Using Windows Safe Mode - XP and VISTA

What is Windows Safe Mode and how to use it (Windows XP & VISTA)

Using Windows Safe Mode - XP and VISTA

Safe Mode is a very bare bones Windows boot configuration which uses only the most essential services and drivers. This will often allow you to boot a problematic Windows 2000, XP or Vista Computer, and make some changes. Safe Mode defaults to very low resolution video and does not permit Internet access. Windows Safe Mode will allow CD drive access from both XP and Vista, but not with Windows 2000 Pro!

To access Safe Mode, tap the F8 key repeatedly after about 1-8 seconds after you turn the computer on (just after the initial BIOS 'BEEP' sound - but before the Windows LOGO screen). You will see a Menu list of options. Choose Option 3 = Safe Mode.

Note: If the Keyboard has a F-Lock key, it may be necessary to press that key first - before pressing the F8 Key.

For Windows 7, 8, and 10 - Please refer to this page on using Safe Mode

The value behind Windows XP safe mode is that it loads Windows 2000, XP and Vista with a minimal set of drivers and software. If you experience problems with a faulty driver or a running program that will not let you boot into Windows normally, safe mode usually will allow you to remove the problematic software from Windows.

Safe Mode has been a 'built-in' part of the Windows operating system since Windows 95. The logic is to allow access to Windows without loading any extra 'add-on' drivers or software.

If manufacturers device drivers or other auto loading software are causing problems with your Windows installation, the easiest way to fix things is to load a simple mode of Windows that bypasses all but the most essential basic Windows drivers and will not run any add-on software. Windows safe mode uses a basic graphics driver, access to most of your drives and windows configuration, no internet connectivity and very little else.

So how do I access Windows Safe Mode?

When you switch on your system, look for the first screen appearing showing your memory and hardware information, then start pressing Key 'F8.' Continuously tapping the F8 key until you see the menu list show on the monitor. If you begin tapping the F8 key too soon, some computers will display a "keyboard error" message. If this happens, restart the computer and try again. The needed menu looks like this;

Windows Safe Mode menu

As you can see, there are a few safe mode options available. 'Safe Mode' is the one we are interested in here. 'Safe mode with networking' allows you to connect to other computers via a network, and also allows you Internet access if you are using an Internet sharing device connected to your network. Note that dial up connections will not work directly in safe mode. In Windows 95, 98 ME, and 2000 you will not have access to your CD drives, however, Windows XP and Vista do allow CD drive access.

Windows Vista Safe Mode

Why do I need Windows Safe Mode?

Safe mode is good emergency recovery option to try if you are experiencing problems starting your system or if software is causing issues with your Windows Computer. Safe mode will help you determine if the problems you are experiencing are hardware based or actual software issues.

Safe mode works by providing the minimal set of software needed to boot you into the Windows Graphic environment. So, if you can boot in safe mode but cannot boot properly into the normal Windows environment, you have a problem with some of the software or a device driver installed on your system. Safe mode also provides you with access to the tools you need to resolve these kinds of problems.

XP Home and Professional Safe Mode - have differences

The Windows XP Home safe mode is similar to the one in Windows XP Pro, with a couple of notable changes. In Windows XP Home, the built-in 'administrator' account is only available in safe mode and is the default account for that mode. The password for the administrator account is blank, since it is not accessible except in safe mode. It's recommended that you log in as this account to make any changes in safe mode.

The fact that the administrator password is blank by default also allows you to use XP Home's safe mode to reset the password of other user accounts on your machine in the event that you lose the original password. Of course, this also means that every user account on your system is open to someone with 'safe mode' access to the system, which is why XP Home is intended for non-business use.

Some practical uses for Safe Mode

Now we will learn some of the uses that safe mode has for the average Windows Desktop. There's a good reason why attempting to boot in safe mode is the first thing any technician will do when confronted with a PC that will not boot correctly or operate fully in Windows.

Removing Viruses, Spyware and Malware

Sometimes the only way to correctly remove some of the difficult virus and spyware Trojans is to run your system in safe mode. Many forms of malicious software will protect or reinstall themselves constantly if they are allowed to start inside the normal Windows mode. These Trojan programs will locate themselves in one of the many 'startup' locations in the Windows registry and file structure, so when Windows is started normally, they run as a background process (often as a hidden task).

When you start the PC in safe mode, these extra 'startup' links are not used. This can allow good virus and spyware removal programs the chance they need to correctly and completely remove malicious software.

If you suspect there are virus or spyware problems on your PC, you should always run antivirus and anti-spyware programs in safe mode to ensure that they have maximum effect. If you are following manual virus removal instructions, they will often require you to use safe mode.

Using Windows XP and Vista Restore in Safe Mode

If you have system restore enabled on your Windows Computer system, you may use this feature to recover form problems with software or bad drivers. If your Windows XP or Vista system does not boot normally, you will need to know how to use restore points?

You can go to the most recent restore point simply by using the 'last known good configuration (your most recent settings that worked)' option in the Windows advanced options menu. If that does not fix your problem, you then can access earlier restore points by using Safe Mode!

The system restore utility can be accessed in safe mode and used to restore any previous history 'restore point'. Simply restart XP in safe mode (tap F8 Key) and then when the Windows Desktop comes up - go to:

Start->Programs->Accessories->System Tools->System Restore

then follow the instructions to restore your system to the point of your choice.

Windows Restore Points

Note that you cannot create restore points in safe mode, only load them.

Troubleshooting software problems

Have you ever installed new software and found that your PC now refuses to even boot? It's certainly happened many computer users. With the range of possible hardware and software configurations for Windows PC's, it's practically impossible for software manufacturers to fully test their applications under all circumstances. Faulty drivers or software can cause serious issues on a Windows system. Constant crashing or failures to boot are two of the most common symptoms.

Windows XP and Vista come with an 'built-in' System Restore utility, which, by design, creates a 'restore point'. This action occurs every time you install new drivers or software. If new software or drivers cause a problem on your system, you can roll it back to the pre-installation state. Of course, it's quite possible to disable system restore, and it doesn't always work quite the way it's supposed to. Where does this leave you?

Again fortunately, Windows safe mode gives you a chance to put things right by disabling or removing the offending software.

Identifying the cause of the problem:

If you're Computer will not boot normally into Windows XP but will boot in safe mode, you have a software problem. The cause could be either a driver used by one of your hardware devices or a program or service you have installed (or one that has been installed unknown to you) that is running on Windows start-up.

To determine which item it is, examine the way your system fails to boot. If it crashes during the loading process before the Windows interface appears, or gives you a BSOD (Blue Screen Of Death), it's likely you have a driver issue.

If the Windows interface appears and then XP crashes or slows to an unusable crawl, it's likely that your problem is with software that Windows is attempting to load on startup.

Once you have determined the likely cause of your booting problems, read and follow the appropriate sections.

How to Exit from Windows Safe Mode:

On the Windows Task Bar click Start > Shutdown and choose Restart. This will automatically start Windows back into Normal Mode.