How to use safe mode effectively in Windows 10?

By ivan.diskin | February 19, 2018 |

greater than 12 minutes

The most comprehensive guide in 2018 on learning how to start W10 in safe mode.

You are here probably because the problem your PC has requires you to learn how to enable safe mode in Windows 10. This is no surprise as safe mode has always been the go-to advanced option for solving issues with the Windows operating system even in 2018. When an application fails to function normally, when your computer experiences a virus or malware attack, or when it simply refuses to work as expected, then booting Windows in safe mode becomes an effective way of troubleshooting your system.

How does safe mode work?

Safe mode works by starting up your system with a limited amount of software – few drivers and system files. The drivers and system files allowed to start are usually the ones extremely vital to your system’s core operations. Now if the issues or problems you are experiencing fail to show up in safe mode, then you can easily rule out hardware malfunction as the cause of your problem.

There are three variations of safe mode.

  • The basic version (Safe Mode) prevents all unnecessary programs from running and allows auto-start of only a few system applications or required programs. Options for advanced features or connections with other computer hardware are absent in this mode.
  • Safe Mode with Networking is a mode with a bit more functionality as regards drivers and network connections. This option is particularly very useful when connection to networks is required to search for information or get help. It might not be as safe as the basic version of safe mode because your Windows is not completely isolated from interferences. However, for users who do not have access to multiple devices for connectivity, it remains a useful tool.
  • When Safe Mode with Command Prompt is used, your system does not boot into Windows graphical user interface (GUI). Instead, you will be presented with a Command Prompt window. Users who have significant knowledge of using commands to troubleshoot problems tend to use this safe mode option.

How to start Windows 10 in safe mode?

Starting Windows and pressing the F8 button has been the most common method of getting into safe mode since the release of Windows 95. However, the rise in the popularity of SSDs and Microsoft itself wanting to offer faster boot times ensured this option went missing in Windows 10. Windows 10 and Windows 8 are the fastest booting Windows operating systems after all.

Regardless, you will now learn of other ways used to start W10 in safe mode depending on your need or current situation.

1. Using System Configuration program:

This is actually one of the easiest and fastest ways of starting Windows 10 in Safe Mode. Follow these instructions:

  • Click on the start button and search for Run. Press the Enter key to launch the program. An alternative way of doing this is pressing the Windows and R key on your keyboard.
  • Type msconfig and click on OK to launch the System Configuration program
  • After the program has opened, navigate to the Boot tab by clicking on it.
  • Under Boot options, select or tick the Safe boot checkbox.
  • Select the Minimal option (as this is the preferred option in most cases), and click on OK
  1. The minimal option starts Safe Mode in its purest form in the usual Windows interface with the minimum amount of drivers and services.
  2. Using Alternate Shell means Windows is started in Safe Mode with the Command Prompt program. This option is recommended for users with a bit of technical expertise- advanced knowledge of text commands and those users who are skilled at navigating within a system without using a mouse.
  3. Active Directory repair is used to start Windows in Safe Mode while at the same time providing access to machine or hardware information. This option is intended for use in cases when a new piece of connected hardware corrupts the Active Directory. Safe mode is then required to restore system stability.
  4. Network is the equivalent of Safe Mode with networking found as an option on the blue screen displayed when using other methods to boot into safe mode. This option starts Windows in its regular interface with the necessary drivers and services for connecting to networks.

You will be prompted with a message stating that you need to restart your computer for the changes you have just applied to take effect.

Click Restart if you have nothing else to do. If you are still busy with your PC, click on Exit without Restart. This act allows you to close your important programs and save necessary files first before manually restarting your system. The resulting reboot forces Windows to go straight into Safe Mode.

2. Using the F8 button:

If you (somehow regardless of your issues) still have access to Windows on your PC, then you can restore the use of F8 as a boot menu feature to start safe mode. Do the following:

  • Click on the start button and search for Run. Press the Enter key to launch the program. Alternatively, you can press Windows key and R on your keyboard to launch it directly.
  • Write cmd in the available search box and press Ctrl+Shift+Enter to run Command Prompt with administrator privileges.
  • Input the following code bcdedit /set {default} bootmenupolicy legacy and press Enter
  • Close all programs and restart your PC
  • During this reboot, press F8 (before the Windows logo appears) to access the Boot menu options
  • Scroll down using the arrow keys on your keyboard and select Safe mode by pressing the Enter key.

In theory, the F8 button or a combination of the shift key and F8 button should work on computers that use legacy BIOS and/or some PCs equipped with a hard disk drive platter.

3. Using Settings:

Follow these instructions:

  • Click on the start button or press the Windows key on your keyboard
  • Click on the Settings icon to launch the Settings program
  • Select Update and Security, and click on Recovery which is located on the list on the left side
  • Under Advanced Start up, click on Restart now. After your system restarts, you will be presented with a list of options.
  • On this screen, select Troubleshoot, then Advanced options, then Startup Settings, and finally select Restart
  • After this restart, press the number 4 or the F4 button to start your PC in basic safe mode. If you want to use Safe Mode with networking (or require connection to the internet), press the number 5 or the F5 button instead. Pressing the number 6 or the F6 button would open Safe Mode with Command Prompt

4. Starting Safe Mode from the login screen:

How do I bypass password in Windows 10? This is a question you might ask yourself when you cannot boot into your desktop but can still reach your login screen normally. You can use this method to boot into Safe Mode in W10. You can also perform this action from your usual desktop screen.

  • Press and hold down the shift key, then click on the power button icon and select Restart. After this restart, you will be presented with a screen for Windows Recovery.
  • Under this Windows Recovery environment, select Troubleshoot
  • Under Troubleshoot, select Advanced options
  • Click on Startup Settings
  • Finally, click on Restart. Your PC would restart and you will be presented with another screen showing several startup options
  • On this screen, the instructions for enabling Safe Mode are similar to the ones used when launching Safe Mode using Settings. Press the number 4 or the F4 button to start your PC in basic safe mode. If you want to use Safe Mode with networking (or require connection to the internet), press the number 5 or the F5 button instead. Pressing the number 6 or F6 button would open Safe Mode with Command Prompt

5. Using Automatic Repair:

When Windows fails to boot or start up normally within 3 consecutive attempts, the 4th attempt tends to trigger Automatic Repair mode by default. This option of starting W10 in Safe Mode works by taking advantage of this simple principle. This method is quite useful if for some reason you cannot boot into desktop or even access your system’s login screen. This is how you bypass password in Windows 10.

Here you are required to interrupt the normal boot process of your PC 3 times in a row. You can do this by pressing and hold on to the power button on your system when the Windows logo appears during boot up. Pressing and holding the power button would force your computer to go off during a boot, thus interrupting the normal Windows boot-up process. Perform this action correctly 3 times in a row, and finally press the power button or turn on your system as usual. Now watch your system enter Automatic Repair mode. You will be presented with a message stating that Windows is preparing automatic repair.

You will still have to wait after getting the message that Windows is Diagnosing your PC. Eventually, you will see the screen for Automatic Repair. Click on Advanced options. Select Troubleshoot. At this point, the instructions to go into Safe Mode become identical to parts of the previous ones for other methods:

  • Under Troubleshoot, select Advanced options
  • Click on Startup Settings
  • Finally, click on Restart. Your PC would restart and you will be presented with another screen showing several startup options
  • On this screen, the instructions for enabling Safe Mode are similar to the ones used when launching Safe Mode using Settings. Press the number 4 or the F4 button to start your PC in basic safe mode. If you want to use Safe Mode with networking (or require connection to the internet), press the number 5 or the F5 button instead. Pressing the number 6 or F6 button would open Safe Mode with Command Prompt

6. Using a Recovery Drive:

In Windows 10, a program exists that can be used to create a system recovery drive (usually a USB or flash drive). A recovery drive is a useful tool for troubleshooting or fixing problems on a PC , especially when that PC refuses to start normally.

Follow these instructions to create a recovery drive or skip them and scroll down if you already have a recovery drive:

    • Click on the start button or press the Windows key on your keyboard.
    • In the taskbar, search for Create a recovery drive and select the returned result. You might be prompted to enter an administrator password or confirm your choice
    • After the program opens, ensure that the ‘Backup system files to the recovery drive’ option is selected. This option guarantees that all your system files are copied to the recovery drive. Click on Next
    • Now it is time you connected a USB drive to your system. Make sure you do not have any valuable information or data on this drive because you would lose all the files stored on it during this process. The USB drive must also contain at least a certain amount of storage space.

o For a 32-bit version of Windows, the storage space on the USB drive or its capacity must be at least 4GB.
o For systems running a 64-bit version of Windows, the USB drive to be used must have at least 8GB of free space.
o If your system was bundled with Windows preinstalled, then you might need a drive with space exceeding 32GB.

  • Select the drive you have just connected. Click on Next and you will be prompted with an error message stating that everything on the drive would be deleted. Select Create to begin the process. This process involves formatting the drive and copying system recovery files. It could take a while depending on the volume of files to be copied and the speed of your recovery drive.
  • After the completion of the process, you will get a message stating that the recovery drive is ready. You might see the Delete the recovery partition from your PC link. Click on the link and select Delete if you wish to free up some space on your PC. Otherwise, click on finish or simply exit the program.

Now once you have created the recovery drive (or if you had one already), you go can about using this drive to boot your PC into safe mode by following these steps:

  • Reboot your system, but this time ensure it boots from the recovery drive. The process for booting from a recovery drive varies a lot and generally depends on the system’s manufacturer. After inserting the recovery drive into your PC and pressing the power button to put it on,
  • Press F12 consistently if your system’s manufacturer is Lenovo
  • Tab F2 several times if your system’s manufacturer is Dell. First, you will need to disable secure boot. You can obtain detailed instructions on doing this from Dell’s website. After disabling secure boot, restart your system and tap F12 consistently when the Dell logo appears.
  • For PC users with a system manufactured by HP, press the F10 key repeatedly. Disabling of secure boot is your priority here. You can find detailed instructions on doing this from this HP customer support page.

Please consult your PC’s manufacturer webpage for instructions if your system brand is not anyone of those listed above.

  • After booting from the recovery drive, you will be presented with a screen requesting you choose the layout for your keyboard. Locate your keyboard layout. If it is missing from the presented list, click on See more keyboard layouts to see the full list of available keyboard layouts.
  • After selecting your keyboard layout, you will be presented with a new screen that requests you choose an option. Select Troubleshoot. Now the next steps are identical to the ones for already explained methods of getting into Safe Mode in Windows 10.
  • Under the Troubleshoot menu, select Advanced options, then Startup Settings, and finally select Restart
  • After this restart, press the number 4 or the F4 button to start your PC in basic safe mode. If you want to use Safe Mode with networking (or require connection to the internet), press the number 5 or the F5 button instead. Pressing the number 6 or F6 button would open Safe Mode with Command Prompt.

7. Using a Windows Installation Drive:

If you possess any form of Windows 10 installation media (DVD or USB), skip these instructions on creating a Windows installation drive. To create a Windows installation drive, follow the instructions for creating Windows 10 installation media contained in this comprehensive guide from Microsoft.

Now having obtained the Windows 10 installation media in a DVD format or flash drive, we can move on to our task of booting your system into safe mode using this media.

    1. Boot your system from this installation media or drive. You can find instructions on performing this action above (contained in the method of booting into safe mode using a recovery drive).
    2. After booting your system from this media, you will be presented with a screen requesting you to choose your language and keyboard layout. Select your keyboard layout, your preferred language and select Next.
    3. Select or click on the Repair your computer. It usually appears in the bottom left corner of the screen.
    4. Select Troubleshoot. Under Advanced options, select Command Prompt to launch the program
    5. After the Command Prompt program has loaded, type the following command

o bcdedit /set {default} safeboot minimal and press the Enter key on your keyboard to run this code. This is for basic safe mode
o bcdedit /set {default} safeboot network and press the Enter key on your keyboard to run this code. This is for safe mode with Networking.
o bcdedit /set {default} safeboot minimal bcdedit /set {default} safebootalternateshell yes and press the Enter key on your keyboard to run this code. This is for safe mode with Command Prompt

  1. The completion of the command is made known by Command Prompt stating that the operation was completed successfully. Exit Command Prompt after getting this message.
  2. Click on Continue. Now your PC would reboot into safe mode automatically.

Quitting Safe Mode:

We have just provided several methods used to start W10 in safe mode in 2018. After solving your computer issues using safe mode, you will need to return your system to its regular boot setup. This involves you exiting safe mode. Do the following:

  • Click on the start button or press the Windows key on your keyboard.
  • Type msconfig in the available box and press Enter to launch the System Configuration program
  • Navigate to the Boot option. Untick the checkbox for safe boot.
  • Select Apply and OK.
  • Now you might be prompted to let your system restart. Please allow it. Otherwise restart your system manually yourself for the changes to take effect. Your PC should now boot into its normal mode.

Alternatively, you can end safe boot by using Command prompt.

This method is probably the ideal one for users who launched safe boot with Command Prompt. Do this:

  • Launch Command Prompt and type in the following code : bcdedit /deletevalue {default} safeboot
  • Press the Enter key on your keyboard and wait for the execution of this command.
  • Exit Command Prompt and restart your system. Your system should boot up its normal mode now.

A virus (or malware attack) is a common problem that can be experienced by any user in 2018. Although Windows 10 was bundled with Windows Defender, it is strictly advisable that you run a powerful antivirus to keep out threats. However, there is always the possibility that this antivirus simply misses a threat or gets compromised and overwhelmed by multiple attacks. This is why a second line of defense (usually an antimalware program) is usually required to keep you safe.

Auslogics Antimalware is an excellent piece of software designed to work with whatever antivirus you have running to provide the maximum security possible. Download, install and use it to scan your system now, and it just might detect the dangerous threats your antivirus has missed . Protection from future virus, malware or spyware attacks is another bonus you certainly do not want to miss.

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