How to boot Windows 8 into Safe Mode?

If you ever tried to boot Windows 8 into safe mode by pressing F8, you’re in for a surprise because it doesn’t work.  I was aghast when I discovered this issue the other day.  I had a Windows 8 machine that interminably rebooted into Automatic Recovery Mode, so I kept pressing F8 to enter safe mode but never got anywhere.

Thankfully, there’s a little trick that might get you into safe mode in Windows 8.

Sometimes rebooting and  immediately holding down the Shift Key with F8 will get you in the door.  But this doesn’t always work; therefore, I’m going to show you two, sure paths, back to Safe Mode.  The caveat here is that you already have to be inside the normal Windows 8 environment to enable Safe Mode.

This catch-22 can be more than mildly disconcerting.  After more than two consecutive failed start-ups, Windows is supposed to automatically launch the Advanced Startup Options menu.  If it doesn’t you might need the original Windows 8 installation media or a USB recovery drive.

But enough of that, let me show you how to get safe mode back.

1. The command line trick

First we’ll need to boot to the Windows 8 desktop.

Fire up your PC, sign in and click the Desktop App in the lower left corner. Alternately, you can just press Windows Key + d to access the desktop like a pro.

At the desktop, press Windows Key + x + a to open the Elevated Command Prompt.

You can also mouse down to the lower left corner of the screen  (where the Start Menu used to be) and then right click to open the Power Menu.  One of the options there is Command Prompt (Admin) which is the same thing as an elevated command prompt.

Windows 8 Elevated Command Prompt

The black mysterious void known as the command prompt emerges on the screen.

We’re about to make some magic happen.   Punch in these cryptic commands:

bcdedit /set {default} bootmenupolicy legacy

Windows 8 Boot menu policy Legacy

Before you start typing away allow me to translate this please.

I hate it when people just tell me to do stuff without explaining the why behind it.  I think you have a right to know what I’m asking you to do before you do it.

The above command executes a program called Boot Configuration Data Edit, or BCDedit for short.  It resembles another program called bootcfg.exe but BCEdit has more options.

The forward slash set {default} thing sets the entry point to the default entry point.  Setting the bootmenupolicy to legacy is like telling Windows 8:

Hey Windows, listen up!  The next time you startup use the old school boot interface

Press enter and you should see something that says “The operation completed successfully

If so, go ahead and press F8 until feel warm and bubbly inside.

I won’t judge you – it feels pretty good when stuff works.

If you change your mind and want to undo this change, just revisit the elevated command prompt and enter this:

bcdedit /set {default} bootmenupolicy standard

2. The msconfig.exe way

With all the hoopla orbiting all the new Windows 8 features, it’s nice to know some of the old stuff still made the cut.

Msconfig has been with Microsoft since the embryonic days of Windows 98.

I was elated to see this faithful little configuration utility live on in Windows 8 and Windows 8.1.

Here’s how to make your Windows 8 PC start up in Safe Mode using msconfig:

Get into the Windows Desktop then press Windows Key + r to open the run dialog box and enter this:

msconfig

Windows 8 msconfig

Simple enough.

Click OK, then pop the Boot tab open and check out the Safe Mode section.

You’ve got four options here:

  1. Minimal
  2. Alternate Shell
  3. Active Directory Repair
  4. Network

Msconfig Boot Options with Safe Mode

Minimal is the the standard safe mode option.  Alternate Shell boots you into a safe mode command prompt.  Only critical system services load here so there’s no graphical user interface or networking abilities.

Active Directory Repair is only relevant in corporate environments that use Domain Controllers for authentication.  Active Directory contains machine specific data about your hardware so if your IT department made an abortive effort replacing your motherboard then that could corrupt entries in Active Directory that need to be repaired.  This setting isn’t pertinent to home users.

The last safe mode option, Network, boots you into the Windows Safe mode with Networking Support.  This will get you going when you need access to the internet to get a driver or update.  I use this option the most.

After you take your pick, click OK.

Reboot after Msconfig change

When the computer reboots, you’ll login again and see the beautifully, barren, Safe Mode wallpaper.

Windows 8 Safe Mode

Keep in mind that the computer will continue to boot to safe mode until you explicitly tell it to stop.

Windows 8 Disable Safe Mode from Msconfig

When you’re ready to go back to normal, pop-open msconfig again and uncheck Safe Boot in the Boot Tab.

Click OK and you’re done!

The Bottom Line

Safe mode feels elusive in Windows 8.  You’ve got to dig a little to find this useful setting; however, Safe Mode obediently returns once you use BCDEdit in the command prompt or flip the switch on in msconfig.

 

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Posted in How To, Windows 8, Windows 8.1 Tagged with: