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How to reset the NVRAM (PRAM) and SMC on Mac

If your Mac keeps changing time zones, or unexpected sound spikes make you jump in your chair, it’s a sign your computer is out of tune. Though you can often rely on resetting or rebooting your computer to make it act normal again, this solution may not always work. Enter NVRAM (PRAM) and (SMC) – Mac system management tools.

How to reset the NVRAM (PRAM) and SMC on Mac

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

PRAM, NVRAM, and SMC explained

PRAM, NVRAM, and SMC are system management tools you’re likely to learn about if you ever need to put an end to your Mac’s malfunctioning. Each tool is used for specific Mac models.

Parameter random access memory (PRAM) was used for the pre-Intel era (Macintosh), early Intel, and the newer PowerPC Macs. The tool stores key system settings and preferences, including speaker volume, display settings, startup disk selection, and time zone information. Settings stored on PRAM remain intact even when your computer experiences an outage or is unplugged. This is possible thanks to the small amount of battery power that PRAM uses to maintain the stored settings even when the computer is powered off.

PRAM’s more recent counterpart, non-volatile random access memory (NVRAM), stores the same system settings and preferences with a new addition of kernel panic information. However, NVRAM stores this information without the need to use the battery to keep the settings intact. An occasional reset helps NVRAM resolve network connectivity and system startup issues, and it malfunctions rarely. NVRAM replaced PRAM in Macs, both desktops and laptops, from around 2011 onwards.

The System Management Controller (SMC), on the other hand, is a specialized microcontroller in Intel-based Macs that handles hardware-related tasks, including power button response, battery and thermal management, LED indicators, keyboard backlighting, system sleep and wake, and power management for various components. Resetting the SMC can often solve issues with the mentioned components.

How to reset the NVRAM (PRAM)

Resetting NVRAM or PRAM on Mac computers is a straightforward process that doesn’t require extensive IT knowledge. However, different Mac models require different actions.

Macs with Apple silicon (M1, M2, M3)

If you’re using M-series Macs that use Apple silicon, you don’t need to reset the NVRAM yourself. The system settings are typically tested during the startup process, which means the system will automatically reset the NVRAM if it detects the need to do so.

However, if you suspect that your Mac’s NVRAM is going astray and you’d like to force-reset it, simply shut down your computer and power it back up again.

Intel-based Macs

You can manually reset NVRAM if you’re using an Intel-based Mac.

  1. Turn off your Mac.
  2. Press the power button, and once your computer is powered up, press the “Command,” “Option,” “P,” and “R” buttons together and hold them for about 20 seconds. If you have an older Mac, you may hear the startup sound or notice that the Apple logo appears more than once.
  3. After the 20 seconds pass, release the buttons and allow your Mac to start up as usual.
  4. Check your startup disk, display, and date and time settings to make sure they’re set as you want them. If they’re not, adjust the system accordingly.

When to reset the NVRAM (PRAM)

If you’re experiencing issues connecting to the internet, notice odd resolution changes, or cannot keep up with the date and time your Mac continually messes up, you might want to think about resetting the NVRAM. In more detail, the problems that can occur if your NVRAM (PRAM) is malfunctioning are:

  • Incorrect date, time, or time zone.
  • Wrong display resolution.
  • Inaccurate keyboard responses.
  • Unexpected spikes and drops in the sound volume.
  • Stuttering mouse, mouse clicks and scrolls on its own.
  • A question mark is displayed whenever you start your Mac.

How to reset the SMC

If your SMC functions start malfunctioning, you can easily reset it yourself. Follow the steps you need to take depending on which model of Mac you use.

Macs with Apple silicon (M1, M2, M3)

As in the case of NVRAM, Macs built on Apple silicon have SMC functions integrated into the M chip itself. So the closest equivalent to resetting SMC is simply restarting your computer or powering it off and on again. This will reset the chip’s hardware-related settings.

Macs with Apple T2 chip

If you’re using a Mac with an Apple T2 chip, you can reset the SMC settings manually. The steps and process depend on whether you use a desktop or laptop computer.

Desktop computer

To reboot the SMC on your desktop Mac, you should:

  1. Shut down your computer.
  2. Unplug the power cord.
  3. Wait around 15 seconds and plug the cord back into the power source.
  4. Wait five additional seconds to turn your computer back on.

Laptop computer

Usually, you can solve malfunctioning SMC settings on your Mac laptop with a T2 chip by restarting your computer.

  1. Shut down your computer.
  2. Press and hold the power button for around 10 seconds.
  3. After 10 seconds have passed, wait for a few more seconds before pressing the power button again to restart your computer.

However, if these steps don’t solve the issues you’re experiencing with your Mac’s hardware settings, you should try the following:

  1. Shut down your computer.
  2. Simultaneously press and hold the “Control,” “Option (Alt),” and “Shift” buttons for around seven seconds.
  3. While holding these three buttons, press and hold the power button. This action will make your Mac turn off while you’re holding the keys.
  4. When your Mac shuts down, hold the four keys for seven more seconds. Then release the buttons.
  5. Wait a couple of more seconds and turn your laptop back on.

When to reset the SMC?

You should consider resetting the SMC if you notice that your computer fan is extensively noisy, your Mac is running slower, and its battery fails to charge correctly. The signs that you should take a look at the SMC also include:

  • A glitching display.
  • Overheating.
  • An unresponsive trackpad.
  • Unexpected shutdowns or impossible power-ons.
  • Defective keyboard backlight.