What to do if your Mac gets stuck on gray screen at startup

Mac startup problems can take many forms, but gray screen stuck can be one of the most troublesome because there are so many possible causes. Also, there are many problems with the Mac that are confused with the gray screen startup problem.

What is gray screen startup problem?

It’s not always a gray screen, as strange as that sounds. The “gray screen” problem can also manifest as a black screen; in fact, a screen so dark that you can mistake the screen for a black screen. This is especially true of Macs with built-in Retina displays, such as Retina iMac models that don’t have a power indicator.

We call the startup issue the gray screen issue because historically, the screen would go gray during the startup phase when the issue appears. Today, with newer Retina Mac models, you’re more likely to see just a black or very dark screen. Still, we will continue to call this the gray screen problem, as it is the most well-known name.

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The gray screen problem can occur immediately after starting or restarting your Mac. The problem is characterized by the display changing from the blue screen that occurs on power up to a gray screen. You may not see the blue screen as it tends to go by very quickly. It is also possible that your specific model of Mac is not displaying the blue screen. Apple has been streamlining the startup process, the days of multiple screen types during startup are fading away.

You may only see the gray screen itself. It can also include the Apple logo, a spinning kit, a globe, or a prohibition sign (a circle with a bar drawn through it). In all cases, your Mac appears to be stuck at this point. There are no unusual noises, such as disk access, optical drive spinning up or down, or excessive fan noise; just a Mac that seems stuck and won’t continue to the login screen or desktop.

There is another common startup problem that is often confused with the gray screen problem: a gray screen with a folder icon and a flashing question mark. That’s a separate issue, which can usually be easily fixed by following this guide: How to Respond to a Blinking Question Mark on a Mac.

Troubleshooting gray screen on your Mac

One of the most common issues that can cause the gray screen issue is a faulty peripheral or peripheral cable. When a faulty peripheral is connected to your Mac, it can prevent your Mac from continuing the startup sequence and cause it to stop while it waits for the peripheral to respond to a command. The most common form of this is when a faulty peripheral or its cable causes one of the signal pins on one of the Mac’s ports to get stuck in a condition (pull it high, pull it low, or short it to low). ground or positive voltage). Any of these conditions can cause your Mac to freeze during the startup process.

Disconnect all external peripherals

  1. Start by shutting down your Mac. You will need to press and hold the power button on your Mac for it to shut down.
  2. Disconnect all peripherals from your Mac except the keyboard, mouse, and display. Be sure to unplug any Ethernet cables, audio input or output cables, headphones, etc.
  3. If your keyboard or mouse is connected through a USB hub, be sure to avoid this by connecting the keyboard and mouse directly to your Mac for these tests.
  4. Boot your Mac with a backup.

If your Mac starts up fine, you know it’s a problem with a peripheral. You’ll need to shut down your Mac, reconnect a peripheral, and restart your Mac. Continue this process of reconnecting one peripheral at a time, and then restart your Mac until you find the faulty peripheral. Remember that the problem can also be a faulty cable, so if you reconnect a peripheral and it causes the gray screen problem, test the peripheral with a new cable before replacing the peripheral.

If you still have the gray screen issue after reconnecting all your peripherals, the issue could be with your mouse or keyboard. If you have a spare mouse and keyboard, swap them out for your current mouse and keyboard, then restart your Mac. If you don’t have a spare mouse and keyboard, unplug your current mouse and keyboard and restart your Mac pressing and holding the power key.

If your Mac gets to the login screen or the desktop, you’ll need to determine if the problem is with the mouse or the keyboard. Try plugging it in one at a time and rebooting your Mac.

non-defective peripherals

If there are no faulty peripherals or cables, there are still some possible issues with your Mac that can cause the gray screen to appear.

  1. Disconnect all peripherals except the mouse and keyboard.
  2. Start your Mac using the secure boot process.

During Safe Boot, your Mac will perform a directory check on your startup drive. If the drive directory is intact, the operating system will continue the boot process by loading only the minimum number of kernel extensions it needs to boot.

If your Mac starts up successfully in Safe Boot mode, try restarting your Mac in normal mode again. If your Mac starts up and gets to the login screen or desktop, you’ll need to verify that your startup drive is working properly. Most likely, the drive has some problems that need to be repaired. You can use Disk Utility’s first aid tools to check and repair the drive; you may even have to replace it. Good thing you have a backup, right?

If you can’t start your Mac in Safe Boot mode, or if your Mac starts in Safe Boot mode but doesn’t start normally, you can try the following:

Reset PRAM

Reset SMC

Warning : Resetting the PRAM and SMC will return your Mac’s hardware to its default settings. For example, sound levels will be set to default values; the Mac’s internal speakers will be set as the audio output source; the date and time can be reset, and the display options and brightness will also be reset.

Once you’ve reset the PRAM and SMC, try booting your Mac. Peripherals other than the keyboard and mouse should be unplugged.

If your Mac starts up normally, you’ll need to reconnect your peripherals one by one, restarting after each one, to verify that none of them caused the original gray screen issue.

If your Mac still has the gray screen issue

Unfortunately, we’re getting to the point where possible troubleshooting methods will likely cause you to lose some, if not all, of the data on your startup drive. But before you go there, try this fix.

RAM problems

Remove all but the bare minimum of RAM from your Mac. If you added RAM to your Mac after purchasing it, remove that RAM and see if your Mac boots normally. If it does, then one or more pieces of RAM have failed. You’ll need to replace the RAM, though you should be able to continue working with your Mac until you get replacement RAM.

Drive problems

With RAM as a possible culprit out of the way, it’s time to focus on your Mac’s startup drive.

The assumption at this point is that your Mac’s startup drive is having issues that are preventing your Mac from starting properly. However, before we do anything drastic, we need to verify that your Mac can boot from an OS X or macOS installation disc, the Recovery HD, or another startup drive, such as an external hard drive or USB flash drive that contains a system boot operation. If so, the problem is likely your startup drive.

Boot from an OS X install DVD

  1. Insert the installation DVD into your Mac’s optical drive.
  2. Shut down your Mac.
  3. Start your Mac by holding down the c key . This tells your Mac to boot from the optical drive device.

Starting from the recovery hard drive

  1. Shut down your Mac.
  2. Start your Mac by holding down the command + r keys .

Starting from an external drive or other bootable drive

  1. Shut down your Mac. Plug in the external drive, or plug the flash drive into a USB port, if you haven’t already.
  2. Start your Mac by holding down the key.
  3. You’ll see a list of available drives that have a bootable OS X or macOS system installed. Use the arrow keys on your keyboard to select the destination drive , and then press return or enter .

Using single user mode to repair a bootable drive

One of the lesser-known special boot modes that a Mac can run in is known as single-user. This special startup mode starts your Mac to a screen that displays information about the startup process. To many, the screen looks like an old-fashioned terminal from the days of mainframes and time-sharing computing systems. But it’s actually more like the boot sequence on many Unix and Linux operating systems. In fact, many of the same commands are available from the prompt.

When in single-user mode, the Mac doesn’t automatically load the graphical user interface, including the desktop; instead, it stops the boot process after loading the basic kernel of the operating system.

At this point, you can use various commands to check and repair your Mac’s startup drive. Full instructions for repairing a drive in single-user mode can be found in the guide: How do I repair my hard drive if my Mac won’t boot?

If you can’t start your Mac using any of the methods above, you may have a bad startup drive or another internal component that’s preventing your Mac from starting. You can try removing or replacing the startup drive, or you can take your Mac to an authorized service center, such as the Genius Bar at an Apple Store.

If your Mac boots using one of the methods mentioned above, you may be able to repair your startup drive.

Please note that your startup drive may have issues that may result in data loss during the repair process. If you don’t have an up-to-date backup of your data, consider taking your Mac to an expert to try and recover data from your startup drive.

Start your Mac again by booting from the installation DVD, recovery HD, or an external device. You can use Disk Utility to repair the drive. If you started your Mac from an external device, you can use the instructions in the Disk Utility First Aid guide (OS X Yosemite and earlier) or Repair the drives on your Mac with Disk Utility First Aid (OS X El Capitan or earlier). later versions) to repair your startup drive.

If you started from an installation DVD or recovery hard drive, you will follow the same basic steps, but the Disk Utility application will not be located in the Applications folder. Instead, you’ll find it as a menu item in the Apple menu bar (if you launched it from the installation DVD) or in the Mac window OR