Safe Mode and the Startup Menu

PC troubleshooting is among the most difficult propositions on earth, in part because your machine has so many cooks. Microsoft made the operating system, another company made the computer, and dozens of others contributed the various programs you use every day. The number of conflicts that can arise and the number of problems you may encounter are nearly infinite. That’s why, if you were smart, you bought your PC from a company that offers a toll-free, 24-hour help line for life. You’ll need it.

If the problems you’re having are caused by drivers that load just as the computer is starting up, turning them all off can be helpful, at least so that you can get into your machine to begin your troubleshooting pursuit. That’s precisely the purpose of the Startup menu—a menu most people never even know exists until they’re initiated into its secret world by a technically savvy guru.

Making the Startup menu appear is a matter of delicate timing. It goes like this:

  1. Restart the computer. Immediately after the BIOS startup messages disappear, press the F8 key (on the top row of most keyboards).

    The BIOS startup messages—the usual crude-looking text on a black screen, filled with copyright notices and technical specs—are the first things you see after turning on the computer.

    If you press the F8 key after the Windows logo makes its appearance, you’re too late. If you’ve done it right, on the other hand, you see a message that says, “Please select the operating ...

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