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How to Fix the Mac Spinning Rainbow Beachball of Death


Beware The Spinning Rainbow Beach Ball of Death!

Does your Mac constantly freeze and that spinning disc wheel won't stop? Is your Macbook always slow? Have you been seeing the dreaded "spinning rainbow" or "beach ball of death" more frequently?

Officially called the "spinning wait cursor," the rainbow pinwheel appears when an application is not responding to system events properly.

These recurring short freezes are a nightmare for Apple computer users.

How to Stop the Mac Spinning Rainbow Wheel

Try a Mac cleanup utility such as Mackeeper. Checking your machine's vitals—RAM, CPU, disk space, and so forth—will keep things running smoothly:

  • Go to your Activity Monitor (you can find it by typing it into the Spotlight). The System Memory tab will tell you information about your computer's RAM (random-access memory) usage. Two of the stats you'll see are "Page Ins" and "Page Outs," which describe the information moved between the RAM to the Mac's drive. Page Outs occur when the RAM is full, necessitating information to be moved from the RAM to the hard drive. If your computer is writing a lot of Page Outs, you may need more memory.
  • Run an Apple Diagnostics or Apple Hardware Test (depending on what model you have) to see if anything is wrong with your computer's hardware. Shut down your computer. Turn it on, and before it can boot your desktop, press and hold down the letter D on the keyboard. Your system will run a diagnostic test and inform you of any problems. Depending on what it finds, you can then determine how to fix the problem using Apple's online support or going to the Genius Bar at the Apple Store.
  • Check your Disk Utility using the OS X Recovery. Restart your computer and hold the Command and R keys while it boots. It should start up with a Menu Bar and a Utilities Window. Choose Disk Utility from the utilities window. Click on the First Aid tab and select and repair your internal hard disk from the column on the left.
  • Using the Activity Monitor, check the Central Processing Unit (CPU) under the CPU tab. In the menu toolbar, select All Processes. This window shows how much of you CPU different applications are using. Sort the applications by clicking the % CPU column and see what applications and processes are hogging your machine's CPU cycles. Frozen processes will say "not responding."

What Causes the Mac Spinning Rainbow Cursor?

Typically, when frozen, the computer will not allow you to do anything for a few seconds and then it will resume. The spinning cursor means that some task is blocking your OS X system from running the program properly usually indicates an issue with your hard drive. Even one impacted application can affect the processor and make it unable to click off onto another application.

The spinning rainbow wheel indicates that an application that is not responding. It could be a temporary failure from which the application will recover. In rare cases, the whole system freezes and then the only option is to press the power button until the computer is forced to shut down. However, this situation is not a normal occurrence for OS X, and should be dealt with quickly because it may point to underlying problems.

What to Do if the Rainbow Wheel Won't Stop

In dire circumstances, the only solution is to reboot because the entire machine locks up when one application enters an infinite loop from which it cannot recover. If the rainbow wheel gets stuck spinning, you won't be able to run anything else until it stops.

To force quit, first control-click on the offending application's icon on the desktop dock. Select "Force Quit," which should cut out the application and let you keep working.

If that doesn't work, try shutting down or restarting the computer using the Apple pull-down menu. As a last resort, manually hold down the power button until the computer shuts down.

How to Stop the Spinning Beach Ball of Death

Before running any involved diagnostics on your Mac, first be sure easy-to-fix problems aren't the culprit. If your computer keeps freezing, consider the following:

  • In general, try not running too many applications concurrently.
  • Check that your system and applications are all completely up to date.
  • If your machine keeps freezing, try doing a safe boot: restart and hold down the shift key until you see the Apple logo.
  • If all else fails, try reinstalling your OS.

If none of these work, read on.

Quick Tips: Preventing the Spinning Beach Ball

A stuttering OS X can be solved by getting rid of unnecessary files and optimizing your hard drive.

Mac Desk Utility

To do this, download a Disk Utility for the Mac.

Running a Disk Utility will ensure that the file structure on the Mac drive is organized and functioning correctly. It ensures that when the computer tries to locate or reference files, it had no problems in doing so and hence this results in your Mac working at optimum speed.

If you Mac is running slower and if you're seeing the beach ball more and more and if your hard drive is filling up and you don't know why - try and optimize your hard drive.

Upgrade Your Mac Memory

However, you could be having a lack of RAM problem and you need to upgrade your Mac memory. You may also want to uninstall a few programs off your Mac to save space.

Apple Hardware Test (AHT)

Finally, you might be experiencing a hardware issue. In this case, you should reform an Apple Hardware Test (AHT) which contains a suite of diagnostics that will test the hardware of your computer. In any case, it is a great way to rule out a hardware issue when troubleshooting your computer.

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Nobody wants to see the spinning rainbow on Mac. Frequent and persistent rainbow cursors are not a normal occurrence in Mac OS X, and should be dealt with quickly because they may point to other underlying problems.

This is a situation that all computer users, regardless of what platform they are operating under find frustrating. Sadly, it is also a situation that occurs all too often. Being forced to constantly use a slow computer will seriously affect user experience as well as to shut the computer down and reboot while in the middle of an important task.

The Spinning Beach Ball: Some Background

Apple's wait cursor started as a wristwatch, which later evolved into a beach ball. As advances in hardware and software came along, the beach ball was animated so that it appeared to be spinning. Finally, rainbow colors were added in an effort to make the cursor appear more dynamic.

Have Your Say: Spinning Wheel of Death - Mac Spinning Wheel

Tim on November 02, 2019:

Is there a Mac cleanup utility built into my Mac?

Bob on February 21, 2017:

I bought a brand new iMac. I immediately upgraded the RAM to the max. I figured that would speed up this 'state of the art' computer. After years of hearing how great and frustration free Macs are supposed to be, to say I'm disappointed would be an astronomic understatement. The spinning beach ball is a input device driven event. My old laptop, with minimal RAM out performs my iMac. Right now, it's only saving grace is it communicates well with my iPhone and iPad. It is generally being used as a glorified picture database and email station. Which, by the way, a cheap chrome book could do, too.

may-rose on February 11, 2017:

thank you so much on January 29, 2017:

Another note, I think I found the main problem - too many background services running, even after the program is closed. Here are the main culprits:

1. Adobe Creative Cloud - runs in the background constantly checking for updates. Had about 20 different services running after everything was closed. Shut down the update service and have had less issues.

2. Dropbox & Google Docs - another one that is constantly updating in the background, even if you don't have anything open. Pausing the sync helps to lessen the beachball.

3. Any Webpages running Flash/Shockwave - If you leave these open in Firefox, Chrome or Safari, they will continue to be cached in the background, taking up resources. Bookmark the page and close it.

urthlove on December 23, 2016:

Another solution! Thanks for all your suggestions. Unfortunately, after many hours of trying everything, I took my mac to the fixit guy. Worked perfectly there. Apparently it was just a bad internet wifi connection. All the other computers in the house were working fine, BTW. But after unplugging the router/modem for 60 seconds, everything on my mac worked again.

fern on November 08, 2016:

don,t bother doing a reinstall changes nothing ..

same with upgrading .I,ve tried everything

just wasting time and energy ..

marco on November 05, 2016:

Ahh the spinning wheel on my Macbook pro. Biggest pain in my arsse

Russel_MacUser on October 18, 2016:

I have this piece of sh*t new MacBook Pro, and I log into a financial site, check a trade, and get this: I CANT ENTER TEXT IN THE EDITBOX FIELDS! The website in question works with every single device or computer I have ever used to connect to it, EXCEPT this crap APPLE product. This is stock Safari and stock OSX Yosemite 10.5.5. I got this stupid "spinning beachball of death", and had to shutdown Safari. By the time I got Firefox up and running, the fu**ing market had closed, and I missed my fu**ing trade. This fail cost me real money. HOw in the heII can Apple not actually make a machine with a working web browser??? I should have taken an Android tablet, or and old Windows P/C, or one of my hacked Linux laptops running an OLD version of Firefox. ALL OF THESE MACHINES WORK PERFECTLY! How can a modern, $1400 Apple product with stock software and hardware NOT HAVE A WORKING WEB BROWSER????? F*** but I am pissed about this. Stupid crap feature-bloated bullsh*t crap software, this should not be this difficult. I had no idea that this Apple crap was so unreliable! I bought this POS Macbook because I thought this stuff was supposed to be reliable. GUESS WHAT? IT IS *NOT* ! Stupid machine with idiot features - and Safari is a toxic piece of crap which doesn't even work reliably. Just completely freaking unacceptable, in the extreme... I am using Firefox to enter this text, so it is *not* a hardware problem. I am going to purge Safari completely from this piece of crap MacBook... It is just absurd that I get "beachballed" trying to just use a standard website from a bank!

Capricious Capricorn on September 24, 2015:

Almost lost an eBay bid when the spinner appeared when placing a bid.

Andrew Watts on September 16, 2014:

I have been using Mac for last 5 years and explore few tips and tricks to speed up Mac but till today spinning beach beach ball is here among us. Although the above mentioned tricks are nice to get rid from rainbow ball. Stellar Speed up Mac tool worked well for me and I use to remove garbage and junks from this tool.

blueaxe on July 28, 2014:

I think, when Steve Jobs died, a lot died with Apple too.

I work with Apple (iMac, MacBookPro, iPhone and iPad0-) since almost 4 years and I had more problems than I hoped, I would have.

My productivty time and my problem solving time I spend on Apple is 25% to 75%. When the Spinning Wheel of Death is there to honor Steve Jobs. In all respect let him rest in peace. Amen

domizgamer on June 29, 2014:

I was playing garry's mod multiplayer on my 2010 macbook 13" intel core duo 2 gb ram 256gb storage, when on the loading screen the beachball started spinning and then it stopped spinning and everything froze, including the beachball. Nothing responds!!! What do I do?

Fran Tollett on May 18, 2014:

@anonymous: Thank you Valerie! You're the BEST <3

NINJAforums on April 19, 2014:

@anonymous: haha very funny, when you go onto a forum JUST to insult apple, you usually are either extremely stupid, or under 18

jjurkens on December 21, 2013:

Referring to the spinning wheel of death:

Although basically and for me originally an Apple issue, I believe this happens in Windows too, but I'd have to check as it seems to originate while using - Google Chrome. I first had this problem when updating GC over a year ago (which is when I think I had problem on Windows appear too, if it did at all). The problem was temporarily solved by dumping extra "crap" out of Chrome, but returned quickly. It soon appeared on all my computers [they all have GC too - again, seemingly appearing on MS products too), soon it began to happen on more and more of my programs until it was ubiquitous. The next upgrade to GC solved the problem all over. Now, it's begun again with last upgrade on GC or soon thereafter. Right now, it's only happening on one computer (this MBA) and only on Chrome.

We'll see and I'll try the stuff above - see if it works. (Seems once before I got a temp fix by uninstalling upgrade to Chrome and going back to next back).

herbalphoto on October 17, 2013:

As soon as it starts up, I get the spinning wheel of death. The last time I left it for two days and the wheel never went away. Same thing happens when I boot up in Safe Mode.

jaleo123 on October 12, 2013:

@anonymous: Dear Valerie, thanks for your post! It looks like you saved my day!

anonymous on August 26, 2013:

Ok, it totally froze. I ran an application, boom, spinning wheel, I can't even hold the shutdown button, it won't do anything, the on, thing that is functional is the spinning wheel and the mouse. HELP!

anonymous on July 23, 2013:

I constantly get the spinning wheel while working in iphoto. I was so frustrated, I cleaned my entire macbook pro and loaded only the factory OSX applications. I STILL got the spinning wheel and I hadn't even added my photo library yet. I tried everything! Then I just broke down and bought the Adobe Photoshop on the Cloud (CS6) and I don't have the problems anymore! Is iphoto not being updated or are there problems with the new updates?

anonymous on July 15, 2013:

I just spent $20 to talk to a very nice and helpful Apple guy on the phone. Thought I'd share what I found. I regularly zap P-RAM which he mentioned as well and I'll include below; but my problem seemed to be too many cache files.

- Boot in safe mode -

Restart, holding down the SHIFT key

- To clear cache:

At top -- hold down option key, go to GO/Library

Open Caches

Delete all contents (keep Caches folder)

Then shut down, reboot normally. Each app will start slowly the first time (since it's rebuilding cache from scratch), then quit and re-open the app and it'll open fast the second time.


Other things that help:

- To zap SMC:

Disconnect everything except power cable

Turn off computer

Press SHIFT-CONTROL-OPTION while turned off;

also hold down POWER button; hold for 15 seconds.

Restart normally.

- To zap PRAM:

Restart and hold down OPTION-COMMAND-

P-R, then press power button; hold opt-command-p-r until computer "bings" and the screen blacks

out three times, then release keys and let it continue starting up.

You can also run Hardware Diagnostics by restarting while holding down the D key.

Hope this helps, and saves somebody the $20! :)

anonymous on July 09, 2013:

I have a 2008 Macbook Pro decked out for the time I purchased it. I used to use it to edit, compress, and render graphics for HD movies. Thought it would beneficial to update to mountain I can't even look at a file or open an App without staring at a spinning pinwheel for 5-10 minutes. I can forget even trying to edit a video in Final Cut with it. What a loss, ended up building my own PC but, literally threw thousands of dollars in hardware and software in the trash when I updated to Mountain lion. I still try periodically (like today) to fix it but to no avail. I used to like Macs, now I would never recommend getting one. It's been over a year, and still no fix? I see lots of people having the same problem, so WTF Apple? Literally, one day it worked fine, one update later it's trash!

anonymous on June 27, 2013:

I purchased a Macbook Pro on the recommendation others that i would have less trouble than with a PC, what a lot of garbage. The wheel of death is not only frustrating it wastes more of my time than the problems with a PC. Apple go back to the drawing board and build a machine worth the cost you charge. No more Apple products for me.

anonymous on June 11, 2013:

@anonymous: That seems to be a good idea, except reinstalling the os for a stupid hung up application must appeal to Apple users only. If you had Windows you could see what ran on start up with out being a tech and I really do not think that a 6 month old $1200 computer needs its hard drive replaced, I think it is Apple software and hardware that needs to be replaced.

anonymous on June 11, 2013:

@anonymous: I could not agree more. My wife had to get an Apple and it is the biggest piece of "junk" I have ever seen. She has an iphone which is equally as bad. Neither work well, do stupid things and there is no way in the world to figure out what is wrong or fix it. I can't believe anyone would buy any apple product and I never would. I have worked with Windows for over 15 years and never had the problems she has had in the past 6 months.

anonymous on June 11, 2013:

I tried to take everything in the trash and drop it onto the desktop. I left it for a while but the only thing that was happening was the little spinning beach ball thing, so I tried rebooting the computer but every time i click on that account the spinning cursor thing comes up and no applications will respond! Please help

anonymous on June 06, 2013:

I had the spinning wheel of death on safari, and force quit didn't work, so I force shut down. Now my computer has a black screen, and the spinning wheel of death won't stop! I need to clean my mac, But I don't have access to my computer to do so, and it's been going on for about an hour now! My computer is a MacBook Pro, what can I do?

anonymous on June 02, 2013:

My mac boots ok typing password is ok then the icons on my desktop are not loading and remain white. The wheel of doom is spinning and won't do anything else. Command esc doesn't work and turning it off and rebooting doesn't either. It has shown no problems before so it's strange it's just happening now. Any suggestions please!

anonymous on May 14, 2013:

I can't get the rainbow wheel of death to go away. I am typing this with it on my safari. It goes away anywhere else though. HELP!

anonymous on April 21, 2013:

im gonna fucking kill aplle if they don't get rid of this dumbass rainbow ball

anonymous on December 31, 2012:

@anonymous: I know this is a year later, but try taking the battery out for a few minutes. This worked for me. And everything on my Word document came back up. :)

anonymous on December 31, 2012:

I had the spinning wheel on my Word document. I tried everything to troubleshoot. I finally took out the battery, let the computer rest for a few minutes, came back and reinstalled the battery. Everything in my Word document came back up, as was, and I was able to save it. Whew! I hope it works for you.

anonymous on October 31, 2012:

The newest Mac Book Pro locks continually locks up with the pinwheel. It was sold as a video rendering machine, which is more awkward to use than my PC with Avid top end video programs. The music in iTunes is a jungle to separate unnamed selections. APPLE comes with a crappy little booklet, "Everything Mac", but has NO INSTRUCTIONS. Simple instructions such as 'copy' & 'paste' are not described... APPLE is CRAPPLE... So Thank you very much S. Jobs for an over hyped, over priced aluminum box with a substandard screen. My old Acer laptop is clearer, sharper and brighter. I never miss an opportunity to speak with Mac users who "Love their Macs" - because it starts fast... My PC stomps the Apple into APPLESAUCE...