How to Start Windows XP in Safe Mode

Press F8 as your PC is starting up to see all your Safe Mode options

What to Know

  • Restart and immediately press the F8 key > Safe Mode > Enter. Select operating system > Enter.
  • Wait for files to load. Log in with an administrator account.
  • In the "Windows is running in safe mode" dialog box, select Yes.

This article explains how to start a Windows XP computer in Safe Mode. Doing this can help you diagnose and solve many serious problems, especially when starting normally isn't possible.

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Press F8 Before the Splash Screen

Screenshot of the Windows XP Professional splash screen

To begin, turn your PC on or restart it.

Just before the Windows XP splash screen, shown above, appears, press the F8 key to enter the Windows Advanced Options Menu.

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Choose a Safe Mode Option

Screenshot of the Advanced Options menu in Windows XP

You're presented with three variations of Safe Mode you can enter. Using the arrow keys on your keyboard, highlight one of these options and then press Enter:

  • Safe Mode: This is the default option and is usually the best choice. This will load only the absolute minimum processes necessary to start Windows.
  • Safe Mode with Networking: This option loads the same processes as Safe Mode, but also includes those that allow the networking functions in Windows to work. This is valuable if you may need to access the internet or your local network while troubleshooting.
  • Safe Mode with Command Prompt: This flavor of Safe Mode also loads a minimum set of processes, but will allow access to Command Prompt, a valuable option if more advanced troubleshooting is necessary. It's a little different, though, so check out How to Boot to Windows XP Safe Mode With Command Prompt for more information.

Don't see this screen? You may have missed the small window of opportunity to press F8 from Step 1, and Windows is probably now continuing to boot normally if it's able to. If so, restart your computer and try Step 1 again.

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Select the Operating System to Start

Screenshot of the operating system selection option during a Windows XP Safe Mode boot

Windows needs to know which operating system installation you would like to start. Most users only have a single Windows installation, so the choice is typically clear.

Using your arrow keys, highlight the correct operating system, and press Enter.

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Wait for Windows Files to Load

Screenshot of Windows XP loading Safe Mode files

The minimum system files necessary to run Windows XP will now load. Each file being loaded will be displayed on the screen.

You don't need to do anything here, but this screen could provide a good place to start troubleshooting if your computer is experiencing very serious problems and Safe Mode won't completely load. For example, if Safe Mode freezes on this screen, document the last Windows file being loaded and then search Lifewire or the rest of the internet for troubleshooting advice. 

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Log In With an Administrator Account

Screenshot of the Windows XP login screen

To use Safe Mode, you need to log on with an administrator account or an account that has administrator permissions.

On the PC displayed above, both the personal account, Tim, and the built-in administrator account, Administrator, have administrator privileges, so either one could be used.

If you're not sure if any of your personal accounts have administrator privileges, choose the Administrator account and then provide the password. See How to Find the Windows Administrator Password if you need help.

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Proceed to Windows XP Safe Mode

Screenshot of the Windows XP Safe Mode desktop prompt

When the "Windows is running in safe mode" dialog box shown above appears, select Yes to enter Safe Mode.

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Make Necessary Changes in Safe Mode

Screenshot of Windows XP in Safe Mode

That's it! You should now be in Safe Mode.

Make any changes you need to make and then restart the computer. Assuming there are no remaining issues preventing it, the computer should boot to Windows XP normally after a restart.

As you can see in the screenshot above, it's very easy to identify if Windows XP is in Safe Mode because the text "Safe Mode" will always appear in each corner of the screen.

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