Troubleshooting a Mac is different from troubleshooting a PC, but not that different. Here’s how to use your Mac’s built-in startup options to test your hardware, boot in safe mode, reinstall macOS, and perform other system tasks.

To access one of these tools, you’ll first have to shut down or restart your Mac. You’ll then have to press and hold the appropriate key or key combination before the gray startup screen appears. Press the keys right after the startup sound plays.

Choose Another Startup Disk with the Startup Manager

To boot from a specific device, press and hold the Option key while booting your Mac. You’ll see the Startup Manager appear. From here, you can choose to boot from different connected hard drives, USB flash drives, network locations, and other boot devices.

To skip the Startup Manager and boot straight from a removable device—for example, a CD, DVD, or USB drive—instead of its internal drive, press and hold C. To boot directly from the network with Netbook, press and hold N instead.

Test Your Hardware with Apple Diagnostics

Apple Diagnostics tests your Mac’s hardware to ensure it’s working properly. On Macs released before June 2013, Apple Hardware Test (AHT) will appear instead of Apple Diagnostics.

To access this tool, press and hold the D key while booting your Mac. Select your language and your Mac will automatically test its hardware and inform you if anything is wrong.

Load the Bare Necessities with Safe Mode

Macs offer a Safe Mode, also known as Safe Boot. When you boot in Safe Mode, your Mac will check its startup volume, only load necessary kernel extensions, and disable third-party fonts and startup options. It’s like Safe Mode on Windows—it won’t load third-party hardware drivers or startup programs, so you can use this mode to fix problems if your Mac isn’t working or booting properly.

To load your Mac in Safe Mode, press and hold the Shift key while it boots. You can stop holding the Shift key when you see an Apple logo and progress bar. To leave Safe Mode, just reboot your Mac without holding the Shift key.

Troubleshoot from the Command Line with Single-User Mode

In single-user mode, you’ll be presented with a text-mode terminal you can use to enter commands you might need to troubleshoot problems. This works like Linux’s single-user mode—rather than getting multi-user operating system, you boot directly to a root shell.

Press Command+S as your Mac boots to enter single-user mode. To leave this mode, type reboot at the prompt and press Enter.

See More Detailed Information with Verbose Mode

In verbose mode, you’ll see normally hidden messages appear on your screen. If your Mac is freezing, especially during the boot process, the messages here can help you identify and get help with the problem.

Press Command+V as your Mac boots to enter verbose mode. You’ll see the terminal messages appear during the startup process. If everything goes properly, your Mac will boot to its normal desktop.

Get Other Tools (or Reinstall macOS) with Recovery Mode

Recovery Mode provides various graphical tools for working with your Mac. From here, you can reinstall macOS, restore your computer from a Time Machine backup, or use the Disk Utility to repair, wipe, and partition your Mac’s internal disks.

RELATED: How to Wipe Your Mac and Reinstall macOS from Scratch

Press Command+R as your Mac boots to access Recovery Mode. If necessary, you’ll be asked to connect to a network so your Mac can download the appropriate recovery software. You can then choose your language and use the graphical tools here.

One of the nice things about a Mac is that this is all built-in. You don’t even have to download a macOS installer to access these tools—if necessary, your Mac will download the macOS installation files for you when you choose to reinstall the operating system. Better yet, it will download the most recent version of macOS so you won’t have to spend hours installing patches and service packs, as you do on Windows.

RELATED: So Your Mac Isn't Getting macOS Updates, Now What?

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Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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