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How to Get In and Get Out of Windows PC Safe Mode
June 11, 2019
When you use Safe Mode in Windows, you’re given the ability to make repairs to your operating system. The mode limits Windows to its most basic functions, which allows you only to access the key drivers. You can also make the decision to reboot your computer in Safe Mode with or without networking options, which can be helpful if you need to reinstall any operating software from a disc.
Knowing how to access Safe Mode can help you make repairs on your own instead of taking your computer to a repair shop and spending money to have it fixed. Plus, when you troubleshoot the issue yourself, you can usually have your computer running again within a few hours.
Why would I need to reboot my PC in Safe Mode?
Safe Mode is helpful for when you need to perform computer repairs, for instance when your device is infected with malware or driver software has been installed incorrectly. This mode doesn’t load third-party software, so you can determine what may have caused the problem. It can also be necessary if you plan to roll back your drivers to a previous version.
Safe Mode can also help when your computer is crashing frequently or you’re dealing with the infamous blue screen of death (BSoD).
By using Safe Mode, you can start your device with a lower resolution and determine whether you have an infected driver. This can make it much simpler to recognize which software you’ve installed that may have infected your system with malware or simply may not be compatible with your other programs.
Each version of Windows has a slightly different way of accessing Safe Mode, so it’s important to know which version you have.
Prior to Windows 10, booting Safe Mode required that you press the F8 key repeatedly at the right moment during restart. A few computer manufacturers have since disabled this because it’s not the easiest way to access it. However, with Windows 7, Vista, and XP, pressing the F8 key is the only way to enter Safe Mode.
How to troubleshoot in Safe Mode
There are a number of functions you can complete when you are in Safe Mode, such as scanning for malware or restoring your entire system. You should keep in mind that if you plan to use System Restore, your computer will fall back to its most recent, successful update.
Uninstall recently installed software
You can also uninstall your most recently added software. This can be especially helpful when you know for sure that your new hardware driver or software is the cause of the problem. Once you’ve identified which software you wish to uninstall, access your programs in Safe Mode via the Control Panel. Once you’ve removed the software, you can restart your computer as normal.
Update old drivers
Outdated hardware drivers are also another common issue that can cause your Windows PC to experience the BSoD. Once you have entered Safe Mode, visit the “Installed Drivers” menu and see if any of them have been corrupted or need to be updated. When you perform this in Safe Mode, you’re preventing other drivers from interfering with the process and causing instability for your system.
Malware is another reason that you may want to run your device in Safe Mode. Even if you don’t have antivirus software installed, it’s possible to install it in Safe Mode. This then allows you to remove any viruses that you may have accidentally downloaded. If you have decided to use the included Windows Defender with Windows 10, then an offline malware scan is your best bet.
Restore your operating system
Sometimes, it can be necessary for you to completely reinstall your operating system due to the installation of incompatible drivers or issues with malware. In this case, restart your device in normal Safe Mode for Windows XP or lower. This usually requires a separate disc or drive to be inserted if you have an older version of Windows, since newer versions connect to the internet for the installation of operating system software.
Let’s now look into how to boot Windows in safe mode for a number of the operating system variants.
Boot Windows 7/Vista/XP in “Safe Mode with Networking”
You will need to restart your computer in order to enter into Safe Mode on older versions of Windows. Once you power up the computer or restart it, you will often hear a beep. Press the F8 key in one-second intervals. This should take you to a screen where your operating system will display a memory test and hardware information.
From there, use the arrow keys to move around the Advanced Boot Options menu. You’ll have three choices for starting your PC in Safe Mode with Windows XP; the other Windows versions only offer two. For most PC owners, you won’t need to use the “Safe Mode with Command Prompt” option.
Choose “Safe Mode with Networking” to run the troubleshooter with a connection to the internet. This can help if you need to reinstall driver software from the web or you need additional support in order to get things running smoothly again.
This is typically the only mode you need in order to troubleshoot and solve any issues. Depending on the problem and if you don’t need access to the internet, you can also use the basic Safe Mode.
1. Press “Enter” when you’ve highlighted which mode you want to run
2. Once you have identified the problem, power down the PC
3. Repeat the same actions that allowed you to access the “Advanced Boot Options”
4. Choose the “Start Windows Normally” command. This should let you run your computer without issues.
Boot Windows 8 and Windows 10 in “Safe Mode with Networking”
Windows 8 and higher allows you to access Safe Mode in a more efficient manner. Your computer will automatically enter Safe Mode if it crashes more than once during startup. However, if you need to, you can run Safe Mode manually when you know something is wrong.
Hold the “Shift” key while you restart
1. The simplest way to boot Safe Mode is to hold the “Shift” key when clicking “Restart” on the Power menu
2. You can do this either on the login screen or through the Charms bar menu
3. From there, you will be taken to the “Startup Settings” screen
4. Again, you will have the option to choose whether you want to run your computer in regular Safe Mode or with “Safe Mode with Networking” or “Safe Mode with Command Prompt”
Just as with older versions of Windows, “Safe Mode with Networking” allows for additional support and the ability to download new drivers, if needed. It’s also useful if your device is infected with malware and you need to download new antivirus software.
How to use Advanced Troubleshooting to enter Safe Mode in Windows 8 and 10
You can also get into Safe Mode without turning off your computer. If it is possible to start your computer normally without the BSoD or crashes, then you may want to run it through your recovery environment. This can be the safest way to perform changes within your operating system.
1. If you can log in to Windows without issue, then you will want to head to your Settings apps
2. For quick access, press the Windows key along with the I key at the same time
3. That should open your Settings window and give you the option to access the “Update & Security” screen
4. From there, you will be given a number of choices on your left side panel. One of these will include “Recovery”
5. Under the “Advanced startup” heading, press the “Restart now” button
Keep in mind that your computer will be starting from another device or disc. So, unless you’ve recently performed a backup, don’t commit to this way of reaching Safe Mode. Make sure that the disc or USB drive is inserted into your device.
When you choose to restart your computer, you’ll see a few options for how it will reboot. Here’s what you should do:
1. Visit the Troubleshoot page and choose the “Advanced options” button
2. Next, click on the “Startup Settings” option
3. You will see a list of the Windows functions you can change
4. Choose the restart button
You should recognize the “Advanced Boot Options” menu, which is where you can enable “Safe Mode with Networking” by using your arrow keys or by pressing the F5 button on your keyboard. If you are using Windows 8, your computer will restart first before you have the choice of booting your operating system in Safe Mode.
Start Windows in Safe Mode until you don’t need it
Most often, you’ll need to reboot your computer a number of times to complete the job when you’re fixing issues in Safe Mode. One nice feature that Windows offers is telling your computer to automatically start in Safe Mode until you have finished making repairs. This can save you a lot of time and hassle when you have a big problem to fix.
1. To do this, you first need to visit “System Configuration”
2. In order to disable your automatic reboots in Safe Mode, you will also need to get to this page to have started up the operating system normally
3. You will see a few tabs in System Configuration, including a “Boot” tab that will have the advanced options you need
4. Once you’re on the “Boot” menu, click the “Safe boot” check box
5. You also have the option of choosing which kind of Safe Mode would work best for the type of repairs you need to make. Some of the choices include:
- Network: Safe Mode with networking and support
- Alternate shell: Safe Mode with the Command Prompt
- Minimal: regular Safe Mode
- Active Directory repair: Active Directory server repair
Once you restart your computer, it should continue to enter into Safe Mode automatically. Again, you will need to disable this once you have finished your repairs in order to have Windows start correctly.
How to get out of Safe Mode
Your computer should automatically boot up normally after you have identified the problem and fixed it. However, there is the possibility that your computer can get stuck in Safe Mode. If your computer continues to reboot this way and you want to cancel Safe Mode, you’ll have to make some changes to get it working properly again.
First, double check the System Configuration tool, which you can access through the methods described earlier in this article. You can also do the following:
1. Use the Windows + R keys to pull up the Command Prompt
2. Type in “msconfig” and hit Enter to display the menu
3. Choose the “Boot” tab
4. Uncheck the “Safe boot” box if it is selected
5. Restart your computer
If the box is not checked, then you will need to visit the original menu. For Windows 7 or below, press the F8 key just like you would if you were trying to enter Safe Mode. When the Advanced Boot Options menu is activated, use your arrow keys to select the “Start Windows Normally” option.
For Windows 8 and 10, visit the Shutdown menu and do the following:
1. Hold the Shift key as you click on “Restart” and then choose the Troubleshoot page
2. Visit Advanced options and then Startup Settings
3. Restart your computer
Windows won’t load normally yet, but it will bring up the Startup Settings screen where you can choose the “return to your operating system” function. Your operating system should load normally from there.
Accessing Safe Mode can be ideal for making repairs when your hardware has been compromised. Windows has made it relatively easy to enter into Safe Mode and make changes on your own. Much of knowing how to navigate Safe Mode is being aware of which options take you to which menus. From there, you can often fix the problem without spending time and money by taking it in to a shop.
About the Author: Daniel Horowitz is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Daniel is a New York-based author and has written for publications such as USA Today, Digital Trends, Unwinnable Magazine, and many other media outlets.