How to Use Safe Mode to Fix Your Windows PC (and When You Should)

Windows’ Safe Mode is an essential tool. On computers infected with malware or crashing because of buggy drivers, Safe Mode may be the only way to start the computer.

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Safe Mode starts your PC with a minimal set of drivers and services. No third-party software or drivers get loaded, and even the built-in Windows stuff is limited to just what’s necessary. Safe Mode is a great way to remove problem-causing software—like malware—without that software getting in the way. It also provides an environment where you may find it easier to roll back drivers, and use certain troubleshooting tools.

When Safe Mode Can Help

When Windows starts normally, it launches startup programs, fires up all the services configured to start, and loads the hardware drivers you have installed. If you start in Safe Mode, Windows uses a very low screen resolution with generic video drivers, doesn’t initialize much hardware support, starts only the necessary services, and avoids loading third-party startup programs.

Sometimes, you can start Windows in Safe Mode when you can’t start Windows normally, making it a good place to start troubleshooting potential problems. If your computer is infected with malware or has unstable hardware drivers that cause blue screens, Safe Mode can help you fix it because those things aren’t loaded the way they are when Windows starts normally.

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If there’s a problem with your computer and you can’t seem to fix it—or if your computer is unstable and keeps crashing or blue-screening—you should drop into Safe Mode to fix it.

How to Start Windows In Safe Mode

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Your Windows PC should automatically start up in Safe Mode if it crashes more than once while trying to start normally. However, you can also boot into Safe Mode manually:

How to Fix Your PC in Safe Mode

After starting Windows in Safe Mode, you can perform most of the regular system maintenance and troubleshooting tasks to fix your computer:

Beyond Safe Mode: Reinstalling Windows

If you are having computer problems, it’s often not a good use of your time to spend hours isolating and fixing them. It may be much faster to reinstall Windows and start over with a fresh system.

Of course, reinstalling Windows will cause you to lose your personal files, so be sure you have a backup. On Windows 8 or 10, Refreshing your PC will preserve your personal files while replacing the system software.

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If your computer continues to be unstable after a full Windows reinstall, your computer’s hardware may be faulty. A complete Windows reinstall rules out any software problems, unless there’s a faulty hardware driver that needs to be updated.