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How to Start Windows Vista in Safe Mode

By Nancy C. Muir

Windows Vista’s Safe Mode is a great diagnostic tool. When Windows Vista starts up, it loads all of the drivers and many of your most common programs automatically, and usually this is great. But if you’re having problems with a program or with the system itself, you might need to work with a “clean” version of Windows. Safe Mode gives you that clean version, allowing you to run diagnostics and check the performance of drivers and applications without worrying about programs that might be running in the background and creating interference.

1Remove any CDs or DVDs from your computer.

Some computers are set up to bypass the CD/DVD drive while booting, but it’s a good general computer practice to remove CDs and DVDs before you shut down the computer.

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2Choose Start, click the arrow on the right of the Lock button, and then choose Restart to reboot your system.

This begins the restarting process.

3When the computer starts to reboot (the screen goes black), begin pressing F8.

The computer might take a few minutes for Windows Vista to completely shut down (especially if the reason you want to go into Safe Mode is because you are experiencing problems). Don’t let this worry you. Windows Vista does a lot of self-cleaning during its shutdown process.

When you reboot and press F8, you’re in the old text-based world that users of the DOS operating system will remember. It’s scary out there! Your mouse doesn’t work a lick, and fun sounds and cool graphics won’t be there to soothe you. Just use your arrow keys to get around and press Enter to make selections. You’ll back in Windows-land soon . . .

4If you're given a choice, select Windows Vista and press Enter and then continue to press F8.

You will receive this choice if you have more than one operating system.

Remember that your mouse doesn’t work here, so use the up- and down-arrow keys or type the number of that choice.

5Select Safe Mode in the resulting plain-vanilla text-based screen.

Press the up- or down-arrow key to select the Safe Mode option from the list and then press Enter.

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6Log in to your computer with administrator privileges.

A Safe Mode screen appears. You’ll notice right away that the screen has a much lower resolution than you’re probably used to. That’s normal. It just means that Windows isn’t wasting a lot of energy on display.

7Run your diagnostics and then restart the system.

Use the tools in the Control Panel and the Help and Support system to figure out your problem, make changes, and then restart. When you restart again (repeat Step 2), let your computer start in the standard Windows Vista mode.