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How to troubleshoot PC problems in Safe Mode
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Tech tips

How to use Safe Mode to diagnose problems on your Windows PC

Are you having trouble surfing the internet? It could be a simple issue with your web browser. Tap or click here for five ways to speed it up.

The problem could be deeper, though. There might be something wrong with your Windows PC. If you’re experiencing poor performance or crashing apps, pay attention. There’s a real problem behind every surface-level symptom.

Thankfully Microsoft has a tool that you can use to find the problem quickly. Here’s how to use Safe Mode to troubleshoot your PC.

What is Safe Mode for PC?

Safe Mode is a Windows feature that utilizes only the bare necessities.

RELATED: Windows PC just not working right? How to do a factory reset

Safe Mode starts Windows in a raw state, using a restricted set of files and drivers. If a problem doesn’t happen in Safe Mode, default settings and basic device drivers aren’t causing the issue. 

Observing Windows in Safe Mode allows you to narrow down the source of an issue and can help you troubleshoot problems on your PC.

There are two versions of safe mode: Safe Mode and Safe Mode with Networking. Safe Mode with Networking adds the network drivers and services you’ll need to be online and connect with other computers on your network. 

How to enable Safe Mode

You can launch Safe Mode in several ways with Windows 10 and 11. The simplest way is from Settings, so let’s focus on that.

To access Safe Mode in Windows 10:

  1. Press the Windows logo key  + I on your keyboard to open Settings. If that doesn’t work, select the Start button, then Settings.
  2. Select Update & Security > Recovery.
  3. Under Advanced startup, select Restart now.
  4. After your PC restarts to the Choose an option screen, select Troubleshoot Advanced options > Startup Settings > Restart. You may be asked to enter your BitLocker recovery key.
  5. After your PC restarts, you’ll see a list of options. Select 4 or press F4 to start your PC in Safe Mode. Or, if you’ll need to use the internet, select 5 or press F5 for Safe Mode with Networking.

To access Safe Mode in Windows 11:

  1. Press the Windows logo key + I on your keyboard to open Settings. If that doesn’t work, select the Start button, then select Settings.
  2. Select System > Recovery.
  3. Under Recovery options, next to Advanced startup, select Restart now.
  4. After your PC restarts to the Choose an option screen, select Troubleshoot Advanced options > Startup Settings > Restart. You may be asked to enter your BitLocker recovery key.
  5. After your PC restarts, you’ll see a list of options. Select 4 or press F4 to start your PC in Safe Mode. Or, if you’ll need to use the internet, select 5 or press F5 for Safe Mode with Networking.

What if my system already crashed?

You can enter Safe Mode after you’ve already encountered a problem. Here’s how:

  1. Perform a hard reset by pressing and holding the Power button on your PC for 10 seconds.
  2. Turn the device back on after it shuts down by hitting the Power button once.
  3. As it boots up, press and hold the Power button for another 10 seconds.
  4. Again, turn the computer back on by pressing the Power button.
  5. Repeat this process one more time, prompting Automatic Repair to launch.
  6. Select winRE, short for Windows Recovery Environment.
  7. From here, you’ll be brought back to the same troubleshooting options as before. Click into Troubleshoot to begin.
  8. Choose Advanced options, followed by Startup Settings.
  9. Use F5 to enable Safe Mode with networking.

After the entire process has concluded, your PC will remain in Safe Mode until the next time you power down.

How to disable Safe Mode

To turn Safe Mode off, hit Win + R to call up the Run window.

  1. Type in “MSConfig” and hit OK.
  2. Under the Boot tab, ensure that the box next to Safe boot is not checked.

Now, try restarting your computer again. It should be completely back in action.

How to use Safe Mode to diagnose your PC

Safe Mode is ideal when you have a mystery to solve and no idea where to begin. What’s the best way to use Safe mode as a diagnostic tool once it’s in place?

  • With a flushed-out Task Manager, you’ll be able to identify problematic processes quickly.
  • You might find that your computer is totally fine when only the essentials are running, perhaps hinting at the actual underlying problem outside of these necessities.
  • If your PC has been rendered unusable, Safe Mode might be able to get you back into a place of relative functionality.

Safe Mode clears the playing field for you. With the riff-raff off the table, you’ll be able to sleuth it out without distraction without wiping your system right off the bat.

Other things to keep in mind when using Safe Mode

One of the most common concerns will be the possibility of locking yourself out of the device.

Adding a PIN, fingerprint, or security key are all viable workarounds, giving you a vital backdoor when disaster strikes. You can also disable the “only allow Windows Hello sign-in for Microsoft accounts” option in your Accounts settings, found in your Sign-in options.

We love Safe Mode because it makes diagnostics easy, even if you’re not necessarily a hardcore PC enthusiast. Anybody can use Safe Mode, and it might end up saving you a lot of time and trouble.

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