Safe Mode (SM) is a cut-down version of Windows with minimal support that provides just enough software and device-driver support to get a PC running adequately, making it almost impossible for third-party software, including malware and viruses to run. Hence its name of Safe Mode. Malware scanners and other tools, such as disk defragmenters, are designed to work in SM. Using a malware scanner in SM is more effective than using it in normal mode because it has a clear run of the system.
If Windows encounters a problem that makes it impossible to boot in normal mode, it will attempt to boot into Safe Mode or provide the boot menu that allows the user to boot into SM. It is possible to enter SM manually both from a cold boot and from within Windows. The latter method is dealt with here last. Booting into SM is necessary if you want to remove bad software or get rid of a malware infection, etc., that is or isn't preventing Windows from booting into normal mode.
The option Safe Mode with Networking provides access to the PC's network, which it has if it is attached to a router by cable or is wirelessly connected to broadband or dial-up telephone or cable connection. If that is the case, the user can use that option to get online.
With Windows 8 it is still possible boot up in SM by holding the Shift key down and then pressing the F8 key repeatedly just before Windows starts to load, as was the case with previous versions of Windows, which only required pressing the F8 key repeatedly, but the boot menu that is presented is a graphical user interface, which can be accessed by using a mouse or taps on a touchscreen, is very different from previous versions of Windows. Note that the F8 key has to be pressed repeatedly quickly to be able to hit the spot that does the business.
Note that the recovery USB flash drive or DVD disc that Win8 allows users to create, provide the same recovery options as the new Win8 boot menu.
Booting into SM requires more steps than used to be the case. This is because Win8 provides a boot menu with a graphical user interface that is used with the mouse or by using taps on a touchscreen. Windows 8 is designed to be used on a desktop PC and a tablet PC, hence the need for a graphical interface for every feature. The graphical user interface also works in SM where you can use the Desktop screen, minus its Start button, which it goes into first, or the new Start screen, which is accessed as in normal mode.
If only Windows 8 is installed on a computer, to boot into SM requires holding the Shift key down while pressing the F8 key repeatedly before Windows starts to load to bring up the boot menu that only lists Windows 8 and the option called Change defaults or choose other options, which is used to boot into Safe Mode as described below for a dual-boot system.
If Windows detects a problem itself that prevents it booting normally, it will start up in Automatic Repair mode of which SM is an option, which can then be activated in the usual way of doing so in Win8, which is described further down in this article.
If the computer has one or more other operating systems installed, which are usually other versions of Windows, such as XP and Windows 7, that is, is a dual-boot or multi-boot system, the boot menu that provides a graphical user interface comes up automatically, allowing the user to boot into Win8 or an earlier version of Windows. The other option on such a multi-boot system is called: Change defaults or choose other options, which are:
1. - Change timer - Current setting 30 seconds [This option allows the user to increase or decrease the time that the boot menu is presented before it begins to load Windows in normal mode.]
2. - Choose default operating system [Use this to set the operating system that appears first and boots into automatically after the time set under option 1. If you don't want to boot first into Win8, make "Earlier version of Windows" the default option.]
3. - Choose other options [When chosen, the menu that comes up is the same one that comes up when a user with a computer running only Win8 presses the F8 key to bring up the boot menu.
When you click on the Troubleshoot option from the boot menu, it provides the following options:
1. - Refresh your PC [Refreshes the files, folders and existing settings.]
2. - Reset your PC [Resets Win8 to pristine condition without any files, folders settings or other software installed.]
3. - Advanced options [This is the option you must choose to get into Safe Mode]
4. - System Restore [Restores Windows to the state it was in on a particular date called a restore point. The Windows files and settings on that date are restored.]
5. System Image Recovery [Allows the user to restore an image of the system that was created that restores the whole system to the way it was when that image was created.]
6. Command Prompt [This is the DOS-like command-line interface that allows the user to use commands to obtain information or run tools, such as chkdsk, the hard-drive diagnostic tool.
If the user chooses option 3 - Advanced options - and then chooses the Start-up settings option from the menu that is presented, the screen lists the following start-up options:
Restart to change Windows options such as:
1. - Enable low-resolution video mode
2. - Enable debugging mode
3. - Enable boot logging
4. - Enable Safe Mode
5. - Disable driver signature enforcements
6. - Disable early launch anti-malware protection
7. - Disable automatic restart on system failure
When you press the Restart button on that screen, the computer reboots into a screen that re-lists options 1 - 7 above, but this time with a number beside them. There are three options for Safe Mode numbered 4, 5, and 6 - Safe Mode, Safe Mode with Networking and Safe Mode with Command Prompt. Pressing the 4 key gets you into standard Safe Mode, etc.
Safe Mode starts up into the Desktop screen, but you can go into the Start screen in the usually ways.
To boot into Safe Mode from within Win8, press the Windows key plus the R key to bring up the Run box and enter msconfig in it. A window comes up with several tabs. Open the Boot tab and enable the Safe boot option and then enable the type of Safe Mode that you want to boot into. The options are as follows:
Minimal and Network are the options that most users want to use. Then you just have to reboot and the computer will start up in the Safe Mode that you chose. Remember to disable the Safe boot option before you leave Safe Mode or from within Windows or the computer will keep booting into it.
These instructions can be printed if you feel that you can't memorise them.
Here is what Help & Support in Windows 8 - found by bringing out the Charms bar on the Start screen and searching for it under Search => Apps - has to say about an alternative and more long-winded method of booting into Safe Mode from within Win8: