How to Fix the Mac Spinning Wheel of Death

Discover remedies to combat a slow or unresponsive Mac or MacBook.

Why is my Mac so slow? As a Mac user, you’re probably familiar with the spinning wheel of death—even if you call it something else. Fortunately, there are a few things you can try that could help resolve the issue. That way you can spend a lot less time looking at the Mac wheel of death and a lot more time successfully using your Mac.

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Quick Fix for the Mac Spinning Wheel of Death

Sometimes the spinning wheel appears for a few seconds, or only when you’re using a particular app. If that’s the case, you’re in luck! The issue is likely caused by that specific app instead of a system problem, and it’s likely that the problem will be resolved if you quit the app, either by simply closing it or by forcing it to quit if the app is unresponsive. To force quit on a Mac, follow these steps:

  1. Click on the Apple menu (or use the keyboard shortcut cmd+option+esc and skip to step 3).

    Open the Apple Menu to fix mac wheel of death
  2. Select Force Quit (you'll see either "Force Quit..." or "Force Quit [App Name]").

    Click on force quit to quit the application causing the wheel of death
  3. Choose the app that isn’t responding.

    Select the application to force quit
  4. Click Force Quit.

    Click on Force Quit
  5. Click Force Quit again to confirm.

    Click on Force Quit again to confirm

Restart or Force Restart Your Mac

If the Mac wheel of death is spinning and causing too many issues to perform other functions on your computer, you may need to restart your Mac, or force restart it if you can't access the Apple menu. Here are instructions for both methods:

  1. If you can, click on the Apple menu.

    Open the Apple Menu to fix mac wheel of death
  2. Click Restart.

    Click on restart

If you can't use your mouse or the computer won't respond, you'll need to force restart your Mac. To do this:

  1. Hold down the keys cmd+control+power button (On a MacBook, this will be the same as your Touch ID button if you have one).

    Force restart Mac
  2. Keep holding them until the screen goes black, and then release.

Your machine should restart as normal, giving you a fresh chance to do the work you were trying to do.

Persistent Spinning Wheel of Death Issues

If the steps above didn’t resolve your issues, it might not be such an easy fix. There could be several things contributing to a slow Mac or persistent spinning wheel of death, but some likely culprits are insufficient storage space or issues with your device's available memory.  

Declutter Your Mac

One great way to speed up your mac is to free up space on it. Think of it like organizing your desk; the less clutter you have, the easier it is to focus on task task at hand. Your Mac is no different. 

We recommend starting by either deleting unnecessary large files or applications you've downloaded but no longer use. Next, it's a good idea to see which files or media you're comfortable storing either on a removable hard drive or on iCloud so that you don't have to dedicate storage space on your Mac for those items. Once you've freed up storage space on your Mac you can feel free to delete old files, which should help it run faster.

Check Your Memory & Processing

Your Mac’s RAM, or Random Access Memory, allows it to run multiple programs simultaneously.  The more RAM you have, the more processes can be running simultaneously without noticeably affecting your Mac's speed or function. Your Mac’s CPU, or Central Processing Unit, determines how quickly your Mac processes its tasks. In tandem, the RAM and CPU determine how efficient your Mac is and how well it handles large apps and complex processes.

  1. Open Finder on your Mac.

    Mac Wheel of Death activity monitor solution
  2. Go to Applications.

    Mac Wheel of Death activity monitor solution
  3. Click on Utilities.

    Mac Wheel of Death activity monitor solution
  4. Click on Activity Monitor.

    Mac Wheel of Death activity monitor solution
  5. Check your Mac’s CPU activity in the bottom graphs. 

    Mac Wheel of Death activity monitor solution

If you know that your computer is healthy (no malware or similar issues) but the Activity Monitor shows your CPU isn't handling everyday tasks the way it should, it may just be that your computer's processor can't keep up with what you're asking it to do. Unfortunately one of the only fixes for this is to upgrade your computer in favor of one that can handle your regular workload and still have processing room available even for busier days and tougher tasks. 

If the issue is your RAM and not the CPU, it may be possible to add RAM. This is a process that should probably be done by a professional unless you're especially tech-savvy, and it might not be possible on certain Mac models. Apple's Activity Monitor User Guide page on this subject may be helpful.

Hopefully the Mac spinning wheel of death doesn’t seem so daunting now that you've learned some ways to fix it. Let us know which of these tips helped you most!

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Author Details

Author Details

Emma Chase

Emma Chase is a freelance writer for iPhone Life. She has a degree in communication from the University of Northern Iowa. Emma has worked in many sectors in her professional career, including the higher education sphere where she currently works as a marketing coordinator. Emma lives in small-town Iowa with her husband and two children. When she’s not geeking out over the newest Apple product or wrangling her kids, Emma enjoys a good book, crocheting, and trying new foods.