What is "Safe Mode"

Tips & Hints

I’ve been told to start my computer in "safe mode" what is it and how do I do it?

5 December 2001

Safe mode is Windows with the bare minimum features. In safe Mode you can’t access the CD, Internet, Sound and the colours look dreadful. It is used for troubleshooting or to prevent programs like virus checkers and screensavers starting with the computer.

Mac users have a similar feature where the computer can be started without extensions. The effects are similar, the Internet and most features aren’t available. Holding down the shift key as a Mac starts will turn off the extensions.

To get into Windows safe mode you hold down the F5 (Windows 95) or Shift key as the computer starts. Timing is important and it can take a few attempts to get it right. If you hold the key down too early you may get a key stuck error from the BIOS. Hold the key down too late then Windows will start normally. You know you are in safe mode when a long explanation of Safe Mode appears as Windows starts.

Once in Safe Mode you can navigate, remove files and uninstall programs. Scanning for viruses, running scandisk or defragmenting are common reasons for starting in Safe Mode as they won’t be distracted by other programs or locked files.

Running safe mode is not something you should do every day, but it is a useful tool when faced with a troublesome computer. Because it starts only the functions that Windows needs, it isn't suitable for day-to-day use as you can't use printers, CD's or the Internet. If your computer regularly starts in Safe Mode then you should call a technician.

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