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Got a problem with your Mac? Try these simple troubleshooting steps

Got a Mac that's misbehaving and not doing what you expect it to do? Here are some simple things you can try.

Now that the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has closed Apple Stores across the country, it's not as easy as it once was to get your misbehaving Mac fixed. However, when it comes to troubleshooting, I always try the simplest things first, and I find that these tricks are successful in solving some 90 percent of the Mac problems I encounter.

I've used these to solve a wide variety of weird Mac issues, ranging from poor performance and systems not wanting to boot up (or are taking a long time to boot) to the fans running crazy or the screen staying blank.

The following is information that all Mac owners should know.

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#1: Reset the NVRAM (NonVolatile Random-Access Memory)/PRAM (Parameter RAM)

Settings that are stored in NVRAM relate to sound volume, display resolution, startup-disc selection, time zone and recent kernel panic information, of if you have problems with any of these, give this a go. 

Here's a time where a spare arm or an assistant comes in handy.

  • Turn off the Mac
  • Simultaneously hold down Command + Option + P + R while powering on the system (yes, that requires some finger dexterity!)
  • Keep holding down the four buttons until you hear your Mac emit the "WALLe" startup chime  for a second time, or on newer Macs equipped with the T2 security chips, the Apple logo appears for the second time
  • If you have a firmware password set, you'll need to disable this first

If you're finding that this doesn't work, then you might need to either disconnect all your USB devices or, if you are using a Mac with a wireless keyboard, you might need to go old-school and use a wired keyboard (any USB keyboard will work with a Mac, it just won't be as stylish). Once you're done with the reset, you can go back to your wireless keyboard.

#2: Reset the SMC (System Management Controller)

This one reset can fix a whole raft of problems:

  • Power button issues
  • USB port power issues
  • Problems with the fans and thermal management
  • Battery charging issues
  • Problems related to lid opening and closing for laptops
  • Keyboard backlighting

Resetting the SMC depends on what kind of Mac you have.

For MacBooks with the T2 security chip:

  • Shut down the Mac
  • Press and hold Shift + Option + Control (press the keys on the left hand side of the keyboard) for seven seconds
  • Keep the keys pressed down and now also press the power button, and hold down for an additional seven seconds
  • Release the buttons and wait a few seconds
  • Press the power button to start the system

For all desktop systems:

  • Shut down the Mac
  • Disconnect the power cord
  • Wait 15 seconds
  • Plug the power cord back in
  • Wait a further five seconds before turning the Mac on again

For MacBooks without the T2 security chip and a non-removable battery:

  • Shut down MacBook
  • Press and hold Shift + Option + Control (press the keys on the left hand side of the keyboard) along with the power button for 10 seconds
  • Release the buttons and wait a few seconds
  • Press the power button to start the system

For MacBooks with a removable battery:

  • Disconnect the system from the power supply
  • Remove the battery
  • Press and hold down the power button for five seconds
  • Refit the battery
  • Restart the MacBook

Note: Here is a list of Macs that have a T2 security chip:

  • iMac Pro
  • Mac Pro introduced in 2019
  • Mac mini introduced in 2018
  • MacBook Air introduced in 2018 or later
  • MacBook Pro introduced in 2018 or later