-It’s rare but possible that you could see a blue screen (or a blue screen with a spinning beachball/coloured pinwheel) when you start up your Mac.

If you see a blue screen, or a blue screen with a spinning beachball, then it’s likely that there is a problem with a peripheral plugged into your Mac, an issue with your startup items, or something wrong with the software you are running. We have more fixes for common Mac problems here.

However, it could be nothing at all. There have been cases of people seeing what they assume is a Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) on their Mac, but it’s actually a scam viewed in a pop up window when browsing the web. It’s likely that this is the case if you see a link to a website or a phone number to call.

What is the Blue Screen of Death?

The blue screen of death was traditionally something that PC users were all too familiar with. If you saw a blue screen of death on a PC, it usually meant that you would lose what you were working on - the horror! You would need to restart your computer and hope that everything started up again hunky-dory.

Mac users weren’t exempt, but because the Mac operating system is Unix based, and Macs are more limited in terms of hardware configurations, and because Apple exerts more control over drivers, they were, and still are, rare.

It is possible that what you are seeing isn't a Blue Screen of Death at all. We note a few of the different screens you might encounter on a Mac at the end of this article, so if you aren't sure what you have encountered, you could skip to bottom to find out if it's something else.

However, chances are if you have ended up reading this article that’s exactly what you are seeing. So we will discuss what to do if you do see a blue screen on a Mac below.

What to do if you get a blue screen on a Mac

If you are seeing a blue screen on your Mac the good news if that your Mac has at least powered up.

It’s likely that your Mac has either found a problem with the start up drive, or a peripheral connected to your Mac is causing issues.

These steps should help you solve your problem with a blue screen on a Mac:

  1. Start by disconnecting anything that’s plugged into your Mac - the blue screen could be caused by an issue with one of your peripherals. (You may need to keep the mouse and keyboard plugged in if you are using a desktop Mac).
  2. Shut down your Mac and wait 30 seconds.
  3. Try and boot up the Mac again. If it works it’s likely that one of your peripherals was the culprit, so try plugging each one in in turn to see which one causes issues.
  4. If your Mac still won’t boot up even with everything unplugged, try and boot in Safe mode (press and hold the shift key while starting up - as soon as you see the Apple logo).
  5. If you manage to start up in Safe mode it may fix the problems while booting up, in which case, restart the Mac again as normal and see if it’s fixed.
  6. If the problem still isn’t fixed you may need to update the operating system on your Mac. You can do this in Safe Mode so start up your Mac in Safe Mode again. Once your Mac has started up in Safe Mode click on the Apple menu (top left) and choose About The Mac > Software Update.
  7. If your software is up to date, another thing to check is your login items. Go to System Preferences and click Users & Groups.
  8. Next, click on your user account and choose the Login Items tab.
  9. Make sure you write down or take a screen shot of the Login Items as you may need to re-enter them later.
  10. Click on each login item in turn and delete it by clicking on the [-] below the box of items.
  11. Now try restarting your Mac again. If this has solved the problem you can go back to Users & Groups in System Preferences and add the login items back, restarting your computer after adding each one, to see if the issue occurs again.
  12. If that doesn’t solve the problem it may be that the problem is with the start up drive - the part of your Mac’s drive that contains the operating system. If that is the case you can hopefully fix problems by running Disk Utility. We run through how to use Disk Utility on a Mac in detail here https://www.macworld.co.uk/how-to/mac-software/how-use-disk-utility-3634604/ but we will explain the steps you need to take now below.
  13. You should be able to access Disk Utility in Safe Mode, you will find it in the Utilities folder in Applications (or use Spotlight - press Command+Space and start typing Disk Utility).
  14. Alternatively, if Safe Mode is failing for you, try running Disk Utility via Recovery Mode. To enter Recovery Mode hold down the Command and R keys while your Mac is starting up. Once your Mac starts in Recovery Mode you will gain access to Utilities.
  15. Click on Disk Utility, locate the icon for your Mac's drive, and click First Aid (older versions of Disk Utility will have the option to Verify Disk).
  16. Should Disk Utility  find any errors with your Disk it will ask if you would like to repair them. Click Repair Disk if this is the case. Following this process you should be able to restart the Mac again.

If your Mac still isn’t running, try using Recovery Mode to reinstall Mac OS. We cover how use Recovery Mode to reinstall Mac OS here.

Is it the Blue Screen of Death or something else?

It may not be a Blue Screen of Death that you are encountering. We will quickly look at some of the alternatives below.

Kernel Panic

On a Mac a kernel panic is probably more close to the Blue Screen of Death experienced on a PC. A kernel panic screen could look something like this:

Or this:

A kernel panic happens when the Mac OS encounters a fatal error that means it’s not safe to continue to run.

When a kernel panic happened on a Mac running Mac OS 10.2 to 10.7, the user would see see a multilingual message telling them to reboot. On Macs running Mac OS 10.8 and later, the Mac would reboot automatically reboots and the user would see the message following the restart.

Once the Mac restarts following a kernel panic you can usually get back to work, take note of what programmes are running when the kernel panic happens and you might be able to identify the issue.

Sad Mac

On a really old Mac you might see the Sad Mac symbol that indicates a hardware problem.

Grey Screen of Death

You might actually think the error you are seeing is more of a Grey Screen of Death.

In fact, these days it is unlikely you will see a blue screen. This is because modern Macs with Retina displays support extended colour spaces what might mean that what appears as blue on an older screen could actually look grey or even black on a new Mac.