A kernel panic refers to a very specific type of computer freeze. A variety of things can cause Kernel panics. Below is a description of how your Mac behaves when it experiences a kernel panic so you can recognize when your Mac experiences a kernel panic.
When your Mac experiences a kernel panic it will abruptly freeze, unsaved changes are lost and your Mac displays an error message indicating that the Mac needs to be restarted. This message is listed in English and several other languages.
If your Mac is running OS X 10.8 or higher then your Mac will restart automatically after 60 seconds. After restarting it will either take you to the login window or to the Desktop. If you’ve ever walked away from your Mac and returned to find it at the login screen or the Desktop then your Mac likely experienced its kernel panic while you were away.
Kernel panics are often, but not always a sign of a failing hardware component. Thus, further action is often appropriate. Here’s a list of possible next steps.
1. If your Mac is still covered by AppleCare then you could take your Mac to an Apple Store and ask them to test the hardware. If a problem is found then Apple would repair your Mac for free.
2. Disconnect any external hardware connected to your Mac, such as printers, scanners, keyboards, tablets, monitors, etc. If the kernel panics cease then one of the external devices is the cause.
3. If you recently upgraded your Mac’s operating system or installed RAM, this could be the cause of your kernel panics. If it’s easy to get into your Mac, you could temporarily remove the recently added RAM to see if the kernel panics cease.
4. Some kernel panics are caused by software issues. If you recently setup a new peripheral like a printer or scanner or drawing table then it’s possible that the driver that controls that peripheral is the culprit.
5. If this is the first kernel panic that you’ve experienced or if it happens rarely, like once every few months, then just restart your Mac, get back to work, and forget about it.
6. If you are experiencing kernel panics frequently, such as every day or every week then the issue should be investigated. Kernel panics can be challenging errors to troubleshoot given their intermittent nature.
This article is not intended to be an exhaustive reference on pinpointing the cause of a kernel panics. If you’d like to read more about troubleshooting Kernel Panics, please consider these resources.
The Xlab’s detailed article about troubleshooting kernel panics which hasn’t been updated since the mid-2000s.