In Safe Mode you can adjust all settings you might have changed before Windows refused to boot or started experiencing stability problems, remove or add drivers, uninstall or install some software (the ones that do not depend on Windows Installer), and remove hard-to-delete viruses and malware.
You can also use System Restore in Safe Mode.
Safe Mode is still a limited mode where several functions do not work at all. This is because only essential services are loaded to prevent malware and problematic programs/drivers from loading.
If your device only starts in Safe Mode, try turning on the Clean boot mode to make sure that no third-party software or service is causing the trouble.
A big advantage of Safe Mode is that is checks and repairs all essential system files and, if necessary, runs a disk check. This way, all trivial problems are solved just by starting Windows in that mode.
- Last Known Good Configuration often solves booting and stability problems after installing software, drivers, or messing with Registry entries. This is available for Windows XP, Vista and 7 only.
- If Windows is able to boot, use System File Checker and icacls.exe to repair corrupted system files.
- While Windows is running, use free WhoCrashed for determining BSOD (Blue Screen Of Death) causes.
In Windows Vista and later, Reliability Monitor might also reveal faulty drivers or software.
In Windows 8/8.1 and 10, the good old F8 key trick does not work anymore (you can, however, turn the F8 key functionality back on for your convenience). If Windows 8, 8.1 or 10 detects that it is unable to start, you can get into new Startup Settings: click See advanced repair options in Recovery screen, or click Advanced options after Automatic Repair fails.
If Windows 8 or 8.1 is able to start and run and you can use at least one monitor/display, open Settings charm using keyboard shortcut Windows Key+I. The fastest way is to click Power and then hold down Shift key while clicking Restart. This will reboot into Windows 8/8.1 Advanced Startup screen. This method also works from Welcome/Sign in screen if you cannot login to your account.
In Windows 10, open Start menu, click Power button and click Restart while holding down Shift key. This method also works from Welcome/Sign in screen if you cannot login to your account.
The longer way in Windows 8 and 8.1 is to click Change PC settings in the bottom.
In Windows 10, you can use either keyboard shortcut Windows Key+I to open Settings app, or open Start menu and click Settings.
Alternatively, in Windows 10 Anniversary Update and newer, open the Run dialog with keyboard shortcut WINDOWS KEY+R or via the Quick Links menu (WINDOWS KEY+X), type ms-settings:recovery and click OK.
In Windows 8, click to open General tab of PC settings app, scroll all the way down to Advanced startup section and click Restart now.
In Windows 8.1, open Update & Recovery tab on the bottom left and then click Recovery tab. Click Restart now in the Advanced startup section.
In Windows 10, click or tap Update & Security, open Recovery tab from the left and click or touch Restart now in the Advanced startup section.
This is how Windows 8/8.1 and 10 Advanced startup screen looks like.
Click Troubleshooting in Choose an option screen. Next, in Troubleshoot screen, click Advanced options tile. Then, in Advanced options screen, click Startup Settings. And finally, in Startup Settings screen, click Restart.
Windows reboots the device and reveals the Startup Settings screen.
Press number 4 key or F4 key to Enable Safe Mode - this one is the best bet if you do not need Internet access.
Press number 5 key or F5 key to Enable Safe Mode with Networking - use this one in case you need Internet access for downloading applications or updating anti-virus or anti-malware products.
Enable Safe Mode with Command Prompt (6 or F6) is for advanced users who know program names and switches by heart. Some common examples include rstrui.exe for launching System Restore, chkdsk c: /F /X for repairing disk errors, and sfc /scannow for repairing and recovering essential system files.
In Windows XP, Vista and 7, press F8 key on your keyboard during boot while the big logo or black screen with white texts is displayed.
On some computers you will see a boot selection after pressing F8, cancel that by pressing Esc key on your keyboard and then press F8 key again.
First you might see an operating system selection screen. Select the correct one with arrow keys and press Enter key. If you already pressed F8 repeatedly, this screen might not appear.
There are three different types of Safe Mode available, usually the first one works best. If you want to troubleshoot a device or its drivers, work with settings and registry, always choose the first one - pure Safe Mode.
If you need access to the Internet while using Safe Mode (for example, for installing or updating anti-virus and anti-malware programs), select Safe Mode with Networking instead.
Safe Mode with Command Prompt is not really of much use unless you know all different command-line programs by heart. Some common examples include rstrui.exe for launching System Restore, chkdsk c: /F /X for repairing disk errors, and sfc /scannow for repairing and recovering essential system files.
Choose your liking with arrow keys on your keyboard and press Enter to start it.
Windows will load and check essential files and drivers. Next, it checks if a disk drive (or partition/volume) is marked "dirty" due to messed file system and failed shutdown or startup.
If none of drives is flagged as containing errors, Windows starts in Safe Mode right away.
But if a disk or partition needs checking, hard drive activity indicator light will flash or stay on for several minutes or even up to half an hour. Disk check in Windows XP, Vista and 7 most commonly starts after loading mup.sys, classpnp.sys or crcdisk.sys.
Windows 8 and later do not run through the list of system files on screen while starting in Safe Mode.
Do not turn off or restart your computer while the disk activity indicator light is on or flashes - you might cause severe damage to files on the disk!
If file system on your hard disk needs some thorough fixing, Windows might restart your computer once or twice before starting Safe Mode. In such cases, use F8 key again to choose Safe Mode, do not let Windows start normally.
In case your computer restarts more than three times without going to Safe Mode or it stops responding for more than 30 minutes during disk check, then Windows files are badly damaged and you will have to use other ways of repairing it (see next tutorials).
In Windows XP, you might see a black screen with "Safe Mode" written to every corner for a while. This is normal.
You will then see your familiar Welcome screen. Click your user name, type your password and log on as usual. Both Start menu and (My) Computer in Windows XP, Vista and 7 use the Classic look, because Windows themes are disabled in Safe Mode. Desktop background will be black with white "Safe Mode" written to all four corners of screen.
In Windows XP, a dialog asking to choose between Safe Mode and System Restore appears. Click Yes here to continue working in Safe Mode.
In Windows Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1, Windows Help and Support will open a help page on Safe Mode. Close the window. Windows 10 does not even bother opening Help and Support.
If you're lucky, restarting your computer and letting Windows start normally now might resolve your problems. If not, return to Safe Mode and explore other options.
In case you suspect a virus or some other form of malware is preventing Windows from booting or running correctly, see instructions for Microsoft Security Essentials in Windows Vista and 7, Windows Defender in Windows 8/8.1, or Windows Defender Security Center in Windows 10.
While in Safe Mode, always check for error and warning events in Event Viewer, this might help a lot.
Ue keyboard shortcut Windows Key+R to open Run dialog, type eventvwr.msc and click OK.
Ignore typical Safe Mode events such as DCOM "This service cannot be started in Safe Mode" (Event ID 10005) and events with ID 7001. These events happen because Safe Mode starts only essential services to help fighting malware or stop problematic drivers/programs from loading. Scroll down in events list to find the time when your computer was still working and see if there were any error or warning events at that time.
Pay special attention to events with ID 7 and 55 in System log of Event Viewer - several recent entries might indicate a failing hard drive. You should run a full disk check in such case.
In Windows Vista, 7, 8/8.1 and 10, you can also check events in Applications and Services Logs, Microsoft, Windows, Diagnostics-Performance for finding out which programs and drivers may cause trouble. Read the Troubleshoot performance in Windows Vista and later tutorial for more details.
More important event log entries are listed in this Event Viewer tutorial.
You can also install and run free version of WhoCrashed for determining the causes of BSOD (Blue Screen Of Death). To download this great tool, you need Safe Mode with Networking.
While you're at it, you should also run a very limited disk clean-up. Open Windows/File Explorer using keyboard shortcut Windows Key+E, open Computer/This PC, right-click system drive (the drive where Windows is installed, most probably with drive letter C:) and click Properties.
Then click Disk Cleanup button. After a few moments a list appears - select only Temporary files there (deselect everything else!) and click OK. Cleaning other files can remove important data required for further troubleshooting and recovery, so once again: delete only Temporary files!
This will remove leftover files that can cause trouble sometimes.
If Windows problems appeared right after installing or updating a program, try uninstalling the ill-behaving software.
Please note that not all programs can be uninstalled in Safe Mode! The ones that rely on Windows Installer service will fail with an error message. A rule of thumb is that if an installer file has .msi extension, it cannot be installed or uninstalled in Safe Mode.
You also cannot install Microsoft-provided security updates in this mode, even when installer has .exe extension - it just unpacks .msi or .msp package, tries to run it and fails.
To uninstall a program in Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 10, click or tap Start button, or press Ctrl+Esc on your keyboard.
In Windows XP, click Control Panel and then open Add or Remove Programs.
In Windows Vista, 7 and 10, type "programs" and click Programs and Features.
In Windows 8 and 8.1, open Settings search using keyboard shortcut Windows Key+W, type "uninstall" into Search box and click Uninstall a program.
A quicker alternative in Windows 8, 8.1 and 10 is to right-click (or tap and hold) Start tip or button and choose Programs and Features from the Quick Links menu. Keyboard shortcut for the menu is Windows Key+X.
The installed software list might take a while to build. After it appears, find the program you want to uninstall.
In Windows XP, click the program and then click the Remove or Change/Remove button.
In Windows Vista, 7, 8, 8.1 and 10, right-click the program name and select Uninstall or Uninstall/Change.
Windows will probably ask if you want to remove the program. Click Yes.
If the program can be removed, its uninstaller will start. Follow its instructions and select "Uninstall" or "Remove" when needed.
You might see an error message "The Windows Installer Service could not be accessed". This means that this program cannot be removed in Safe Mode.
If the problems appeared after installing or updating a driver, remove the troublesome one using Device Manager.
In all versions of Windows, use keyboard shortcut Windows Key+R to open Run dialog. Type devmgmt.msc and click OK.
Use the Roll Back Driver feature if a device was present before and worked fine until a driver update. You can roll back drivers only if the device had some other drivers installed before.
Find the device that caused trouble, right-click on its name and click Properties:
Now click on Driver tab above and then click on Roll Back Driver.
In Windows 8, 8.1 and 10, you can also open the Events tab and see driver installation history to be really sure the device driver was recently updated.
Answer Yes in Driver Package rollback dialog.
Disable a device if you want to verify that the device is causing problems with Windows starting or working properly. This is useful in case the hardware used to work fine and its driver has not been recently updated, but it seems to be causing trouble now.
Disabling is good for temporary testing and you do not have to reinstall its drivers if this device appears to be working well after all.
Find and right-click the device in question. Click Disable.
Use Uninstall if you want to remove a device physically afterwards. Just removing the device from your computer might not give expected results because buggy drivers might still get loaded and cause trouble.
Find the device you want to remove and right-click it. Select Uninstall.
After using Device Manager for rolling back a driver or disabling a device, restart your computer and see if Windows now works better.
If you uninstalled a driver, shut down your computer, unplug power cord and remove the hardware device. Then start Windows and check if everything works fine.
In case Windows will not start normally no matter what, but it does work in Safe Mode, you can try enabling the Clean Boot mode for further troubleshooting. If Windows boots and runs well in this mode, some third-party (non-Microsoft) service or software is the root of all evil.