How to Start Windows XP in Safe Mode

Use it to diagnose and solve serious problems

Starting your computer in Windows XP Safe Mode can help you diagnose and solve many serious problems, especially when starting normally isn't possible.

Not a Windows XP User? See How Do I Start Windows in Safe Mode? for specific instructions for your version of Windows.

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Press F8 Before the Windows XP 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 Windows XP Safe Mode Option

Screenshot of the Advanced Options menu in Windows XP

You should now see the Windows Advanced Options Menu screen. If not, you may have missed the small window of opportunity to press F8 from Step 1 and Windows XP is probably now continuing to boot normally if it's able to. If this is the case, just restart your computer and try pressing F8 again.

Here you're presented with three variations of Windows XP Safe Mode you may enter:

  • Safe Mode - This is the default option and is usually the best choice. This mode 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. This is a valuable option if more advanced troubleshooting is necessary. It's a little different, though, so check out the Windows XP Safe Mode with Command Prompt instructions for more information.

Using the arrow keys on your keyboard, highlight either the Safe Mode or Safe Mode with Networking option and press Enter.

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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 XP 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 XP 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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Login 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 our personal account, Tim, and the built-in administrator account, Administrator, have administrator privileges so either one could be used to enter Safe Mode.

If you're not sure if any of your personal accounts have administrator privileges, choose the Administrator account and then provide the password.

Not sure what the password is to the Administrator account? See How to Find the Windows Administrator Password for more information.

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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 Windows XP 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 a Windows XP PC is in Safe Mode because the text "Safe Mode" will always appear in each corner of the screen.

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