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Articles: Kernel Panic!

For the Love of Kernels

I love popcorn. It’s my go-to comfort food when I relax after a long day at the office. After all those air-popped white beauties (lightly sprayed with coconut oil and sprinkled with salt) are gone, my next favorite part remains: the not-quite popped kernels. Mmmmmm. Although my teeth can still take them, I suspect it won’t be for long. My mother broke her tooth on a popcorn kernel once, and she hasn’t eaten it since for fear of breaking another.


A sort of kernel panic, as it were.


Don’t Panic!

When your computer suffers a kernel panic, it has nothing to do with yummy comfort food. Witnessing such an event can be really scary. A kernel panic can happen in all versions of OS X. Each generation appears a little differently on your screen. First, you might see a bunch of bizarre letter and number combinations appear on your screen. Think of a movie you’ve seen where a hacker does their thing. Flashes of data impossible to understand march up your monitor and throw you and your work into computer chaos.


Next you get the ominous message:

You need to restart your computer. Hold down the Power button until it turns off, then press the Power button again.

Apple is so serious about this message, that they put it in four, five, or six different languages to ensure you understand, depending what version of OS X you’re running.

A kernel panic is a warning that the OS has experienced a fatal error. Geeez. Fatal error! There’s no coming back from that! it would seem…


Don’t follow suit with those pesky kernels and panic. It’s not necessarily the end of your computer. It might be because of a hardware failure, but it also might just be a bug in some software or a new app. If you just experience it once, it’s probably not something you need to worry about. If you have a “recurring kernel panic,” then a little panic of your own might be appropriate.


Resolving a Kernel Panic

As in all technical conundrums, it’s a process of elimination to isolate the problem. Start with the simplest and move to the more complex. Apple has an entire support page on kernel panics, so read up on it if you experience one before trying any of the following.


  1. Since it’s most likely a specific application caused it, choose “cancel” when your computer asks if you want to reopen the windows. Then look at the kernel report and send it to Apple (as it will probably be all Greek to you). Go about your business and make note of the applications you’re using in case it happens again.

  2. Restart into Safe Mode. Easy to do. Right after you hear the startup sound, press and hold the SHIFT key until you see the Apple symbol. Sometimes this is enough for the innards of your Mac to sort themselves out. Restart normally and go about your business. If it happens again…

  3. Update your OS, other software, and apps. Although some people have valid reasons for not running the latest version of OS X, I recommend it to most people. Yes, it’s a pain to change things when you’ve got a smooth workflow, as there is usually a learning curve with the new features or look, but the benefits far outweigh the frustration. Just choose “Software Update” from the Apple menu to update everything from your OS to your apps.

  4. Check peripherals to ensure their software and drivers are up-to-date as well. If kernel panics continue, unplug everything but the basics: keyboard and mouse. You might even try a different mouse.

  5. If they continue after that, it might be necessary to go into Disk Utility to repair your disk, Recovery Mode to reinstall the OS, or something even more serious.


If you’re not comfortable doing those things on your own, please call PowerMax at 888-769-7629, and I will be happy to assist and walk you through a solution.


ChristineChristine is a Technical Support Specialist and Content Writer for PowerMax. Follow her articles as she takes you “Behind the Sasquatch: A Look Inside PowerMax,” an inside look at the day-to-day operations from the perspective of a Woman in Tech. She’ll also post great Tech Tips, helping you get the most of your Mac apps as well as write about some common technical issues and how to fix them. Finally, Christine will periodically post some Tutorials that teach readers how to do things like make podcasts and iPhone apps. Find what you’re looking for in the categories on the right. 

If you have a tech question or issue, please don’t hesitate to contact Christine for help.

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