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How to boot Windows 10 in Safe Mode

Everything you need to know about starting Windows 10 securely and returning to normal boot

Windows 10 is still the most popular operating system (OS) on the planet, despite Windows 11 having been out for some time now, which means there is a good chance you are also running Windows 10 on at least one of your machines.

Windows’ Safe Mode is a remarkably useful feature that offers users the chance to boot their Windows laptop or desktop computer but with limited functionality, which is actually more helpful than it sounds. It helps users to load up their computer and debug whatever issues may be adversely affecting its everyday operation.

The causes for a malfunctioning computer can be myriad and sometimes not obvious, which is why loading up a stripped-back version of the computer can sometimes be beneficial, doing away with unnecessary components so you can see what exactly is going wrong.

In cases where a computer is infected with malware, for example, Safe Mode can be effective at identifying where the malware may be hiding on your computer, given that it prevents applications from running and limits network access too.

In the worst cases, your company’s IT support staff are always going to be the best people to call when something goes wrong - you don’t want to make matters worse, especially when it’s a computer owned by the business. But for all other scenarios, Safe Mode can help the average user debug the issue at hand.

It’s a tried and tested function of Windows 10, and has been present in all iterations of the OS since it was first introduced in Windows 95. Here’s how to boot up in Safe Mode and get your computer back to working order.

What is Windows Safe Mode?

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Only the most important files and drivers needed to launch Windows 10 (or earlier) will be activated upon booting up a computer in safe mode, so no third-party apps, cosmetic features or other tools will be present when you gain access to your desktop.

This stripping down process is done so you can determine which application may be causing the issues you're experiencing, or whether the operating system itself is at the heart of the problem.

Standard safe mode restricts access to the internet, while safe mode with networking enables you to access the web via either Wi-Fi or an ethernet cable. However, safe mode with networking should be avoided if you believe your issue lies with malware, or virus, as data may be fed back to the attackers, or the bug may spread across a network.

Why launch in Safe Mode?

If you're struggling to start Windows normally - for example, if you're just seeing a blue screen when trying to start up, or the progress bar never actually gets to the end of the loading cycle, starting your computer up with only the very basics is a great place to start.

It's also a good idea to start your computer up in safe mode if you think it's been infected with malware or some of the hardware drivers on your machine are stunting the ability for it to launch properly. Staring up in Safe Mode will disable anything that's not essential for the computer to start up and therefore, you'll be able to identify the troublesome app and will be able to stop the malware from spreading around your network if you think it's become infected.

If one application is conflicting with another, starting up in Safe Mode will help with this too. After you've determined the blue screen or problems with startup aren't related to the core files, you can start testing other applications to see which is causing the problem and then uninstall just that one.

Although starting up your computer in Safe Mode won't always cure the issue, it's the best place to start if you're not exactly sure what's wrong with it.

How to start Windows 10 in Safe Mode

There are two ways to launch Safe Mode on your computer either via the settings menu, if you can access it, or when you reach the sign-in screen.

Via the Settings menu

From your Start Screen, press the Windows button and the power button on your keyboard to open the Settings Menu using a shortcut. However, if that doesn't work, you can enter the menu by selecting the Start button at the bottom of your screen and then navigating to settings.

Once you're in the settings menu, select Update & security and then Recovery. When the screen throws up the advanced settings, select Restart now.

Your computer will now restart, presenting the Choose an option screen. From here, select Troubleshoot - Advanced Options - Startup Settings, then Restart.

Your PC will reboot again and this time, you'll be able to choose to start up in either Safe Mode (option 4, or select it by pressing F4) or Safe Mode With Networking (option 5; tap F4 if you can't choose it manually).

Via the sign-in screen

If you've just started up your PC to find it's not working correctly, you can also reboot using Safe Mode when you arrive at the sign-in screen.

To do this, hold down the Shift button on your keyboard, then select Power and Restart. When your computer reboots, it should open up the same Choose an option screen, as is the case when you restart your computer in Safe Mode via the settings menu.

Once again, select Restart from the Startup Settings menu that you'll find if you select Troubleshoot; then select Advanced Options and choose either option 4 or press F4 on your keyboard to boot up in Safe Mode, or option 5 (F5) if you need to access the internet in Safe Mode.

When to call a professional

Once you're running Safe Mode, you can start to investigate the problems you're experiencing with your computer and try to fix them.

However, if you're not confident trying to fix the issue yourself, it's always best to call in professional help either from your IT department or a third-party company to make sure you don't damage your PC permanently.

If your computer is presenting the black screen of death and you're unable to do anything at all, hit CTRL, ALT, DELETE to bring up the logout screen, select Restart and ensure you press down the Shift button to take you to the Choose an option screen, from which you can select Safe Mode.

How to use msconfig to launch Safe Mode

If you would rather launch Safe Mode using the command line rather than going through the rather time-consuming steps above, you can instead launch msconfig from the Start Screen by typing it in, then choosing Launch System Configuration from the list of options. Next, select Boot.

When the menu pops up, tick the Safe Boot box and choose which variation of Safe Mode you want to boot up in. Click OK and hey presto! Your Windows 10 machine will start up in Safe Mode.

How to get to the old Windows 7 Advanced Options screen

If you're used to using older versions of Windows, you may want to use the older Advanced Boot Options that are no longer visible in Windows 10.

To do this, you'll need to create a bootable USB flash drive or DVD, which you'll need to do on another computer if your machine isn't working. It's a good idea to have one already made up though, just in case you experience problems in future.

To access the legacy Advanced Options from this bootable drive, pop the USB drive or DVD into your machine and boot from it (you may have to adjust the BIOS boot settings), select your language and when you arrive at the Repair your computer page, choose Troubleshoot, Advanced Options and Command Prompt.

Now, type in the disk destination (such as c:) and press enter. Now, type in bcdedit /set {default} bootmenupolicy legacy followed by enter, then type exit and return to quit the Command Prompt. Remove the USB or DVD and when you reboot your computer, it will use the old-school boot. Tap F8 to get to the Advanced Options where you can choose to boot up in Safe Mode, Safe Mode with Networking, Safe Mode with Command Prompt or any other available option.

How to exit Windows 10 in Safe Mode

Once you're in Safe Mode and, hopefully, have corrected the problem with your computer, you'll want to test it's worked. To do this, you'll need to exit from Safe Mode. You can do this once again using msconfig. Head to the Start Menu and type in msconfig to bring up the System Configuration menu.

Go to the Boot option at the bottom of the screen, untick Safe Boot, select apply and OK. you may be asked to reboot for the changes to take effect, or just restart manually to relaunch your computer in normal mode.

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