Fixing 4 Types of MacBook Pro Freezing Issues

You usually have no problem waiting in line to get services. But when it comes to using your Macbook Pro, it may be another story.

For me, I hated it when the applications I use became unresponsive, not to mention that when the entire system froze up. Although I was told that patience is a virtue, somehow I just don’t have it with my beloved MacBook.

How about you? Does your MacBook Pro sometimes freeze or hang up for no reason? Or the spinning beach ball often appears?

If this has happened to you, be aware that your MacBook Pro may have some issues. But, there are always fixes out there.

I’ve grouped all MacBook freezing issues into four different scenarios (thanks to our reader Carol’s feedback). Find the one that applies to your situation and follow the guide to fix the issue.

Scenario 1: An app is frozen (you can move cursor)

Details: this kind of apps usually demand a lot of system resources to process. For example, Adobe Photoshop, iMovie, or sometimes the web browser you use Safari. When you click around, the app just hangs with the cursor spinning like a pinwheel. The application won’t respond to any commands.

Reasons: the app may be waiting for other hardware resources to become available, or the software may have a bug that drops itself into a calculation loop.

How to Fix:

  1. If you haven’t saved your work, wait for a few minutes. It may become responsive again (hopefully).
  2. Otherwise, simply force quit the app. To do so, go to the Apple logo on the top left corner, click on it and select the “Force Quit” option. Then highlight the unresponsive app, and click “Force Quit” to exit.

You can also press “Command + Option + Esc”, it does the same thing.

Warning: a force quit on a running Mac application may cause you to lose any content that hasn’t been saved. Be cautious before you take this action.

Scenario 2: macOS totally freezes (you can’t move cursor)

Details: the whole system becomes completely unresponsive. You are unable to use the keyboard to type, the mouse cursor is unable to move as you want, the same screen seems just hang there for good. Sometimes you also hear the loud noise coming from the fan (if you are using an old MacBook with an HDD inside).

Reasons: It happens on rare occasions, but the issue could result from over-used system resources, MacBook Pro uptime too long, hard disk errors, etc.

How to Fix:

  1. You’ll have to do a hard reboot. Press the power button for 3-5 seconds to force a shut-down of the computer. Press it again to restart.
  2. Clean up your MacBook hard drive and fix potential disk errors — you can do this quickly using CleanMyMac.

Note: if this happens while you’re updating to latest macOS, the progress bar keeps hanging at 99% (or only one minute remaining), you’ll have to quit the update. A working solution is: first upgrade your MacBook to an ealier version, then update to the latest version.

Scenario 3: MacBook Pro keeps freezing randomly

Details: Your Mac just freezes without any signs and it happens every few hours or days. One second your MacBook is working perfectly fine, the other second everything just hangs up — the cursor won’t move. If you were watching a video, horizontal lines cut through the screen. It seems the only solution to make it work again is to hold the power button to reboot.

Reasons: your MacBook’s hardware has problems — for example, you just installed extra RAM improperly or the System Management Controller (SMC) has some issues.

How to Fix:

1. Reset SMC and RVRAM. Learn how to do so from this MacWorld tutorial video.

2. If the random freezing still happens, take your MacBook Pro to an Apple Genius Bar or a local computer shop and have a geek run hardware diagnostics. Then fix the issues based on their suggestions.

Scenario 4: Mac cursor freezes while opening a specific app

Details: Your Mac cursor would freeze (for anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 mins) when you launch apps like Photos, Time Machine, Adobe Photoshop, etc.

Reasons: You’ve enlarged the Mac cursor.

How to Fix: Adjust cursor size to normal.

  1. Click on the Apple logo on top left, select “System Preferences.”
  2. Then click “Accessibility” > “Display.”
  3.  You’ll see a window (as shown below), navigate the cursor size bar and adjust it to normal size.

Final Words

Due to the complex nature of computer issues, sometimes it’s inevitable that you may encounter other scenarios not introduced here. I’d appreciate it if you can kindly share your stories here. Anyway, I hope this troubleshooting article has helped you unfreeze your Mac, and that the rotating beach ball won’t come back.

Any further questions, leave your comment below.

25 thoughts on “Fixing 4 Types of MacBook Pro Freezing Issues”

  1. My cursor would freeze for anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 mins when I opened Photo, Time Machine, Adobe Photoshop or Reader. Apple helped me twice over phone and once in the store. It is finally fixed, but I don’t think even my support person even realized what the basic problem was, and I was forced to change User data and reinstall Sierra. I don’t believe I needed to do either of those things. The issue seems to me to be when I enlarged the cursor in System Preferences, Accessibility, the system couldn’t handle that change. As long as I left the cursor small as installed, everything worked fine.

    Reply
    • Hm…that’s indeed weird. I haven’t encountered that issue (probably because I don’t have the habit of enlarging the cursor). So, what’s the model of your MacBook Pro? Also I’m curious whether the issue persists when you open apps other than the ones you mentioned.

      Reply
    • Carol, I think you are absolutely right! I had enlarged my cursor and ended up with the same trouble. When I reduced it back to
      the “normal” size, the freezing issue stopped. Thank you!!

      Reply
  2. MacBook Pro cursor not working. Bluetooth Setup Assistant opened automatically with message “No keyboards have been found. Make sure your keyboard is ‘discoverable.'”
    I Shut down per your #2–Hard Reboot. Off. When I turned on again, the screen was the same: no keyboard response, cursor stuck.
    Help?

    Reply
  3. I have issue #2 and it is indeed #2. Right now I’m trying to avoid the hard reboot as this keeps happening often, randomly, I have unsaved work, and for no reason.
    Will this freeze just “cycle” out if I close the lid and let it run? I mean, how long will it just stay frozen?

    Reply
    • Honestly I don’t know. I encountered the issue several times, and I waited like five to ten minutes hoping the freezing issue would disappear, but it didn’t. So I had to give it a hard reboot, unfortunately.

      Reply
      • [email protected]
        I have the “2 problem as well and the Bluetooth no connectivity message with s constant swirl on the bottom right of the message. My sign is there but no desktop display and the cursor is still frozen I can’t click on anything so I can’t check on anything or clean up anything. After 4 reboots I’m afraid to keep doing it. Anyone solve this problem?

        Reply
  4. My cursor doesn’t freeze, but Force Quit won’t work either, so I have to manually shut down my computer. This is happening several times a day, and I’m using a Macbook Pro that I purchased brand new in December. I feel like I’m on a Windows machine!

    Reply
    • I would suggest you contact Apple support directly, or schedule a visit with Genius Bar. I think it’s rare that brand new Macs have this issue.

      Reply
  5. Hello. I’m having the same issue as above. Cursor froze, Bluetooth set up trying to locate a keyboard. I’ve done a hard start several times and it’s not working. I’m hoping someone has found a solution to share.

    Reply
    • Have you updated your Mac to High Sierra? If so, you may want to reset SMC and RVRAM (see how in the article). Let me know if this helps.

      Reply
  6. I get the frozen screen and frozen mouse every few days to few weeks and it always occurs when I have been working away from my desk and then plug in various peripherals (USB dongle, USB mouse, Ethernet, and display via display port (unibody MacBook not Pro late 2008, El Capitan)

    Reply
  7. Thank you for your post, that’s helpful.

    Just out of curiosity: what is it people like about Mac? Just transitioned from PC and even for software development I was more comfortable there.
    I find Mac a bit overrated.

    Best

    Reply
  8. I had the same issues when activating auto turn off keyboard backlight after 5 second and problem solved by disabling it from system preference
    .

    Reply
  9. Here’s another frozen curser challenge. I’ve got a MacBook Air, Mid 2013. As soon as I input the user name and password the curser freezes. The boot process continues behind the frozen curser. When I’m asked to select an option the curser stays frozen and I’m out of business. I’ve tried a Safe boot, a Internet system reload, completed the PRAM/NVRAM reset process, the VRAM reset and loaded a new system from a boot thumb dive that has worked on other Macs. I’v also used the verbose mode but there doesn’t show any errors. The simple solution would be reformat and restore from a backup. Of cource my backup it is 4 months old and the files I need were created after the backup. I have a second MacBook Air, could I use the Target process in any way to solve my problem? I would think the system restore, not from the restore partition, but direct from the Apple server would do the same thing. I’m out of options. Does anybody have a way out?

    Reply
  10. My macbook freezes when I step away from my computer and don’t use it for a few minutes. I have to manually reboot; had this freezing problem 5-6 times in the last 12 hours. Really frustrating!

    Reply
  11. Scenario 2
    After startup my cursor freezes up in top left corner, and keyboard is unresponsive.
    I realized after plugging power back the cursor and keyboard started working.
    Now doing complete reinstalling. Hopefully this fix the issue. Can’t believe you spend over 2K for a Macbook Pro, and Apple don’t have solutions for this!

    Reply
  12. I was working on a project for school and I haven’t saved what I currently did, so I had about an hour worth of work not saved. I didn’t restart my mac because I couldn’t lose all of that work. I waited and waited for about 20 minutes and I decided to try pressing esc and it worked!!

    Reply
  13. Hard reboot, resetting PRAM, SMC/NVRAM, repair disk, none of these things fix my issue. The only thing that seems to work is re-installing my OS. It gets progressively worse over the course of a month and then it get so bad, I just have to re-install.

    I suspect my Hard Drive might be the culprit, even though I am not getting any errors from the disk repair utility because when I run ElementaryOS from a thumb drive, I don’t encounter this problem.

    I just wish there was a definitive test or error message in the console that I could point to so I am not wasting money on a new HD,

    Reply

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