Mac White Screen? How to Fix a White Screen on Boot

Dec 10, 2016 - 21 Comments

Mac White Screen

Rarely, a Mac may fail to boot and get stuck on a white screen, otherwise failing to turn on as expected. While a Mac may get stuck on a white screen at random, users will usually discover the problem after updating system software, where the Mac starts up but quickly halts on an all white display.

If you find your Mac is stuck on a white screen during boot and is not powering on as expected, read on to troubleshooting and learn how you might be able to fix this issue.

To be clear, what we’re describing here is a Mac that is stuck on an all white screen with no logos, no progress bar, nothing, it’s just a blank white display. There are vairous potential causes for a white screen to appear on a Mac during startup, so we’re going to cover a wide range of troubleshooting tips that may resolve the issue. Not all steps may be required to resolve the problem, you may be able to simply reboot into Safe Mode and reset NVRAM and fix the white screen issue, for example.

Reboot into Safe Mode

This is quite easy; simply reboot into Safe Mode on the Mac with a properly timed shift key press.

  • Reboot the Mac as usual, then immediately hold down the SHIFT key, release the SHIFT key when you see the  Apple logo and progress bar

Attempting a Safe Boot is easy and it can remedy some simple issues with a Mac getting stuck on a white screen during boot. If the Mac works fine in safe mode, try rebooting again as usual (without holding down Shift) and see if it works as usual, it just might.

You can learn more about Safe Boot mode on Mac here if interested.


Often simply resetting NVRAM / PRAM is sufficient to remedy a white screen Mac issue:

  • Reboot the Mac, the moment you hear the boot chime, hold down the Command+Option+P+R keys concurrently, when you hear a second boot chime you can release the keys, the NVRAM has been reset

After NVRAM has been successfully reset, go ahead and let the Mac boot as usual. At this point it should no longer get stuck on a white screen.

Reset SMC

Since the white screen problem seems to occur mostly on portable Macs, we’ll focus on resetting SMC on modern MacBook Pro, MacBook, MacBook Air models:

  • Shut down the computer and connect it to your MagSafe adapter and a wall outlet as usual
  • Hold down the Shift+Control+Option+Power button at the same time for a few seconds, then release all keys concurrently
  • Boot the Mac as usual

For other hardware, you can learn how to reset SMC on Macs here.

Reboot and Repair Disk

If possible, try to repair the boot disk through Disk Utility by entering into Recovery Mode:

  • Reboot the Mac and hold down Command+R to boot into Recovery Mode
  • Choose “Disk Utility” from the list of options at the Utilities screen
  • Select the hard drive and then go to the “First Aid” tab and choose to run First Aid and repair the drive

If the drive is showing many errors, particularly errors that can’t be repaired, you may have an underlying issue or drive failure impending. If that’s the case, be sure you backup your data from the Mac, and then consider using Apple Hardware Test to diagnose any issues. Often replacing a hard disk is in order, some users are comfortable doing it themselves otherwise you might want to contact an Apple Support center for official assistance in replacing the drive or diagnosing whatever other system issue persists.

Boot with Verbose Mode

This won’t doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it sometimes works: boot into Verbose Mode. Keeping in mind that all Verbose Mode does is detail what’s going on during system boot, similar to watching a linux machine start up, it’s not entirely sure why this works but there are multiple reports on Apple Discussion Forums that it does.

  • Reboot the Mac as usual, then immediately hold down COMMAND + V keys

Again, it’s not entirely clear why this works, perhaps it’s just the general act of rebooting yet again as verbose mode shouldn’t really do anything different aside from appearances, but nonetheless it does seem to sometimes work to bypass a stuck white screen on some Macs.

Reinstall Mac OS

If the other approaches are failing, you may need to reinstall Mac OS system software. You should always backup your Mac before doing this. Aside from having a proper backup, reinstalling Mac OS or Mac OS X is fairly straight forward:

You can read how to reinstall MacOS Sierra or how to reinstall OS X, including El Capitan, Yosemite, and Mavericks, depending on the system software on the Mac.

Sometimes the standard reinstall method may fail due to issues with the drive or Recovery partition, in which case you’d need to use Internet Recovery to reinstall Mac OS X instead as described here.

White Screen with Flashing Question Mark Folder?

If you’re seeing a white screen with a flashing question mark folder, your Mac can’t find the startup disk to boot from.

This can sometimes be remedied by choosing the boot drive during system start (hold down OPTION key during startup and choose Macintosh HD from the list), but if that doesn’t work this is often indicator of the hard disk failing, and you should try to replace it as soon as possible. Back up your data ASAP.

A failing hard drive is not terribly unusual in the computing world, and I have personally seen a variety of weird errors when a MacBook Air SSD was failing, including booting to a white screen, getting stuck on a black screen, the question mark on boot, the folder icon on boot, intermixed with occasional successful boots, all of which was remedied by replacing the SSD in MacBook Air, but the same idea could apply to a MacBook, MacBook Pro, iMac, Mac Pro, or Mac Mini too. Replacing a drive is a technical process but it’s usually not too difficult, nonetheless many less technical users may prefer to have an official support or repair center perform the task for them.

Has your Mac ever been stuck on a white screen during boot? Did you resolve it with the tips above or with a different solution? What specifically worked for you? Let us know in the comments.

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks, Troubleshooting


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  1. Ted says:

    Remember when the Mac was the OS without all these problems? Those were the days.

    • avenged110 says:

      It kills me that I can’t run 10.7 or 10.8 on newer hardware.

      • Ed says:

        I found 10.9.5 to be the most stable modern MacOS. El Capitan 10.11.5 turned out OK near the end. Sierra is worse than Yosemite with major mission critical bugs, maybe it will clean up by the time 10.13 is out… until now Sierra is major crashes and problems.

        But Mac OS X 10.6.8 is still the gold standard, feels unlikely to ever meet that level of stability and power again unfortunately.

  2. Wm Magill says:

    The reason Verbose mode works is likely the fact that it is using the graphics display. Put another way, it is a completely different path in startup. The normal Mac startup does no graphics output except the White Screen, until it ups up the Apple Logo. Yes, text is graphics.

  3. Lubomir says:

    I am one of the first Mac users way back in early ’90 and still today getting confused with:

    right now on my MacBook Air I see keys:
    fn ,ctrl , alt and cmd .Where the heck you are getting ‘option’?
    I believe “option” is coming from Windows, doesn’t it?
    If so, why ‘option’ on Mac?!
    best regards

  4. Bill G says:

    Newer MacBooks: Startup chime? Magsafe connector? Replaceable SSD?

    Unfortunately, not anymore!

  5. Bruce says:

    Regarding the first method mentioned above, Rebooting into Safe Mode, you say it is quite easy to do: “simply reboot into Safe Mode on the Mac with a properly timed shift key press.” My question is, if the Mac is in “white screen,” how does one reboot? You say to “reboot the Mac as usual.” As I understand it, if the screen is white, there is nothing on the screen to which one can click in order to reboot the Mac. Please explain how to reboot the Mac.

  6. GREGORY O'HARA says:

    I was new to MAC from years of abuse as a MSDOS user since 1979.
    I had the white screen of death and tried all the above, and using APPLE’s troublshooting, I said hell, just reload the OS. That worked.
    Now I heard that MAC’s are close to being UNIX, I just happen to have worked in UNIX BSD4.2 on SUN, HP, NCR and one other system in 1985-1991. I would love to find out if I can fix the white screen.
    But I’m retired now and not stupid. Someone out there fix this issue!
    I do love my IMAC, and DOS and MS can kiss my butt. Too many issues, I don’t get paid to work out the bugs, no way, I’m an Apple man now!

    • oiNETb says:

      Use the “Terminal” app in /Applications/Utilities/ to access the UNIX prompt in Mac OS, Mac OS X is based on modified BSD and should be familiar to you.

    • M-RES says:

      If you hold down Cmd-S at startup you’ll boot into Single User mode, which is pure command line. If you’ve come from a Unix background it should be really familiar to you. It’s always handy for running FSCK when your permissions get a bit borked and I’ve needed to use it before now to replace damaged system files that have been preventing a normal boot up.

  7. Mark Simon says:

    Before you try any of the above, I had a white screen problem on my iMac after an update, which caused me a lot of grief, and resulted in reinstalling my system.

    When it happened again on the next updated, I was lucky enough to notice that I recognised the sound being made when I tried the keyboard.

    Fortunately I also have a MacBook, and thought I would try to screen share into my iMac. Sure enough, it was working properly, just not displaying. I then restarted the iMac and everything was OK.

    Whatever caused the video problem, I was not fixing it by repeatedly aborting the update. I just had to allow the process to finish and that solved it.

    The moral to the story is that there is an extra step of trying to Screen Share before you start to panic.

  8. I have fixed a few machines by slaving then to my mac via Target disc mode and clearing the extensions folder in Library in root. With a restart the extensions that are default are re added and the culprits are gone.

  9. Gabor says:

    Just a belt/suspenders suggestion I have used before (and BTW, thanks for all the options in this article, all in one place, fantastic!!).

    So, OBVI, Time Machine. but, I also have a Disk Utility clone made up on a cheap external disk that gets updated (recloned) every 6 months or so.

    Something goes wrong, just boot into the clone, copy it over to internal drive, time machine back, and “new and freshened MAC.

    I too will never go back to MS. If I need something there (rarer and rarer), I use VMWare Fusion and a selection of images with needed software ready to go.

    Best, Gabor

  10. Tomas Curiel says:

    Curiously Apple does not address the white screen problem at all on their page about screens you might see during boot. You would think it does not exist, but I have seen it too as well as the black screen. I assume it is a software bug.

    They do mention the blinking question mark, blinking folder, and other icons though.

  11. AngryBob says:

    I only started having this problem when I enabled FireVault. I don’t know if this is a direct cause but this strange behavior is the first thing I noticed. The rest of you with this problem (white screen at start up requiring password), did you enable FireVault? I have OS Sierra.

  12. Praveen vaish says:

    I am trying to install Mac OS but failed

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