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Safe Mode in Windows XP
For diagnostic purposes, it is possible to operate Windows with a reduced set of drivers and files. This is called Safe Mode. How to get to Safe Mode is discussed here.

What is Safe Mode?

All versions of Windows come with a diagnostic setup called "Safe Mode". Many average PC users are unfamiliar with the purpose of Safe Mode and only encounter it when there has been a system crash or similar problem. They are then puzzled by what to do next. The purpose of Safe Mode is to help troubleshoot computer problems by operating with a bare minimum of drivers and Windows components. By reducing what is running, Safe Mode can help you diagnose a problem caused by a faulty driver or software.

How to Get to Safe Mode

One way to reach safe mode is by booting up and pressing the F8 key right after the POST check. In practice this can be tricky to time correctly and all too often you can end up in the regular boot mode. The technique is to repeatedly tap the F8 key until the startup menu appears. Sometimes you will fill up the buffer memory with all the key taps and get an error message or the computer will complain by beeping. Also, the F8 key may not work with a USB keyboard because USB drivers have not yet been loaded. However, newer computers have USB support in the BIOS so this problem should be limited to older machines.

When you successfully initiate the boot options selection, the window shown below will open. The menu provides a number of advanced options. The default selection is "Start Windows Normally" and is highlighted. To open in Safe Mode, use the up arrow key to select it and then press the Enter key.

Boot options menu

Windows Advanced Options Menu
Please select an option:

Safe Mode
Safe Mode with Networking
Safe Mode with Command Prompt

Enable Boot Logging
Enable VGA mode
Last Known Good Configuration (your most recent settings that worked)
Directory Services Restore Mode (Windows domain controllers only)
Debugging Mode

Start Windows Normally
Return to OS Choices Menu

Use the up and down arrow keys to move the highlight to your choice.

Add Safe Mode to boot menu

If you try out a lot of new gadgets or software and find yourself frequently needing to go into Safe Mode, you can add Safe Mode to the Boot Menu by editing the file boot.ini. The Boot Menu and how to edit it is discussed in detail on another page. For a specific example of adding Safe Mode, see this Elder Geek page

Use Msconfig to get to Safe Mode

If you only want to enter Safe Mode occasionally and have trouble using the F8 key, you can use the System Configuration Utility (msconfig) . Go to Start|Run and enter “msconfig” (without quotes). When the utility opens, click on the tab BOOT.INI as shown in the figure below.

Highlight the operating system listed in the section [operating systems] as shown in the figure below. Next put a check by the entry /SAFEBOOT as shown below. Also click the radio button MINIMAL. Click "Apply' and "OK". Then reboot. The system should open in Safe Mode. When finished using Safe Mode, open Msconfig again and remove the check by /SAFEBOOT. Otherwise, you will continue to open in Safe Mode whenever you boot.

When the Computer Boots to Safe Mode without Asking

Many people have probably had it happen that instead of a normal boot, Windows puts up an error message and boots into Safe Mode. The most common reason for this to happen is that Windows has been shut down improperly. This will be indicated in the error message that comes up first. Generally, all that needs to be done in the case of improper shutdown is to restart the computer and Windows will clean up the problem and reboot normally.

If the system continues to go into safe mode, there may be a corrupt file or a driver problem. The error message may indicate the problem. Try doing a system restore. If the problem persists, there may be a problem with spyware or other pest so use the methods for cleanup associated with your particular anti-malware programs.

Some references on Safe Mode


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