Windows 8 and Windows 7 Safe Modes: How to enter and when to use them

1204 primary

Today's Best Tech Deals

Picked by PCWorld's Editors

Top Deals On Great Products

Picked by Techconnect's Editors

No reader question today. Instead, I want to discuss Safe Mode, Windows’ stripped-down, minimum-driver environment. For years now, there’s been one quick way to enter Safe Mode—pressing F8. But that  trick doesn’t work for all Windows 8 PCs.

And even in older versions, it’s not always the easiest form of entry.

Safe Mode gives you a low-resolution, visually ugly, feature-limited Windows environment useful for diagnostic and repair purposes. You wouldn’t want to create a PowerPoint demonstration there, but if things are misbehaving, it can be a fruitful place to visit. For instance, if a program’s uninstall routine keeps failing, it just might uninstall properly in Safe Mode.

[Have a tech question? Ask PCWorld Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector. Send your query to]

Among the things that standard Safe Mode cannot do is networking. However, because network and Internet access are needed for some diagnostic chores—such as malware scanning and updating drivers—Windows also provides an alternative Safe Mode with Networking environment.

The conventional way of entering Safe Mode still works in Windows 7 and Vista, and in some Windows 8 PCs. Boot the computer and start pressing and releasing F8 repeatedly. Once the Advanced Boot Options menu pops up, you can select Safe Mode or Safe Mode with Networking.

1204 f8 safe mode

If that doesn’t work, here’s something specific to Windows 8:

  1. Hold down Shift while selecting the Restart option on the Shutdown menu. This works with the Settings charm and—in Windows 8.1—right-clicking the Start button.
    1204 safe mode shut down
  2. On the resulting “Choose an option” screen, select Troubleshoot>Advanced options>Startup Settings>Restart.
  3. When the Startup Settings menu appears, type 4 for Safe Mode or 5 for Safe Mode with Networking.

Here’s one more path to Safe Mode, and it works in Windows 7, 8, and Vista:

  1. In the Start menu’s Search field or in the Windows 8 Search charm, type msconfig, and launch the resulting program.
  2. Click the Boot tab.
  3. Check the Safe boot option
    1204 safe mode msconfig
  4. Select an option below that. Safe boot brings you to the standard Safe Mode. With networking does exactly what you think it does.
  5. Click OK, then Restart.

One problem with this method: When you’re done and you reboot Windows, it will take you back into Safe mode. So while you’re still in Safe Mode, launch msconfig and uncheck the Safe boot option.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon