How to Fix a Kernel Panic on a Mac

How to Fix a Kernel Panic on a Mac

If you’ve owned your Apple computer for a couple of years, you might be familiar with the kernel panic error on your iMac, MacBook Pro, or MacBook Air. You can recognise a kernel panic by a pop-up message “You need to restart your computer”, or a sudden black screen and rebooting. If there are several panics in the space of a few minutes, the Mac will display an alert and rapidly shut down after 30 seconds.

 

Normally, one will find it annoying, but negligible—you will forget about it when it’s finished. But how do you fix a kernel panic on your Mac if it occurs frequently? This article will tell you everything you need to know about kernel panic and ways to get rid of it.

What is a kernel panic?

First of all, let’s think about what the kernel process itself is. It’s an essential component of any Unix-based operating system (including macOS) that is responsible for internal consistency and fault detection. “Panic” is a voluntary hault of all system processes that results from a mistake in the work of software, hardware, or both.

 

Even though MacBook kernel panics are exceptionally annoying, they are actually an important safety measure. They are designed to protect your system from a fatal error by forcibly restarting the computer. In the absence of this reaction there would be a major risk of significant data loss without the ability to recover.

 

OS X kernel panic is characterised by your Mac suddenly restarting. During the boot you will see a message informing you that your Mac restarted because of a problem. Troubleshooting details are then saved in NVRAM and written onto a log file.

restart alert message after kernel panic

When a restart occurs, you can find out what caused it by clicking on the Report… button in the pop-up window. This will take you to the Console utility where you will be able to see whether the crash was actually caused by a kernel panic. Alternatively, you can go to Applications UtilitiesConsole to open the same window. Then you can click on Crash Reports in the sidebar on the left to read the report.

console errors and faults tab for a kernel process

Alternatively, go to Finder and click on Go in the menu on top of the screen. Select Go to Folder and paste ~/Library/Logs/DiagnosticReports/. This will take you to the folder containing all panic reports on your Mac. The report files should end with “.crash”.

go to folder in the go menu in finder
folder with diagnostic reports in finder

What’s causing Mac kernel panics

An unexpected kernel panic on a Mac can occur for reasons as simple as incompatible software installed on your computer or by a conflicting device. Most of the time such errors are insignificant and the operating system is able to carry on working as usual. However, if there is an underlying instability, it’s much safer to stop all processes to prevent data loss and security breaches.

 

Other reasons for kernel panic might include:

  • Not enough random access memory (RAM)
  • Full hard drive disk
  • Inability to find the root file system
  • Missing file systems
  • Disk permissions incorrectly set up or broken

If you wish to find out more about the cause of the error, you need to initiate an Apple panic report from your Console utility.

 

How to interpret a panic report on Mac:

  1. Open a report file that ends with .crash from the DiagnosticReports folder
  2. The first section of the report tells you what the process that caused the crash is—in this case it would be kernel
  3. The second section informs you about the exact date and time of the crash, as well as the version of the OS
  4. The next section includes Exception details. Two types you’re interested in: EXC_BAD_ACCESS/KERN_INVALID_ADDRESS caused by access to unmapped memory, and EXC_BAD_ACCESS/KERN_PROTECTION_FAILURE caused by writing to read-only memory
  5. The section after this tells you the backtrace information where you can find out which thread crashed and the events that lead to this
crash report for a visibility check tool

Whatever the cause is, there are ways to resolve the issue and fix kernel panic on a Mac.

How to solve a kernel panic error

When your MacBook Pro experiences a kernel panic, the system restarts your Mac. In most cases this is sufficient to solve the problem. However, if you find that you keep coming back to the same issue, you might need to check a few software and hardware elements. Sometimes it may be a combination of both.

 

A few things you can do before diving into detail:

  1. Update your operating system and applications
  2. Run First Aid in Disk Utility
  3. Check that you have enough hard drive space
  4. Disconnect all the peripherals
  5. Try Apple Diagnostics (Apple Hardware Test)

Check your software

Most often, the issue with repeated kernel panic errors lies within macOS itself. In this case you need to start by rebooting your Mac in safe mode. To do that, simply restart your computer and hold down Shift as it’s booting. Safe mode disables any unnecessary processes and applications running in your system, including kernel extensions. If a kernel panic doesn’t happen in safe mode, the problem is probably with some of the third-party apps or extensions on your computer.  

 

Try disabling startup items on your computer and updating your apps. Outdated applications often conflict with the current version of the operating system or other programs on the Mac. Sometimes you might want to uninstall an app - if you find it challenging you can use an app removal software such as MacKeeper.

 

If safe mode doesn’t rule out the problem, you might have to resort to a clean reinstall of macOS. Before you do that, read the next section to see if your hardware is involved.

Check your hardware

Incompatible hardware can cause Mac panic just as easily as software bugs. Shut down your Mac and try disconnecting all external devices. You can leave Apple’s own models of keyboard and mouse. Restart your Mac - if no error occurs, one of the external devices is the agent of the problem.

 

To figure out which one of the devices causes the panic, restart your Mac and connect one of them. Repeat the process until you get another kernel error. Once you know the appliance responsible, you can get it checked out at a service centre to find out what’s making it negatively affect your Mac.

Check RAM

Although random access memory is generally a reliable utility, it can cause MacBook kernel panic if there’s a defect or even a slight incompatibility. Unfortunately, Macs are especially sensitive to RAM—often when an extension is purchased from a third-party vendor it turns out to not be a perfect fit and causes Mac panic to occur frequently. 

 

Make sure you get your RAM extensions from Apple or other certified merchants that provide you with a warranty and guarantee full compatibility.

 

To check if your RAM is suitable for your computer’s motherboard, you have to find out both the memory and the Mac’s specifications. Then you can either contact Apple or your RAM vendor to learn about their compatibility.

FAQ

Can bad RAM cause a kernel panic?

Incompatible or cheap RAM extensions that don’t coordinate well with your computer’s motherboard will cause kernel error on your Mac. To find out whether your RAM is suitable for your motherboard, contact the vendor or Apple directly.

How do I read a kernel panic log on a Mac?

You can find kernel panic reports in the Console utility. Go to Applications Utilities Console or search for its name in Spotlight. In the Errors and Faults tab, search for the error that you’re interested in and open it’s report file. You can also find the logs in the sidebar on the left.

 

Alternatively, you can go to the ~/Library/Logs/DiagnosticReports/ folder and read the crash reports from there.

 

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