The problem is characterized by the display changing from the blue screen that occurs at power up to a gray screen, though you might not see the blue screen because it tends to go by very fast. It's also possible that your specific Mac model doesn't display the blue screen.
Apple has been streamlining the startup process, so the days of multiple screens types during startup are fading away. You might see only the gray screen itself. It might also include the Apple logo, a spinning gear, a spinning globe, or a prohibitory sign a circle with a slash drawn through it.
In all cases, your Mac seems to be stuck at this point. There are no unusual noises, such as disk access, optical drive spin up or down, or excessive fan noise; just a Mac that seems stuck and won't continue to the login screen or the desktop.
How to Fix a Mac That Stalls on the Gray Screen at Startup
There is another common startup problem that's often mistaken for the gray screen issue: That's a separate problem, which you can usually easily fix by following our troubleshooting guide. Disconnect all external peripherals , and keep them removed for the duration of these steps unless otherwise noted. To do this, first turn your Mac off by pressing and holding the power button to force it down. Finally, power your Mac back on.
Don't disconnect the keyboard , mouse, or display, or the rest of these troubleshooting steps will be quite hard to complete! If your keyboard or mouse is connected via a USB hub, be sure and bypass the hub by plugging your keyboard and mouse directly into your Mac for these tests. One of the most common problems that can cause the gray screen issue is a bad peripheral or peripheral cable. When a bad peripheral is plugged into your Mac, it can prevent it from continuing the startup sequence, and cause it to stall while it waits for the peripheral to respond to a command.
The most common form of this is when a bad peripheral or its cable causes one of the signaling pins on one of Mac's ports to get stuck in one condition set high, set low, or shorted out to ground or positive voltage. Any of these conditions can cause your Mac to freeze during the startup process. If your Mac starts back up without issue, then you'll know that it's a problem with a peripheral. You'll need to shut your Mac back down, reconnect one peripheral, and then restart your Mac.
Continue this process of reconnecting one peripheral at a time and then restarting your Mac until you find the bad peripheral. Remember that the problem can also be a bad cable, so if you plug a peripheral back in and it causes the gray screen issue, try the peripheral with a new cable before you replace the peripheral. Swap your mouse and keyboard with a known good pair, and then restart your Mac. If you don't have spares, just disconnect them and restart by pressing and holding the power key.
If your Mac gets to the login screen or desktop, then you'll need to determine whether the problem is the mouse or the keyboard. Try plugging in one at a time and then restarting to confirm. Start your Mac using the Safe Boot process if no peripheral or cable appears to be at fault. To do that, first disconnect all of the peripherals, except the mouse and keyboard. During the Safe Boot, your Mac will perform a directory check of your startup drive. If the drive directory is intact, the OS will continue the startup process by loading only the minimum number of kernel extensions it needs to boot.
If your Mac successfully starts up in Safe Boot mode, try restarting your Mac again in normal mode. If your Mac starts and makes it to the login screen or the desktop, then you'll need to verify that your startup drive is working correctly.
Chances are the drive has some issues that need to be repaired. You can use Disk Utility's First Aid tools to check and repair your drive; you may even need to replace the drive. Good thing you have a current backup , right? When we do, we expect it to boot to normal operation; however, sometimes a snafu may result in your Mac booting to a gray screen, and no further. Often such behavior happens because of a specific problem, such as a power outage, or the installation of a new software package, but regardless, if it happens there are essentially only a few things that you can do.
First, reboot your Mac and hold the Shift key down immediately when you hear the boot chimes, in order to load into Safe Mode. This will bypass all but essential system software, so if a problem is with a third-party system extension, then this will suggest you need to tackle your software and add-ons to fix the problem. Safe Mode will remove some caches and other temporary files, in addition to running a fix routine on your boot drive, which in themselves can sometimes fix the problem at hand; however, Safe Mode mainly just bypasses problems and does not fix them.
Nevertheless, you can use it to get up and running, and be able to remove recently added software or make other configuration changes.
Step 1: Run Disk Utility
If Safe Mode does not allow your system to boot, then the problem is deeper in the OS configuration and drive setup. Next, try booting your Mac to Recovery Mode by holding Command-R immediately when you hear the boot chimes at startup. If for some reason standard Recovery Mode is not working, then next try restarting your mac and forcing it to load Internet Recovery by including the Option key along with Command-R. Most Macs support a boot option called Target Disk mode , that allows your hard drive to be accessed as an external drive via Firewire or Thunderbolt.
By attaching your system to another Mac, the drive should mount and become available, where you can use Disk Utility to verify and repair the system. You can also manually back up any files you may need. If you cannot mount your drive in Target Disk mode, or find it is slow to access, then this indicates a problem with your drive and you might need to have your Mac serviced. If you cannot get your Mac to load in Recovery Mode, then it is time to test its hardware for any detectable errors.
To boot to the Internet-based hardware tests, do the same but hold Option-D instead.
How to Fix a Mac That Stalls on Gray Screen at Startup
If an error occurs, you will see a reference to it output on the screen; however, if not then it will indicate no errors are found. If any of the above tests fail to work, then you likely have a hardware problem that cannot be overcome on your own, and it is time to schedule a repair for your Mac.
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However, if you can access these modes without error, then you can perform any of the following approaches for fixing your system:. If Safe Mode works, uninstall recently added software or undo other recent changes that may have contributed to the problem. This can be done using official uninstallers that are distributed with programs, or by contacting developers for uninstall instructions.
You can also access reputable troubleshooting resources to determine what exactly might be done for specific software errors. Granted you can restore from a recent backup, but not knowing the reason for the hangup at boot means any number of recent backups may contain the faulty configurations that are causing the problem. On the other hand, reinstalling OS X should not overwrite your personal files at all, and only replace system software files.
Provided your hard drive is in working order, this should get it to boot again. Wipe and reinstall OS X if a basic reinstall does not work.