Using Windows in Safe Mode

by Barry Dysert
(last updated January 8, 2018)

Safe Mode is a way to start Windows with only the bare essential files and device drivers being loaded. You typically start Windows in safe mode to diagnose a problem or if your system has been infected by some sort of malware. When you're running in safe mode you can then load startup files and device drivers one by one until you notice the problem reappear. This way you know exactly where the problem is and can deal with it.

How you start your system in Safe Mode depends on the version of Windows you are using.

Starting Safe Mode in Windows 7

To start your Windows 7 system in safe mode, first ensure that there is no media in any other boot device. In other words, remove any CDs, DVDs, USB disks and floppies. Then (re)start your system but press and hold the F8 function key as it's coming up. The F8 key must be depressed before the Windows logo appears, or you'll have to wait until the machine has finished its startup process and then try restarting it again.

Starting Safe Mode in Windows 8 and Windows 10

Theoretically you can start Windows 8 or Windows 10 in Safe Mode by using the F8 key, just as in earlier versions. In practice, though, this often doesn't work because Windows boots to quickly and doesn't really detect the function key being held down. Here is a much more effective method of starting Windows 8 in Safe Mode:

  1. Make sure the Power icon is visible. (You can see it in the upper-right of the Start screen or by displaying the Charms and clicking Settings.)
  2. Click the Power icon. Windows displays three options (Sleep, Shut Down, and Restart.)
  3. Hold down the Shift key as you click Restart. After a moment or two Windows displays a screen that has some options for the restart it will do.
  4. Click the Troubleshoot option. Windows changes the options available on the screen.
  5. Click Advanced Options. Once again, Windows displays another screen of options.
  6. Click Startup Settings. Windows displays a notice that when it restarts it will allow you to choose how that startup occurs.
  7. Click the Restart button.

Your system restarts and displays different ways it can proceed, including a number of Safe Mode options.

Using Msconfig

There are, as you might imagine, multiple ways to invoke Safe Mode. Another way that works (and is particularly helpful if you are using Windows 7 and the F8 approach fails) is the following:

  1. Use Windows to search for and start the msconfig utility. (Just search for "msconfig", without the quote marks.) Windows starts the msconfig utility and displays the System Configuration dialog box.
  2. Display the Boot tab. (See Figure 1.)
  3. Figure 1. The Boot tab of the System Configuration dialog box.

  4. Click the "Safe boot" checkbox and click OK.
  5. Click the Restart button on the newly presented window.

Once the computer has rebooted into safe mode (see the next section), make whatever changes are necessary; but before you reboot, launch "msconfig" again, click the General tab, click the "Normal Startup" radio button, and click OK. Now you can reboot into the normal Windows operating mode.

Entering Safe Mode

When coming up in Safe Mode, the system will display a number of options you can choose. Of all the options presented, these three are the ones you'll most likely choose from:

  • Safe Mode. This starts Windows with the bare minimum of files and device drivers need to boot the system to a usable state.
  • Safe Mode with Networking. This is the same as starting in Safe Mode, but networking components are also started so that you can access a network (including the Internet).
  • Safe Mode with Command Prompt. This is the same as starting in Safe Mode, but the command prompt is loaded as the user interface instead of Explorer.

When you've selected the desired option, Windows continues the booting process. You will now see all of the files that Windows loads as it's continuing to boot. If something goes wrong during this stage, make a note of the last file that got loaded and do some research to see why this file is causing a problem.

Assuming the boot process proceeds, you'll soon see a Windows login screen. Log in to Windows using an account with administrator privileges. You can tell that you're in safe mode because the words "Safe Mode" appear in each corner of the screen. (In Windows 8 these words are only visible when looking at the Desktop.) At this point, you can make whatever changes are necessary (e.g., modify Registry values, change drivers, modify startup files) and reboot normally.

Exiting Safe Mode

In order to get out of safe mode, all you need to do is reboot your system. The next time Windows starts up, it will start up normally.

 This tip (12093) applies to Windows 7, 8, and 10.

Author Bio

Barry Dysert

Barry has been a computer professional for over 35 years, working in different positions such as technical team leader, project manager, and software developer. He is currently a software engineer with an emphasis on developing custom applications under Microsoft Windows. When not working with Windows or writing Tips, Barry is an amateur writer. His first non-fiction book is titled "A Chronological Commentary of Revelation." ...

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