Alvin Poh

How To Resolve Kernel Panics in Mac OSX

I had the fantastic opportunity to be the lucky recipient of kernel panics on my Macbook Pro that happen once every 24-48 hours. I’ve been trying to troubleshoot and resolve the kernel panic, because as you can imagine, it’s extremely counter-productive.

I finally resolved it by removing a wonky KEXT (kernel extension) that turned out to be the culprit – turns out it was USBOverdrive’s KEXT, and this all started when I used USBOverDrive to configure my bluetooth mouse because the default Apple configuration utility just couldn’t do a good enough job.

The whole process of finding this KEXT though, was LONG and TEDIOUS. Most of these steps had to be performed when I was asleep, so it was usually a repetition of:

  • Try one method
  • Wait to see if the kernel panic happens
  • Actually experience the kernel panic happen
  • Curse
  • Repeat

Here are just some steps that I took to try to resolve and fix the kernel panic that I was having:

1. Run A System Scan

If your Mac is still covered in Apple Care, then you can download Tech Tool Deluxe from Apple’s website free. This is a powerful diagnostic utility tool developed by Micromat that allows you to test your computer’s critical system components, such as the processor, RAM (random-access memory), VRAM (video random-access memory), the hard disk, and more. TechTool Deluxe can also repair your computer’s disk structure and rebuild its directories as necessary. So download this tool, let it run, and see if any errors pop up.

2. Run Disk Utility

This is a utility that comes with Mac OSX that allows you to verify that your disk runs properly and that permissions are correct. To access this utility, go to Applications >> Utilities >> Disk Utility. Sometimes you might need to restart to use this tool, but if you do, just follow the instructions that it prompts you to follow.

If this step passes, you can be reasonably sure it’s not a permissions problem or a superficial disk error that’s causing your kernel panics.

3. Run Apple’s Hardware Test

Apple ships a DVD containing a bootable hardware test with all their Macs, and so you should have a copy of this in your Mac’s box. Load this DVD, and boot up following the instructions (typically by rebooting while holding down the D key). When you do this, you’ll be able to come to a hardware test utility that allows you to test your RAM/memory. Leave this test running for a few loops. This, however, is a pretty superficial tests and is well-known to NOT find more serious RAM errors.

4. Run Rember

To EXTENSIVELY test your memory, a pretty good open-source tool is Rember. Load that up, and leave that running for a few loops at least. If there are any serious errors with your memory, this utility should be able to find them out.

5. Update Your Applications and Mac OS

Sometimes when kernel panics occur, they occur because of a conflict within your applications and your Mac OS. What you can do, is to update all applications and drivers to the latest version, and ensure that it’s fully compatible with your current version of Mac OS. At the same time, you should be updating Mac OS to the latest version as well. To do this, click on the Apple icon on the upper left corner of your screen, and click on “Software Update” – that’ll let you know if there are any updates for your system.

6. Uninstall Applications

At this step, you can be pretty sure that your hardware should be fine, so you should really be looking for non-hardware causes. You should be isolating the problem to either your operating system (Mac OS) or the drivers/applications that you’ve installed. So give your applications a good look-through to see if there are any applications that can potentially give you troubles. Typically, these are applications and drivers that modify with the kernel (kernel, kernel panic, heh), such as mouse drivers, keyboard drivers, webcam drivers, ANY sort of drivers, applications that modify your kernel’s run-time, power management, and so on.

7. Uninstall Any KEXTs

This is the absolute furthest that I got. To check the KEXTs that are running on your system currently, type this command in Terminal (Applications >> Terminal) and hit enter:

sudo kextstat

Again, look for any suspicious kextstats – ideally no extraneous third-party KEXTs should be installed. If they are, remove them with these instructions on how to remove KEXTs from Mac OS.

8. Reinstall Mac OS

The fault could be a problem with a corrupted Mac OS installation, which is more probable if you upgraded from a major version (e.g. Tiger to Snow Leopard). If so, reinstall this by booting up with your Mac OS DVD, and choosing to install Mac OS again. This will not affect your data and currently installed applications – but still, please do backups!

9. Format and Install Mac OS

The very last step. At this point, your hardware seems fine, and your software seems fine (or unrepairable), so you might be better installing a fresh copy of Mac OS, and starting off from there. Before you do this, you HAVE TO backup your data. If you’re unfamiliar with backups, this site teaches you how to backup data.

What you want to do is not to backup your full system, but to backup only the data and files that you want. That way, when you restore your data on to your fresh system, you won’t be copying over any corrupted files or buggy system data.

Once on your brand new Mac OS installation, be VERY selective on what you install, and keep your installations to only applications that are fully compatible with your version of Mac OS. It was only after a reformat that I found the root cause of my kernel panics, so you may have to resort to this step after all. What would help is to have a good, easily accessible backup so that restoration of your critical apps and data will be quick and easy.

10. Go to Apple

This is the absolute last step because while you might be covered under Apple Care, it takes so much time and effort just to get your laptop fixed (and it doesn’t guarantee that they might find the error too). Once you’re on this step, you can confidently say that you’ve done all the necessary steps to isolate the fault to something related to hardware, because you’ve pretty much done all you could.

Well that’s my 10 steps. Hope this helps you with your kernel panics ๐Ÿ™‚

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3 thoughts on “How To Resolve Kernel Panics in Mac OSX”

  1. Alvin, thanks for the very informative “how to”. I seem to be having kernel panics relating to the exact same thing, a bad KEXT for USBOverdrive. Were you able to successfully reinstall this software without further kernel panics? I’d find it a tough call choosing between default OS X mouse acceleration versus occasional kernel panics…

  2. hey Jim, glad that helped. I couldn’t stand the default OSX settings too, so I went with another program called SteerMouse. Google it and you should find it pretty easily. That solved my problems with the mouse and kernel panics ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. I had all your 10 steps done but failed and have to bear this damn macbook pro forever till i can sell it for innocent person to suffer instead of me.
    I trusted Apple for good products and service.


    Apple refused to fix my macbook pro nor exchange, their genius bar in my town is nothing but useless.
    Apple has 10% default failure for most of its products, but they refuse to fix or exchange for the expensive products like computers.
    I wish they can produce “real” good products not the products with problem.

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