My early 2013 Macbook Pro Retina 15" started to freeze a few days ago. The only way to get it (sort of) working was by holding the power button down and forcing a reboot.

After a few days of investigation, I found that if I have the Thunderbolt to Ethernet dongle plugged into the computer (even if there's no ethernet cable connected!), it will boot up and function perfectly normally.

I've tried to reset both the SMC and NVRAM, as well as plugging in a MiniDP -> DP adapter, and a USB3.0 Ethernet adapter into my computer and booting up. None of these steps have worked.

I've also reinstalled the system (trying Sierra, Mountain Lion, and El Capitan) and none of these resolved the problem.

Can someone please tell me what to do next? I'm a bit desperate. Thank you so much!

  • Please let us know if you are able to boot into the macOS Recovery (aka recovery partition): (1) shut down your Mac. (2) Power it up. (3) Immediately hold CMD+R together. – oa- Jan 17 '17 at 8:43
  • @oa- not without the dongle. I can boot into internet recovery though. – Steven X. Han Jan 17 '17 at 8:45
  • What about a pram reset or SMC reset? – Jules Jan 17 '17 at 9:07
  • @Jules done both. No difference – Steven X. Han Jan 17 '17 at 9:08
  • Can you boot in safe mode? perhaps try to remove the network interface in you system preferences that uses the dongle – Jules Jan 17 '17 at 9:16

[This answer not final until this sentence deleted]

Troubleshooting is a process of elimination and often requires patience. This means trying things one by one until you get to the bottom of the problem.

The next two things I would try are running an Apple Diagnostics Test and also booting into Safe Mode. See below.

1. Run Apple Diagnostics

Follow the steps below to run Apple Diagnostics:

  1. Fully shut down your MBP
  2. Disconnect the Thunderbolt > Ethernet dongle
  3. Restart your MBP
  4. Immediately press the D key and keep it down until you see the Diagnostics screen appear
  5. Wait for Diagnostics to finish (this typically only takes a few minutes)
  6. Once complete, one of two things will appear on the screen:
    • a No issues found message
    • a brief description of any errors found plus further instructions
  7. If the diagnostics test does find errors, take a note of what they are

Note: If pressing and holding the D key at Step 3 doesn't work, start again at Step 1 and, at Step 3 press and hold both the OptionD keys instead. This will try and run diagnostics from the internet instead, so you will need to allow more time for it to complete. If that still doesn't work, connect the Thunderbolt > Ethernet dongle and try following the above steps again (but skip Step 2).

Regardless, take a note of what happens.

2. Boot into Safe Mode

Follow the steps boot your MBP into Safe Mode:

  1. Fully shut down your MBP
  2. Disconnect the Thunderbolt > Ethernet dongle
  3. Restart your MBP
  4. Immediately press the Shift key and keep it down
  5. Let go of the Shift key when you see the login window (NOTE: If you have FileVault enabled you may need to log in twice).
  6. Take a note of what happens (i.e. could you boot your MBP or not)
  7. To exitSafe Mode just restart your Mac as normal

Once you've run the diagnostics and tested a boot into Safe Mode, let me know how you went and we'll go from there.

  • The Apple Diagnostics runs without reporting any problems. Both in quick mode and extended mode. Safe mode also hangs without the dongle. Verbose booting saw a lot of unsigned kext. Not sure if this is relevant. But the computer still – Steven X. Han Jan 17 '17 at 9:01
  • But the computer still boots with the dongle plugged in while displaying the unsigned kexts. So I didn't think they would be the problem. – Steven X. Han Jan 17 '17 at 9:01
  • Do you have access to another startup disk (or Mac) you can boot your MBP from? Or better still, another OS installed (e.g. a Bootcamp Windows installation) you can boot from? Also, did you run Diagnostics with the dongle connected or disconnected (or both)? – Monomeeth Jan 17 '17 at 9:10
  • both connected and disconnected the Diagnostics return no problems. I'm installing Ubuntu via a USB stick onto it as we speak, with the dongle disconnected, having no problems so far. – Steven X. Han Jan 17 '17 at 10:55
  • Ubuntu runs fine. – Steven X. Han Jan 17 '17 at 11:17

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