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What is a Kernel Panic Error & How to Fix It

mac kernal panic

Kernel panic sounds scary. In reality, it isn’t as scary as it sounds. Kernel panic is an occurrence when your Mac restarts for no evident reason. You will know you’re dealing with a kernel panic error when you see “You need to restart your computer” message on a black screen. Apple users who have previously used Windows and experienced the dreaded “blue screen of death” will immediately notice the resemblance. Luckily, there is a number of ways you can fix the issue on your own.

What is Kernel Panic on Mac

Kernel panic is Mac OS X reaction to a critical error it can’t deal with. Automatic shut down, as a result, is an attempt to self-contain the problem and handle it. You should not worry if it happens on rare occasions, however, if your Mac tends to crash time and time again — it’s not a good sign. There is an extensive list of reasons that can be causing the problem, most prominent being:

  • Incompatible peripherals
  • Damaged hardware
  • Lack of RAM
  • Insufficient disk space
  • Outdated drivers and/or plugins
  • Conflicting applications
  • Broken disk permissions

How to Fix the “Blue Screen” on Mac

The best way to to approach fixing the issue would be to isolate software issues from the hardware-based ones. Let’s start with the software.

Check for updates

Launch App Store that can be found Finder > Applications, using Spotlight, Launchpad, or Apple menu. Go to the Updates tab to check if you have installed all the latest updates.

check for updates

With core tools being out of date for too long, you may have just found the root of kernel panic issue you’re dealing with. Install available updates and see if this fixes the problem. Make sure your file networking, graphics, and file systems drives are up-to-date as well.

Please note, apps downloaded from developer website will need to be manually checked.

Disable Login Items

Chances are that startup items are the reason for random Mac reboots. If you have tons of apps trying to launch upon startup, it may be too much for your CPU to handle. Follow these steps to manage your login items:

  • Open System Preferences and go to Users & Groups
  • Select your user and switch to the Login Items tab
  • Choose an item and hit “-“ to disable it
  • Disable all items and Restart your Mac

disable startup items on mac

Assuming that login items were causing the error, your Mac should now be able to startup as intended. If disabling all startup items fixed the issue, then you can now try to determine which app was causing the issue. To do so, re-enable startup apps one by one to check which one was resulting in the crash.

Check Available Disk Space

At least 20% of startup drive capacity— that’s how much storage Apple advises to keep free. This assures your Mac has enough “breathing room” for all of its regular background tasks. Macs performance depletes quickly and can cause kernel panic when the system can’t find sufficient memory. Check your storage:

  • Go to Apple menu > About This Mac
  • Select Storage tab

check mac disk space

In case you are running low on available space, make sure to clean it up without delay. Start by checking up on your Downloads folder, removing unused apps, and big caches. Grab MacFly Pro to free up even more disk space in no time.

Run Disk Utility

Corrupted files or certain external devices may be the cause of kernel panic too. Luckily, Apple has got it covered with the built-in Disk Utility tool. Its First Aid tool will help identify disk errors and, potentially, fix them.

  • Go to Apple menu > Restart
  • Hold Command-R while your Mac is restarting
  • Select Disk Utility and run First Aid
  • Follow the onscreen commands

If things go smooth, then upon completion you will be relieved to see the “Operation successful” message. On the contrary, “The underlying task reported failure” message is a sign of trouble. This means that disk repair was unsuccessful and, at this point, you should be looking at a full backup and a new drive.

What to Do If MacBook Keeps Restarting?

None of the above have delivered the expected result? — it’s time to check up on your peripheral devices and run hardware diagnostics.

Disconnect Peripherals

Much like the case with login items, you should try to figure out if any of the connected peripherals is conflicting with your system. For starters, turn off and disconnect all of the devices connected to your Mac: adaptors, monitors, printers, external GPUs, etc. Next, restart your computer and plug in one device at a time, restart your system again with the new device in place. If no crashes have taken place, then continue connecting peripherals one by one and restarting your machine.

This is a method of trial-and-error but, eventually, it will help reveal the device that’s been causing the issue. Once found, try reinstalling the software it came with and updating its drivers to solve the error.

Check Hardware with Apple Diagnostics

Apple Diagnostics is a built-in tool made specifically to test your hardware condition.

  • Disconnect all peripheral devices
  • Restart your Mac
  • Hold down “D” on your keyboard while your Mac is restarting

diagnostics for mac

Let Apple Diagnostics do its thing and run the tests. It will generate a detailed report, in case any issues have been found on your Mac.

When All Else Fails

When going through the list of possible causes has not resulted in anything, embrace the last resort — install macOS from scratch. While that may sound intimidating, in reality, there is nothing difficult about it. In fact, Apple has made this fairly easy and even offers a detailed guide.

When the problem is solved, make sure to take the time to maintain your Mac clean. Keeping Mac clean with sufficient free space will ensure a more stable performance of your system.

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