If you're a Mac user then you’re probably familiar with the spinning rainbow wheel of death, as we like to call it. We’ve also heard it named the beach ball, spinning pizza, or pinwheel of death. No matter what you call it, no one wants to see the spinning wheel while they’re using a Mac.
When the spinning wheel appears it usually indicates that there’s an issue with your Mac or one of the applications. Typically it appears for just a few seconds to annoy us while the system works out the issue, however, if it keeps appearing and won’t go away there might be a deeper issue.
In order to help when this happens, we’ve got some options on how to stop the spinning wheel in its tracks and get your Mac running smoothly again.
Fix The Spinning Wheel of Death:
The spinning wheel or beachball is an indicator from your computer that an application isn’t working properly, this is a good sign. If it’s merely an app, then your operating system is probably running fine. It’s likely just one app that is causing problems. If you find the application and fix the issue, you should be good to go.
Find the App Causing the Problem:
You can find the application that is causing the problem by cycling through those that are currently active. To do so, press Command+Tab or just click around on your screen (your mouse should work even though the cursor has changed).
If you can’t quickly tell which application is causing the issue, the Activity Monitor might be able to help. You can launch it by clicking Applications > Utilities. Under the CPU tab click the “% CPU” column to organize the list by current system usage.
This puts the thirstiest apps at the top of the list. You can check here if any applications are using more than their fair share of CPU. You may even see an app that says “Not Responding” - this is probably your issue.
Please, resist the urge to quit the app immediately and move onto the next step.
Wait a Few Minutes:
Typically the spinning wheel of death appears when an application is trying to do something big, for example rendering video, batch editing photos, or even when you’re connecting to a server in an online game.
If this is the case, your best bet is to wait. If you’ve told the application to do something you should give it some time to finish it’s job. Your other applications should function normally while you wait on the one to process. We suggest taking a step away from your computer and letting your Mac do its thing and work out the problem.
Force Quit the Application:
If you’ve been waiting a while on the problem application to catch up and you’re still seeing the rainbow wheel of death you may have to force quit the app. If you have any unsaved work or data you may lose it this way so be sure you’ve waited long enough for the application to recover on its own before doing this.
You can try quitting the application normally at first. Just right-click or two-finger click on its icon in the Dock, and then choose “Quit.” The application might take a few seconds to respond but when you shut it down this way you might avoid losing any unsaved work.
If the application is truly frozen then quitting normally might not work. You can force the application to close by right clicking its icon on the Dock, holding down the “Option” key on your keyboard, and then selecting “Force Quit.”
You can also start the Activity Monitor, find the app, and then quit the process from there.
Once the application is closed the rainbow wheel of death should disappear. You should be able to reopen the application and continue what you were working on.
Restart Your Mac:
If that rainbow wheel is extra persistent and just will not go away, you may have to restart your Mac. All you have to do is click the Apple logo and select “Restart.” After your laptop has rebooted it should be fast and responsive with no waiting wheel in sight.
If your Mac is not responding at all and you can’t get to the Apple logo you may have to force restart your Mac. If this happens, and you feel as if you waited long enough for it to respond, press and hold down the power button (or the Touch ID on some Macs) until it powers off.
That is a last resort because you will lose any unsaved work in any of your applications that are still running. We recommend saving any of your work that you can before attempting to force restart your entire computer.
A Frequent Spinning Rainbow Wheel:
It is normal to see the spinning wheel from time to time when an application gets hung up doing something. However, if you start seeing the wheel spinning frequently and on a variety of different applications there may be a deeper problem.
One cause of a persistent spinning wheel is software instability. One common cause is lack of available storage. Your Mac needs free space available to function properly. Your operating system and third party applications need plenty of space to run the way they were designed to.
So always make sure your Mac has enough free space, we recommend leaving at least 10% of your total space free. This should be enough to keep everything running smoothly.
If you have an older Mac operating system like 10.10 (OS X Yosemite) or earlier, you might want to try repairing disk permissions if you’re frequently being bothered by the spinning rainbow wheel.
If you’re not sure which version of macOS you’re running, click the Apple logo at the top left and select About This Mac. If it’s version 10.11 or later, you can skip this section.
If you are using version 10.10 or earlier, you need to launch Disk Utility by going to Applications > Utilities folder or just search for it in Spotlight. Select the main boot drive (usually called “Macintosh HD”) in the sidebar, and then click “First Aid.” Let your Mac scan and repair any errors it finds.
This isn’t necessary on 10.11 (El Capitan) or later, because Apple introduced changes to the way the permission system works.
Spinning Rainbow Wheel of Death No More!
We hope that these tips will help you solve any future issues with the spinning rainbow wheel (or beach ball or pizza) of death.
Maybe after reading this you feel like upgrading your computer completely would be easier, well, we can help with that too! Find our full computer inventory on our website. If you have any other questions, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’d be happy to help.