How to Get into Windows Safe Mode - dummies

By Dan Gookin

Windows Safe mode is a good troubleshooting mode because only processes and services necessary to start Windows are launched. It isolates things like video customizations and network settings from the environment so you can focus on troubleshooting the application or hardware issue at hand.

Safe mode happens in one of three ways:

  • Windows detects a problem at boot time and automatically starts in Safe mode.

  • You direct Windows to start in Safe mode from the F8 menu.

  • You direct Windows to start in Safe mode by using the MSCONFIG utility.

In Safe mode, the screen resolution is low and the words Safe mode appear in corners of the display.


Activate Windows Safe mode at boot time

To start the computer in Safe mode, use the F8 menu: Just after the computer first starts, repeatedly jab the F8 key. Eventually, you see the F8 start-up menu.

You can choose which flavor of Safe mode you want to use from the F8 start-up menu:

  • Safe Mode: The standard version of Safe mode. Only the basic processes and services necessary to start Windows are loaded. Some hardware (external drives, audio, power management, and networking) don’t work and the functionality of Windows is limited.

  • Safe Mode with Networking: The same as Standard mode, but with networking abilities enabled. Use this mode if you need to access the Internet.

  • Safe Mode with Command Prompt: The most limited mode, reserved for people who know how to use the command prompt. This mode is the one to use when the video adapter is acting weird, though you need to know how to use the command prompt.

    You have to be quick with the F8 key. When you wait too long, Windows starts normally.

Computer starts automatically in Safe mode

When your computer starts in Safe mode automatically, it’s a sign that something is wrong. Do not continue working. Instead, fix the problem.

Often, an error message appears when Safe mode starts out of the blue. Address the issue as described on the screen.

If you recently updated something, the appearance of Safe mode most likely indicates a problem. Use System Restore to recover from a software upgrade. Shut down the computer and remove the hardware if Safe mode appears after a hardware upgrade. Restart the computer and if it returns as normal, the software or hardware upgrade was the problem.

  • Do not use applications in Safe mode! Sure, you can get work done, but don’t! Something is wrong with your computer. Fix it.

  • Don’t reinstall any new that may have caused Safe mode to appear. Instead, contact the manufacturer for tech support.

Restart in Diagnostic mode with MSCONFIG

If you are tired of trying to hit the F8 key to get into Safe mode, you can configure Windows to start in Diagnostic mode, which is similar to Safe mode. Pay attention to these steps:

  1. Press Win+R for the Run dialog box.

  2. Type msconfig and press Enter.

  3. In Vista, click Continue or type the administrator’s password.

  4. Ensure that the General tab is upfront in the System Configuration window.


  5. Choose Diagnostic Startup.

  6. Click OK.

  7. Click the Restart button.

    The computer shuts down and immediately restarts in Diagnostic mode. If you exit without restarting, the computer starts in Diagnostic mode the next time you restart.