When Your Mac Screen Goes Dark: Troubleshooting a Mac screen that isn’t coming in

When you turn on your Mac, you expect to see the screen light up and show that shiny Apple logo, perhaps with a loading bar or a spinning icon below it. Or that you’ll see whatever it was that you were last looking at. But what happens when that screen is completely dark, and you don’t see anything on screen. Here, I’ll walk you through the steps to take to troubleshoot this issue and determine if it is software or hardware.

1: Check for power

This may seem obvious, but it’s worth checking if the machine has power if it needs it. For most modern MacBooks if the battery is very dead you may need to leave it connected to the charger for several minutes before the machine will turn on. That said, the MacBook likely show a depleted battery icon when you attempt to turn it on and a charging battery icon while it’s charging but before it’s ready for use. If the screen or some other graphics component is failing, then you likely won’t see anything at all, and you’ll need to go to the next step.

If you’re using a desktop Mac, then this will require you to check the power cable and ensure that the cable is snuggly connected to the back of your machine and the outlet in the wall or surge protector.

In both cases, it may be worth checking if the outlet in the wall is working as well. The outlet is dead, it will not charge your MacBook or allow your desktop Mac to function.

2: Is the machine responding to any sort of input or making any sound?

If you know the power connection is good, and the battery is charged, then we’ll need to test whether the machine is otherwise working. This will help us determine if the issue is a software or hardware problem. Here are 2 easy things to try.

First, try adjusting the brightness. Some users get pranked into believing their screen is dead by having their screen brightness turned all the way down by coworkers or family members. See if turning it up on the keyboard if this helps. You can typically tap the F2 key on the keyboard, or tap the sun icon and drag the slider up on a Touch Bar MacBook.

A second option is to check the volume. If the machine is on and active, but the screen isn’t, then the volume should still work. For most machines, hold down the Shift key on the keyboard, and then hit the volume up key (typically F12), or slide the Volume Slider on the Touch Bar. Normally changing the volume on a Mac is silent, but the Mac will play a small tone indicating the volume level if you change the volume while holding down the Shift key. If you can hear anything, then the issue is likely either in software or with the graphics system. Continue on to test #3. Otherwise go to test #5

3: Checking if the back light is dead

Many screens are LCD/LED screens. In these cases, they have the different color pixels that change to show what’s on screen, but they don’t produce much light on their own. Instead they have a separate back light that is on behind it so those pixels colors can be seen. This is why even if you have something completely black on screen you still see light coming through the screen. So it’s entirely possible that your Mac’s pixels may be working and displaying, but the back light is dead so you won’t see most of it. Think of it like an e-ink eBook reader like the Amazon Kindle or the old Game Boy handhelds. Most of those worked fine with a lot of light, but when it got dark you couldn’t see anything without an external light source or later backlit models.

To test this, turn on the machine or wake it up. Then shine a flashlight (your phone’s flashlight function should be fine) at an angle to the screen where you expect an item to be. For example, if you’re turning on the machine you could shine your light around the middle of the screen around where the Apple logo should be. If your machine is already on, try shining it around the top of the screen where the Finder bar should be, preferably in the top left or right corners, and see if you see any menu bar items up there.

If you see anything on screen with the flashlight, then your backlight is dead and will need to be replaced. If the machine is under warranty then have Apple or a licensed technician fix it for you for free. If it’s not under warranty, you will likely have to fork out some cash to get it replaced or try to replace it yourself if you so desire.

However if you don’t see anything on screen, but you know the machine is indeed on, go to test #4.

4: Try an external monitor

Another possibility is that the cable that connects your screen to the board of your machine has gone bad. This is most common on laptops where the cable has to bend and stretch with the hinge of the laptop. If the cable is bad then the built-in screen won’t work, but an external monitor should. Connect your Mac in question to an external monitor via HDMI, Thunderbolt, or USB-C. By the default the external monitor should be seen and should mirror what’s “on” the built-in screen, though occasionally you’ll find it’s in extended mode and you’ll have to hunt around for the cursor. Either way, if you see an image on the external monitor, then you can be pretty sure the issue is with a cable. Like in step 3, you’ll probably need to contact an authorized repair shop or can try your hand at self-repair if the machine isn’t under warranty.

If you’re using a headless Mac, namely the Mac Mini or Mac Pro go to test #4A. Otherwise if you’re still having trouble, go to test #5.

4A: If you’re using a Mac Mini or Mac Pro…

For Macs that don’t have their own built in screen, you’ll need to try testing in a different way. Here your issues are the port, the cable, or the monitor. First, try connecting your existing monitor and cable to a different port on your machine. If that doesn’t work, try using a different known good cable to the same monitor and the same port, then different video out ports. If that still doesn’t work, try using the known-good cable with a different known good monitor and connecting it to the original port, then different video ports. If all of these fail, you might have a bad graphics system in the machine that will need to be replaced. If replacing the cable or monitor fixes the issue, then one or both of those components have failed. A way to verify which component failed is trying the old cable with a new monitor and seeing if it works. If it does, then the monitor was likely bad, if not, then the cable was likely the problem.

5: Reset the SMC and the PRAM/NVRAM

If these other options have failed, the machine might have a something stuck in hardware memory that needs to be cleared out. The next steps will need to be resetting the PRAM/NVRAM and the SMC for the machine.

To reset the PRAM/NVRAM turn off your machine, then while holding the “Command”, “Option”, P, and R keys at the same time turn the Mac back on. The Mac will continually reboot every few seconds as long as this key combination is held down. Let it do so about three times and then let go of the key combination.

To reset the SMC is a little more dependent on whether you’re using a desktop or laptop, and whether or not it contains the T2 security chip or not. I recommend going to Apple’s page in the link below and following the steps there for your particular Mac model.

SMC Reset from Apple: https://support.apple.com/en-gb/HT201295

6: Contact a repair shop

In the event that none of the above steps help, your issue will likely require a visit to a Genius Bar or other local Apple support to repair your machine. This may be down to a deeper issue that needs to be repaired with working hardware.

Hope this article helped you out. If it did, let us know. Likewise if you have any other ways of testing let us know too. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions about this or any other topic, leave a comment below or email me at easyosx@live.com You can also check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube by hitting the buttons on the top of your screen. Thanks!

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