Windows safe mode is a system startup option designed to assist in troubleshooting problems with the Windows operating system. When a computer is started in safe mode, Windows loads only the very basic drivers and system files that are necessary to run the computer. This allows you to verify that the default system settings and device drivers are not the cause of the problems you are having. Also, since programs that normally start automatically when Windows starts are not run in safe mode, it allows you to run programs one at a time in an attempt to isolate the program that may be causing the problem. You can also change various system options, such as which programs are automatically started when the system is first booted up, or run virus scans and other repair utilities.
How to Start Windows in Safe Mode
To start Windows in safe mode, simply press and hold the “F8” key when your computer is first powered on or restarted. You must press F8 before the Windows logo appears. If you do not press it in time, you will have to wait for the Windows logon screen to appear and then restart your system to try again. If you successfully press and hold the F8 key in time, you will be presented with an “Advanced Boot Options” menu.
Note: If you have more than one disk drive, you will first be prompted to select the disk to boot from. Just press “Esc” to boot from your normal disk and then immediately press F8 again.
Once you enter the “Advanced Boot Options” menu, you will notice a list with numerous choices. Use your arrow keys to select the option you want. Three of these options are for safe mode: “Safe mode”, “Safe mode with networking” and “Safe mode with command prompt.” Choose “Safe mode” for most basic troubleshooting tasks. If you want to be able to access the internet or another computer on your network while in safe mode, choose “Safe mode with networking”. Unless you have specific instructions to follow, or you are an advanced user who is familiar with DOS commands and have some specific reason to use the command prompt, it is advisable not to use the “Safe mode with command prompt” option. DOS commands can be very useful, but are also dangerous for the inexperienced user, as they do not have many of the safeguards built into the Windows utilities.
When and How to Use Safe Mode
There are primarily two times when you will want to start your computer in safe mode. The first is when your computer will not start in normal mode, or freezes up while you are attempting to troubleshoot a problem. The second is when you have, or suspect you have, a virus or some other type of malware that your antivirus software cannot remove.
If your computer will not start normally, or is locking up repeatedly, safe mode will help you to isolate the program that is causing the problem. As mentioned above, the very fact that Windows will actually start in safe mode tells you that the problem is not with your computer’s basic configuration. If the problem began immediately after you installed a new program or device, you should consider going to Recoveryin Control Panel (click Start then Control Panel and finally Recovery) to restore your system to a previous state using a Windows Restore Point. Otherwise, you can run the programs that you were trying to run when your computer crashed, or check all of the programs that automatically run when your computer is started, in an attempt to isolate the one causing the problem.
You can see what programs run when your computer is started by clicking Start andRun and then typing msconfig in the resulting text box and clicking Ok. This will bring up the “System Configuration” program. By clicking on the Startup tab, you will see a complete list of those programs that run each time your computer is started. You can then run them one-by-one, or disable them all by clicking the Disable allbutton in the lower right hand corner of the System Configuration window. If you choose to disable all of the automatically running programs, you should then restart your system to see if it will start normally. If it does, you can start re-enabling the programs one at a time by clicking the checkbox to the left of each program in the Startup tab of System Configuration and rebooting. With these two methods, you can systematically work out which program is causing the problem and uninstall it.
Additionally, since most malware (viruses, trojans, spyware, etc.) is activated every time the system is restarted, safe mode is often the only way they can be removed by antivirus and similar programs. Viruses, in particular, are often programmed in such a way that antivirus programs cannot remove them once they are running. By running your antivirus program while in safe mode, you can circumvent this problem. Because you cannot usually be completely certain that your problem is not caused by a virus, it is a good practice to automatically run your antivirus software whenever you need to enter safe mode.
If your computer automatically starts in safe mode, then you can attempt to restart your computer to see if it will start normally. If it won’t, you should proceed with the methods detailed above just as if you had initiated safe mode yourself.