What to Do When Your Mac Won't Turn On

When your Mac or MacBook is dead, all hope is not lost

Pnotograph of a keyboard smashed through a computer LCD monitor

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Whether your Mac won't turn on or startup properly, there's still plenty you can do to try and make it operable again. At the very least, you might be able to guess what's causing the problem, even if you don't have the tools or skills to solve it on your own.

What to Do When MacBook Won't Turn On

Are You Getting Power?

If you can't get your Mac to power up at all, it's a good idea to start by making sure the most basic box is checked: power. That's a pretty basic link in the chain after all.

  1. Check Your Power Connections:

    • Start by tracing back all power cables to both ends.
    • Make sure it's firmly connected into your power brick or the back of your Mac.
    • Make sure there's nothing between the power connector and any of its connection points on the Mac, the power adapter, or the power socket. Anything that could reduce the integrity of the connection should be removed.
    • Make sure the connection is solid. On portable Macs, the power bricks can sag or even pull themselves out of wall-mounted power sockets. This is especially problematic when it comes to the two-pronged adapters, which can quickly wear out based on usage.
    • It's a good idea to unplug and replug everything, just to make sure the connections are strong.
  2. Look For Common Connection Problems:

    • On power bricks, ensure the adapter is firmly connected to the brick. If it's not plugged in all the way, you won't transfer power. You might need to inspect it closely to even realize it's happened, depending on how "loose" your plug is.
    • Make sure the wall socket works. Plug a lamp into the same power outlet. If the lamp won't turn on, neither will your computer. Now, you're troubleshooting the outlet, which is a different part of the flowchart entirely. You'll never go wrong by checking out the fuse box, at the very least.
    • Work on power strips or outlet expanders. Remove all of those devices from your power chain and plug your computer directly into a wall socket. Those devices can be turned off or burnt out. Sometimes, their internal fuses die or the underlying wiring or even electronics can fail.
  3. Make Sure Your Plug Is Grounded:

    • Make sure you've got your power cable plugged into a supported plug. Three-pronged connectors must plug into three-pronged outlets. People have been known to circumvent this is the past.
    • While your power cable will still work without the third grounding pin on the bottom, it's also significantly more dangerous, both for you and your computer. With many international plug styles, it's impossible to even find a way to disable a ground pin, that's how bad an idea it is.

    Using cheater plugs or even physically removing the ground pin might work at first, but you'll be limiting the life of your device dramatically, and it won't fix any problems.

  4. That's it!

Is Your Battery Working?

Even when you're not connected to the wall, there are plenty of things that can go wrong. Batteries are an entirely separate power source that needs an entirely separate workflow.

  1. Ultra-Low Power Deep Sleep: The most likely cause of your power woes is a very dead battery. When your Mac's battery charge is very low, the computer will go into standby to prevent losing your work.

    Once power comes back, so does your device. However, it might need a little while to charge up first. If you plug your device into an outlet and you're completely sure it's working, let your computer charge up for about ten minutes.

    It may display a black screen during this time, which is fine. It may also display a dead battery icon, which is even better. That indicator will go away as soon as the Mac's battery has been sufficiently charged.

  2. Puffy or Swollen Batteries: If your Mac's battery has inflated or "puffed up" at all, stop using your device immediately. Power it off and do not power it back on. It's possible your battery could explode, causing a fire. Keep the device away from flammable objects. You'll need to replace the battery as soon as possible; do not use it until you do.

  3. Battery Failure: It's possible your battery has failed so completely it cannot be charged at all. If the battery has suffered physical abuse, electrical shock, water infiltration, or any other damage, you might have yourself a lithium-ion paperweight.

    In a Mac with a user-replaceable battery, replace the battery with a known-functional unit to confirm there's nothing wrong with the rest of the device. If your Mac's battery cannot be replaced by the user, you'll need to have an Apple tech look at it, either at an Apple Store or an Apple Authorized Service Provider.

  4. Power Adapter & Battery Status: If you have a Mac with a light on the power connection, check that light's status. If it shows amber, then your battery is charging. If it shows green, your battery is fully charged. If it shows nothing, your device can't report its battery status, possibly because of hardware damage to the power connector or logic board. This is most common when the Mac suffers water damage, but many types of physical damage, including electrical shock or a blunt force impact, could cause this to happen. In those cases, you'll need to repair the device's damage to get the computer to turn back on.

    If your battery has a hardware status indicator, check that as well. If the indicator shows the battery is dead, that could be causing your problems. Connect to power and let your computer get a little juice before you power it on.

  5. That's it!

Is Your Mac a Little Overheated?

Apple devices also have built-in protection for overheating. If the device's internal thermostats detect a temperature outside the safe operating range, the device may shut down or go into a suspended state. This protects the internal electronics of the device, and you shouldn't try to circumvent it. Anything over 95º F (35º C) is too hot for your Mac.

  1. Remove from heated area: If the device feels much hotter than usual, move it into a cooler area. You'll want to cool down the device as best you can. Remove the computer from direct sunlight. For a laptop, remove the device from anything soft like a couch, bed, or a pillow, as they all retain heat and can cause dramatic thermal load within the Mac itself.

  2. Air circulation: If possible, provide an inch of clearance below your computer to allow air to circulate below it. If that isn't possible, set your computer on a hard surface like a tent, with the hinge open and the keyboard and monitor facing the tabletop. This provides enough clear space around the device for air circulation. The device is built to dissipate extra heat, so passive cooling should get the device up and running pretty quickly.

Fanning the device is likely unnecessary and may blow debris into the delicate keyboards of the newer MacBook Pros.

Mac Powers On But Won't Boot

If your device powers on but doesn't complete the boot process, that's a different sort of issue. You'll want to check out troubleshooting tips for Mac startup problems.

If Nothing Works

It's possible there's nothing you can do to fix the device on your own. If none of the troubleshooting steps above have led to any more information or a solution, you'll need to have your device looked at by a professional.

Either an Apple Store or an Apple Authorized Service Provider will be able to help you, as they'll have more capable diagnostic tools than the standard home user or computer enthusiast. They can also provide more detailed analysis and recommend a course of action, whether it's a repair, a replacement, or data recovery.