Using Windows "Safe Boot" To Diagnose and Repair Problems

Mike Halsey MVP
Jan 22, 2012
Updated • Jun 15, 2014

When something goes wrong with Windows it can be very difficult to diagnose or repair, and there are times when booting your computer into Safe Mode just isn't good enough.

Safe Mode, a special diagnostic mode built into Windows strips the OS of all drivers and start-up software and presents you with a very limited version of Windows in which to diagnose what might be causing a problem, and repair it.

Many Windows features simply won't operate in Safe Mode so there's not very much you can do.

Fortunately though there is an alternative and it's in every version of the operating system (XP, Vista and Windows 7).  This is called "Safe Boot" and you can find it in the MSConfig panel.  To open this type msconfig into the Start Menu search box in Vista or Windows 7, or run msconfig from the run option in XP.

Under the Boot tab in the MSConfig window you'll see the Safe Boot option as a tick box.  Turning this on will make Windows use the Safe Boot option every time thereafter.  When you want to stop using Safe Boot and return to starting Windows normally you'll need to return to the MSConfig panel and untick this option.  There are also several other options here including Minimal Boot, which will take you into the full Safe Mode, but the standard option will normally be enough for most people.

The Safe Boot screen, as you can see here is a half-way house between the full Windows desktop and Safe Mode.  What you will find though is that most of your hardware drivers will be installed and working though your startup software will still be disabled.

So when might you want to use Safe Boot?  Occasionally you will encounter a problem in Windows that you will need to go into Safe Mode to repair.  As I mentioned earlier however Safe Mode won't allow you to perform some Windows tasks, and this is where the Safe Boot mode is useful.  You may also suspect that your problems aren't being caused by a hardware driver, but by software instead.  This diagnostic mode enables you to have a full Windows desktop where nothing loads at startup and where you can run and check programs individually to see what effect they are having on your system.

As I have already mentioned Safe Mode is extremely limiting, not just in the very low screen resolution that it gives you.  If you need to run full diagnostics on your copy of Windows, to see what's going on under the hood, or if you need to test individual software packages in a safe environment where they will be able to run properly then Windows Safe Boot is the way to do it.

Remember though that you will need to turn off Safe Boot when you are done, or else Windows will start permanently in this mode.  I have found this to be a very useful diagnostic tool in Windows and it's extremely underused because, frankly, many people simply do not know that it exists.  Hopefully you will find it useful too.

Using Windows “Safe Boot” To Diagnose and Repair Problems
Article Name
Using Windows “Safe Boot” To Diagnose and Repair Problems
How to use Windows' Safe Boot feature to troubleshoot operating system issues and repair them.

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  1. Marck D said on January 22, 2012 at 9:06 pm

    Good explanation around the boot problems..
    I always thougt the MSCONFIG is such a “secret” thing in the windows system but never know why!?
    Ofcause you can really mess your computer up in the msconfig but best of all fix it as you se brilliant explained..

    Users – Check out out the startup panel as well.. In there you will see how mutch crap your pc have to start up with.. By unchecking those startups like (typically) “Apple Quicktime Update”, “Java”, “Adobe reader” and what else “YOU KNOW” you don´t need.. This will defenetly increase your startup… BUT BE AWARE – Dont check things out if you don´t know what it is…

    Greets from Denmark :)

  2. JC said on January 22, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    BRILLIANT information – thank you very much!

    The joy of living surely is that we learn something new every day!


  3. Patrick said on January 22, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    “I use an application called Boot Safe.”

    Windows 7 not supported!!!

  4. Patrick said on January 22, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    And it saves wear and tear on your index finder not having to pound F8 when restarting to get into safe mode.

  5. Bob Johnson said on January 22, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    “many people simply do not know that it exists. Hopefully you will find it useful too.”

    I never heard of it, thanks Martin.

  6. kalmly said on January 22, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    I use an application called Boot Safe. Give you three levels of safe boot modes and is quick and easy to get back to Normal boot.

  7. fokka said on January 22, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    thanks for the tip and the explanation of the differences between safe mode and safe boot!

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