What is Safe Mode?
Microsoft Windows has a boot process that will allow the Operating System to initiate in a Very Basic Mode with just the bare minimum of services. This is called Safe Mode. The screen will look different because it is in a basic 600×400 resolution, there is no Internet connection, there are no sound drivers loaded, etc.
Your computer is a wondrous collection of bells, whistles, services, add-ons, etc. that works like a charm – most of the time.
When the Operating System initiates (starts up) it knows that you have a high-resolution Graphics card and loads the drivers necessary for that great picture you downloaded for your background.
It also knows that there is an Ethernet Card to connect to your ISP, USB drivers that connect to your All-In-One printer, DVD drivers for your movies, Instant Messaging startup software, and a bunch of other tasks and/or processes that it was told to do.
Keep in mind, a computer will only do what it is told to do – but it will try to do everything it was told to do. Whether you told it or someone else did. (i.e. Remember last night when your nephew came over to download some music?)
There are times that something gets hosed (technical/geek speak for “goes bad”) and the system will not boot or it reboots continuously or that dreaded BSD (Blue Screen of Death) appears. One of the most common causes of this is because of drivers for these peripherals that get corrupted and do not load properly.
Safe Boot Up
Sometimes, just booting into Safe Mode and allowing the process to complete will clear the initial problem and a normal boot can be made.
Another use for booting up in safe mode would be to run a Defrag. This will complete much faster as the system is not sharing resources – i.e. drivers that would keep the video up to speed.
What you can do in Safe Mode is dependant on the version of Windows that you are running – Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Vista, Windows 10 – and it is important that you know the Administrator user password (you did make one and write it down when you first installed your system, right?)
Try to boot into Safe Mode a few times just to see how to do it and to see what it looks like so that when you have to, you will know what to expect.
Start Windows and Be Ready
Generally, you get into Safe Mode during the POST (geek for Power On Self Test) part of the boot process.
When you press the Power Switch, the PC goes through a POST to make sure that the basic hardware is operational. The motherboard is tested for good BIOS, memory is checked, the floppy, CD-Rom, and hard drive are checked to make sure they are there, and then a special location of the hard drive is read (boot sector) which contains the instructions for loading the Operating System.
Entering Safe Mode
If you watch your PC screen when you power up, you will get a feeling for the sequence. Right before the boot sector is read, you need to press the F8 key and a special boot menu will appear.
From this menu, you can select Safe Mode. The system will go through a slightly different boot sequence and will let you know that you are in Safe Mode.
If you miss the menu you may be able to press Ctrl | Alt | Del to reboot – or – you may need to power off and start over.
Sometimes it is helpful to toggle the “F8” key continuously while the POST is running until the menu appears.