My Mac is frozen (Spinning pinwheel of death)

10 years ago in Ask iBAM, How do I?, Troubleshooting by Brent | 22 Comments

Today, I received an email from “Laura” and it got me thinking. I have heard a lot of people talk about the “Spinning pinwheel of death” as Mac’s version of Windows’ “Blue screen of death”. Here’s her question:

Yesterday while using my mac, I got a busy wheel. my computer wont let me do anything else. fortunately, it ran out of battery so it just shut off. however today when i plugged it in to recharge and turn on, the busy wheel is still there, it wont let me do anything on the computer at all. any feedback would be greatly appreciated!

Have you been in this situation and how did you fix it? Help Laura out and I know I would love to know, just in case…

  • Dustin

    Just hold down the power button til it shuts off, then turn it on again.

  • Fred Bauman

    Usually this is only an application specific problem. One program is misbehaving and my just need to be force quit. The dock or other apps should still work.

    If the ENTIRE computer will not boot correctly, you should try booting with shift held down. That should still boot the system with minimal services. (Please update that procedure if I’m out of date.)

    Worst case scenario:
    You may need to boot from your install disks and reinstall the base system. Done properly this will not cause any issues other than needing a few software updates.
    It does sound like an issue with a startup application. Though, I’m guessing here because there really isn’t enough info to go on.

  • Brendan West

    While it’s usually just one app that’s frozen, the pinwheel can often not let you click off that app.

    Pressing option+command+escape bings up OS X’s force-quite dialogue. Try force quitting whatever’s frozen. Sometimes, though, even this doesn’t work.

    In that situation, I’d recommend what Dustin said, and hold down the power button to force a restart.

  • pRaVeEn

    I faced the same issue many times on my macbook pro. may be because i try all the softwares releases for mac. some application may be creating any problem.
    But always i tried to force power off the mac. as Dustin said, holding the power button for few seconds. After the restart,it should be normal. All the best!

  • Jack

    As previously stated, just hold down the power button preferably while the computer is powered until it turns off. Your computer was not “fully” shut down even though a low battery triggered a shut down. Rebooting OSX will normally fix most problems. Get OnyX and learn to run the maintenance scripts occasionally as well to fix any other potential problems.

  • Deb

    I have tried all the above. We even had a reinstall of all the operating discs. It worked fine for about 24 hours then after taking longer than normal to boot up, the spinning pinwheel no matter what I click on. Have powered off and then back on, but the same thing. None of the apps will come on.

  • Brent


    Well… I don’t know what to tell you. I’m thinking that sounds like something in the hardware failure department. Sounds like a call to Apple is the only thing left.

    Sorry to hear…

  • Nick

    when my laptop freezes I unplug it and take out the battery. its a manual hard shut down and its not good for the computer but at least it will restart.

  • alexasmith

    But where is the option button?

  • Computer keeps restarting

    Thank you for your good article for it to learn and understand more about my work in it. And describes the process of work in detail. I will be given to how to solve my problem.

  • Charlamagnedavis

    What I did was, I powered down my Mac, then I powered it up as I was holding down t; which puts it into target mode, after that I waited about a minute, the I powered it down again, and then powered it up, after that it started working.

  • Sean Pitts

    My MacBook Pro 5,3 has had a similar issue since I purchased ~2 years ago. It may have started when I encrypted the hard drive in firewall to meet DoD Data At Rest (DAR) requirements.
    Always on first start up I get the pinwheel of death. Power button for 10 secs then it starts up normal.
    I’ve turned of different apps. and reset PRAM to no avail. Gleefully accepted system software updates in hopes it would fix.
    Going to try to reset PMU…again.
    Any suggestions?

  • Irwin Judson

    My iMac is two hour old. I am getting the spinning pinwheel constantly.
    And to think I put out money I don’t have for a new computer I didn’t really need because the sales people told me Apple was so stable that problems don’t really happen!

  • Renzo

     can someone help me i have a macbook and I was shopping for fridges and all of a sudden me screen went into this virus scan and I’m scared to do anything because everytime I ask to quit it asks me if I say ok it will crash so I  just keep hitting cancel . My screen look like a windows screen and it says Trojan-PSW.Win32.LdPinch.abm, Trojan.Qoologic-Key Logger, SHeur.ZSQ and adware.WIN32.look2me.ab and WIN32/HoaxrRENOS.HX…. Please Help not sure what to do????????? 5 viruses found…I’m like from where?? I don’t do much with my computer other than music and emails.

  • Brent Spore

     Virus Scan? What virus software are you running? I see a W32 in that message. That looks like a windows virus to me.

    Does it ask you to clear the virus?

  • Gatorluv2dance

    ok so I have had my macbook pro for all of about 24 hours and I closed everything log out and closed the lap top.  I go to open it again and turn on the computer and all I get is a black screen and the spinning wheel I have tryed all the above and nothing just a black screen with the spinning wheel.  Help please???

  • Tawnypuppi

    I love you! My screen was frozen too, and it works! THANK

  • Madat4

    my mac is on a black screen with the “spinning wheel of death” i am really freaked out because its not letting me do any of the things you guys suggested  help would be greatly appreciated!! ASAP pleas!

  • robcrose

    I bought a Mac because I heard I could avoid problems like needing to re-boot because of a computer freezing. This is pretty frustrating to run into the same problem, and honestly, it’s worse, I’m having to re-boot 2 or 3 times a day because of this issue. I also still own a PC, I can’t remember the last time I had to re-boot it.

  • Brent Spore

    It’s not as much what computer you own, but what you put on it (software).

  • Pingback: Fix Mac Blue Screen Pinwheel Errors - Windows XP, Vista & Windows 7, 8()


    i tried this and now i get nothing on my screen at all, no spinning wheel nothing. seems worst than before.
    any suggestions would be appreciated
    ok i have now managed to get it back up but still now have the spinning wheel. unfortunately pressing option+command+escape does nothing.
    it spins away without showing anything to help escape the program that is spinning. any suggestions?

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