Startup Disk window, you may have issues with your hard drive, so it's time for Disk Utilities to step in and fix the issue:
- From the macOS Utilities, select Disk Utilities.
- In the Disk Utility window, select your startup disk from the left side (usually carries the name of Macintosh HD), and click on the First Aid tab.
- Click on “Repair Disk” to verify and repair issues with the hard drive.
- Wait for the repair to finish, then quit Disk Utility.
- Now click on the Apple menu, select the startup disk, and click Restart.
If you don't see the built-in startup disk in Disk Utility or the app indicated, there is a bigger hardware issue and your Mac might need a repair, so book an appointment with an Apple Genius or Apple Authorized Service Provider to get help.
Boot Using Safe Mode
If your Mac freezes on the startup screen randomly and can't get past the gray screen, a safe boot may help. During safe boot your Mac performs certain checks, such as verifying the startup disk and attempting to repair directory issues if needed, loading only the essential kernel extensions and preventing Startup Items and Login Items from launching. Also, safe boot clears caches for the fonts, kernels and other important system files, as well as disabling user-installed fonts. To start up in safe mode you need to restart your Mac and immediately press and hold the Shift key, and release it only when the login window appears.
Check for any further or repeat problems in safe mode. If not, reboot your Mac without pressing any keys. If the problem reappears, you might have issues with incompatible login items. Use a Mac optimization app such as CleanMyMac, MacKeeper or the like to disable these features.
If the issue doesn't come back, it was likely caused by a cache or directory issue with your startup disk that macOS was able to fix in safe mode. Use the Mac optimization app to clean your Mac of junk files and caches from time to time in order to avoid any issues caused by corrupted cache files.
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