A Guide to the Windows Safe Mode and When to Use it

There’s this little piece of Windows that everyone has run into. Yet not very many people know exactly what it’s about, and why it’s there. It’s called Windows Safe Mode, and you might have had to boot into it.

I remember my first encounter with Safe Mode when I was a kid, running on Windows 98. Of course, things were very different back then, but Safe Mode still did what it needed to do, and provided us with a way to fix our computers. Let’s explore what Safe Mode is and what it’s supposed to do.

Windows

What is Safe Mode?

Windows Safe Mode is when Windows boots up without running most device drivers and operates using the standard VGA graphics mode. It also runs in 16 colors and at a very low screen resolution of 640 x 480 (*shudder*). You might have seen it in the case that there’s a system-critical problem interfering with the standard operation of Windows. This could mean that there is an inappropriate driver installed, or it could have been activated if you find that you have a virus running when you boot into Windows.

How to Activate Safe Mode Manually

Manually activating Safe Mode is easy! Simply turn your computer on, and press F8 before you hit the boot screen. You need to be quick here because usually the boot screen (the first screen that shows up when you power on the PC) doesn’t stay there for long.

Windows Safe Mode Bootup

Then select Safe Mode and Windows should boot into Safe Mode. Believe me, it looks a lot worse when it’s stretched out on your monitor. In comparison to what research I’d found on the internet, my Safe Mode actually loaded in 800×600, and with a decent selection of colors available. (Although it was really no spring chicken.)

Windows Safe Mode

You can also choose to boot into Safe Mode with Networking. In this mode, you can troubleshoot network issues. In this mode you’ll also be able to connect to the internet if:

  • You connect to the Internet by using a PPPoE connection. (Most DSL connections use PPPoE.)
  • The PPPoE connection requires a username and a password.
  • The computer is connected directly to a DSL modem. (If you connect to the Internet by using a router that is connected to a DSL modem, you can use safe mode with networking.)

This can be useful in the case you’re trying to download something to remove spyware with, or if you need to refer to instructions or some other web documentation to get out of Safe Mode. Notice the full Wi-Fi bars in the system tray.

Windows Safe Mode with Networking

Alternatively, you can choose to activate Safe Mode through a system utility known as msconfig. In order to run msconfig, simply type it into your Windows 7/Vista Start Menu search bar. (If you’re in XP, you’re going to have to go to your Start Menu and click Run, then type in “msconfig”.

MSconfig

This should lead you to your msconfig dialog window. Click the Boot tab. Navigate down to the Safe Boot option and select it.

MSconfig

You’ll be prompted to reboot in this case. Do so if you wish to boot into Safe Mode.

MSconfig

Why it Might Get Activated on its Own?

Safe Mode might get activated if your computer detects that your system fails to boot properly. In this case, you’ll have to go into Safe Mode and figure out what hardware errors or recent drivers are the cause of this problem, and fix it accordingly (remove/replace it). Simply navigate to My Computer, select Properties, then the Hardware tab, click Device Manager, and uninstall the driver that isn’t working (the one you most recently installed).

Alternatively, in more dire circumstances, you might need to remove a virus or some malware that hinders your computer from operating properly. You might want to check out Spybot Search & Destroy for a scanning solution.

Let’s hope you’ll never have to go into this realm of Windows. In the case that you do, you now have a better idea of why, and what you can do about it!

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