How to get rid of the spinning colour wheel of death

The spinning colour wheel, or beach ball, is an indicator that your Mac is loading processes. Usually it only appears for a second, or doesn’t at all. Getting a spinning colour wheel that spins for a long time can be very inconvenient. It slows down your Mac and can certainly disrupt your computing experience. This is often known as the spinning colour wheel of death. In this guide, we will be looking at why this happens, and how you can fix it.

Why am I getting the Mac spinning wheel of death?

Hard drive failure

The spinning wheel occurs when your Mac can’t properly handle the different processes needed. It’s having trouble running applications that are installed on your hard drive. You’ll find that the spinning wheel remains spinning for a long time and sometimes freezes up your computer. This means that your Mac may be having issues with reading and writing processes on the hard drive.

When you’re used to a certain standard of performance, finding that your Mac is running slower than usual can be pretty annoying. Understanding why this is happening and how you can diagnose this problem can help you find the right repair solution. The spinning wheel of death usually comes from a hard drive issue, where the drive cannot read or write data properly.

Logic board failure

While it is less common, frequent spinning colour wheel indicators could also come from logic board issues. Everything on the Mac is connected via the logic board, and it is an essential part in the device’s normal functioning. If the logic board is faulty, your Mac will not be able to work properly nor handle everything else that you’re trying to do. Hence the freezing up.

Logic board failure is quite a complicated process to navigate through. Learn more about testing a logic board here.

Background processes eating up CPU and RAM

Sometimes we forget to close applications properly and they keep running in the background. While you open more and more other applications, all these combined processes may eat up the CPU or RAM. An overworked CPU or insufficient RAM could be overloading your system’s ability to handle everything. You can look up what’s taking up your CPU or RAM from the activity monitor.

An application’s data is still cached on the Mac’s virtual memory, and does not reset until the computer is reset. This makes properly shutting down your Mac when you’re not using it a healthy computing habit. By doing so, your computer can also work out any small issues by itself after resetting.

Another rare cause of the constant spinning colour wheel could be a virus infection on your Mac. A virus runs in the background and is not easily noticeable, also eating up your CPU usage. Running antivirus software can usually solve this problem in no time.

Still, the constant spinning colour wheel usually means a hard drive failure, so let’s look at why this happens. To confirm this issue, you can run simple tests to find out.

Why do hard drives fail?

2.5 hard drive HDD

Hard drives contain moving parts that are required to read and write data on spinning platters. The read and write heads are quite delicate, and floats on the spinning platters to work. Physical damage or natural wear and tear can create bad sectors on the hard drive. The accumulation of such bad sectors are the main reason that hard drives fail, and this cannot be avoided. It’s also impossible to make a perfect hard drive, so all drives ship with a tiny amount of bad sectors.

Bad sectors are a result of physical damage or software issues. Physical damage such as blunt force or dust getting into the hard drive causes permanently damaged hard bad sectors. Soft bad sectors are then caused by software issues like sudden loss of power while writing to the disk, or virus infection. These can be repaired or quarantined by running disk checkup utilities.

Even so, not all bad sectors can be repaired. They do accumulate, and once it gets to a point where the drive cannot tolerate them, it will start to fail. Some signs of this may be a slow computer, unsuccessful bootup, or even a total crash.

How to repair a faulty hard drive

When you do see these signs of a faulty hard drive, taking action as soon as you can might be a good idea. By doing so, you may be able to avoid data corruption or loss. Apple offers built-in tools to help users check their hard drive’s working status and attempt repairs as well.

1. Reset your hard drive

Assuming that your Mac still boots up and workds, you can try resetting your hard drive first. You can either wipe the drive and reinstall MacOS with a bootable installer USB, or factory reset your Mac. With this quick reset, you can refresh your hard drive and buy yourself a little time before it fails. This could buy your another year or so on the drive, depending on how much damage there is. If the bad sectors are too spread out across the drive, it probably won’t last you that long anymore. These methods involve completely wiping out all data on the drive, so it’s best that you backup your files before doing so.

To create a bootable installer USB, you’ll need a USB drive with at least 16GB free capacity and another Mac to create it on. Just download the right installation media from another Mac onto the USB and you’re done. Then you may wipe your current hard drive and reinstall MacOS from the USB drive at startup.

A more simple method would be doing a factory reset. Hold down the Command and “R” key at startup to reach the MacOS recovery screen. There you can find the “Reinstall MacOS” option. This process downloads and reinstalls the MacOS and refreshes your system. You can also find the Disk Utility option from MacOS recovery. This is also a useful built-in disk checkup tool that we will cover next.

2. Use Apple built-in diagnostic tools

Disk Utility and Apple Diagnostics are both Mac built-in diagnostic tools that you can use to detect issues on your hard drive. These simple tools are readily available for you to detect issues and attempt repairs on your hard drive.

Disk Utility First Aid

disk utility first aid

Disk Utility is a hard drive tool on all Mac computers that you can use to manage your hard drive. With the “First Aid” function, you can test your hard drive for issues and attempt possible repairs on the drive. Soft bad sectors can be repaired, while hard bad sectors are then marked to be skipped over. This stops the drive from reading or writing on those marked areas.

If your drive is about to fail, Disk Utility can also detect and report this imminent failure. The app may also recommend you backup your data and get the hard drive replaced.

Disk Utility is a tool exclusively for the hard drive. If you are looking for a test that checks other components across the laptop, you can try out Apple Diagnostics.

Apple Diagnostics

Apple Diagnostics

Apple Diagnostics is a pre-boot diagnostic tool that tests most components on a Mac. This includes parts like the hard drive, battery, and RAM. Any problems detected on these components are then reported with reference codes and online support solutions.

To run Apple Diagnostics, press and hold the “D” key when you reach the Apple logo splash screen. Choose the right language for you, then the scan will begin on its own. You can then take these reference codes to Apple Support or the Apple Store for repair solutions.

If these two tools are sufficient enough to conclude a hard drive failure, you can move on to replacing the drive. Or, you could try running more extensive tests on dedicated hard drive analysis software.

3. Extensive tests on dedicated hard drive analysis software

Free software like WD Data Lifeguard are used to run thorough tests for hard drives. This software focuses just on the hard drive, just like Disk Utility does, but is more in-depth than that.

To run tests on hard drive analysis software, you’ll need to take out the hard drive and test it on a separate Mac desktop computer. The hard drive has to be connected to the desktop Mac via a SATA to USB enclosure box. This enclosure box is then powered by an external power source, not the desktop it’s connected to. By doing so, we can ensure that the drive is isolated from other things that could affect the testing process. This helps us focus solely on the hard drive.

As a more extensive test, it should take longer to run, compared to Disk Utility and Apple Diagnostics. It helps to detect hard drive faults and attempt repairs as well. After this, you can move on to getting hard drive replacement.

4. Choose a hard drive replacement

A hard drive replacement is a simple and easy process that you can often do by yourself. All you need to do is to find the right drive for you first. Apple laptop and desktop computer models often have different combinations of parts. Your computer may have a traditional hard disk drive (HDD), flash storage, or a fusion drive, which is a combination of an HDD and flash storage.

Hard disk drive

HDDs were the standard for computer storage for many years. If you own an older Macbook or a iMac desktop, it’s likely that you have an HDD as the main storage device. For your replacement, you’ll need to find a new compatible hard drive for your Mac. As long as the drive is compatible, you may also be able to find a more powerful hard drive as an upgrade. Apple often uses parts specialised for only Apple devices, so you can’t get just any drive that physically fits your Mac.

Flash storage

Flash storage, or solid-state drives, are more and more popular these days as a better computer storage solution. They do not contain moving parts and have better performance that HDDs do. This gives it great durability and a smooth computing experience for the user.

Because of these benefits, HDD users may consider upgrading to flash storage. It is an upgrade that can get you a substantial boost in performance, as flash storage reads and writes much faster than HDDs do. Again, Mac users should also look for drives that are compatible with your system.

Still, in some cases, you might not be able to get your flash storage replaced if it is faulty. Storage devices that are built-in on the logic board cannot be replaced unless you replace the logic board entirely. An example of this would be the Macbook Pro with retina display and butterfly keyboard.

Fusion drive

Fusion Drive

Configurations of a fusion drive.

Fusion drives are commonly used on Apple iMac desktop computers. A combination of both a HDD and flash storage offers both great performance and more storage capacity than just using flash storage.

When you get a fusion drive replacement, you’ll need to find the right drives and a technician to work things out for you. You can’t really buy a fusion drive on the market, as they are simply two drives fused together by software. You may also do this by yourself of course, if you are tech savvy.

Finding your hard drive model

Mac system overview

You can find information about your hard drive by going to About this Mac > System information. You can find out what type of startup drive you have, along with its serial number and other information from “System Report”. Having a good idea about your current hard drive could help you find the right replacement. The information can act as a reference point in this process.

Another way to find out what drive you have is by opening up your computer and taking a look. Taking a look on the information label on the storage device could be a more practical way to do your research.

5. Replace the faulty hard drive

Now that you’ve got a new drive, it’s time to install it on your computer. This is a simple process of removing the faulty drive and fitting the new one in. You don’t really need to be that tech savvy to do it yourself.

Tech repair site ifixit offers a wide range of tech guides to help with any at-home repairs. There you can find the right hard drive replacement guide for your Mac. With just the help of a few tools, you can start using your new drive in no time.

6. Install MacOS on new drive

MacOS Utilities

The last step that you’ll need to do is to reinstall MacOS on your startup drive. Just make sure that you’ve installed the drive correctly, and MacOS Recovery will do the rest.

This is done exactly the same way as we started. Press Command + R at startup, then choose “Reinstall MacOS”. A new installation of MacOS will be downloaded and installed. When this is completed, you’re all set!

Understanding hard drive failure and how repairs are done can help you get to the right repair solution when you find yourself in a pickle. Even if you decide not to do things yourself, you won’t be kept in the dark when you get your Mac serviced.

Professional repairs

Getting help from professionals can definitely save you the time from testing and repairing things yourself. The Apple store can often get you the right specialised solution to your computer hardware issues. If your Mac is no longer covered by warranty or is deemed obsolete, you might have to go to a third-party repair service instead.

As a trusted third-party repair service, our technicians at Safemode Computer Service is surely an option! Conveniently located in Inner West Sydney, we offer highly rated computer services. We can help you test your Mac for issues, and get you expert repair solutions. Give us a call or drop by our Inner West store today.