How to Fix a Computer That Won’t Start in Safe Mode

Advanced in Tech & Business

How to Fix a Computer That Won’t Start in Safe Mode

What to Know

  • Use these tips if you’re “looped” back to the Startup Settings or ABO screen when trying to boot in Safe Mode.
  • Be sure to try every other startup method available to you if you haven’t already.
  • If none work, likely solutions include a Windows repair, System Restore, or repairing protected Windows files.

The Startup Settings (Windows 11, 10 & 8) and Advanced Boot Options menus (Windows 7, Vista, and XP) help to start Windows in specially configured ways to circumvent whatever problem prevents it from starting normally.

However, what if every option you try fails, and you’re right back at one of those screens when your computer restarts?

Why Your PC Won’t Start in Safe Mode

This Startup Settings loop or Advanced Boot Options loop, depending on your version of Windows, is a common way in which Windows won’t start. The reason could be that there’s an issue with important system files necessary to load Safe Mode.

Follow this troubleshooting guide if your computer returns to the Startup Settings or ABO Screen on every attempt to enter Safe Mode, Last Known Good Configuration, and other startup methods.

Startup Settings (Windows 8).

How to Fix a Computer That Always Stops at Startup Settings or Advanced Boot Options

You have several options:

  1. Try to start Windows in every startup method available.

    You may have already done this, but if not, know that these startup methods are there because they help avoid one or more specific problems that prevent Windows from loading.

    Try the option to start Windows normally as well—you never know (press Enter to do that).

    See the tips at the bottom of the page for help if Windows does actually start in one of the modes above.

  2. Repair your Windows installation. The most common reason for Windows to continuously return you to the Startup Settings or ABO menu is because one or more important Windows files are damaged or missing. Repairing Windows replaces these files without removing or changing anything else on your computer.

    Startup Repair is the name in newer versions of Windows, while Windows XP calls it Repair Installation.

    Advanced Options (Windows 10).

    The Windows XP Repair Installation is more complicated and has more drawbacks than the Startup Repair available in later Windows operating systems. If you’re an XP user, you may want to wait until you’ve tried these other steps first.

  3. Perform a System Restore to undo recent changes.

    Windows could be returning to the startup menu because of damage to a driver, important file, or part of the registry. System Restore will return all those things to the state they were in at a time when your computer worked fine, which could solve your problem entirely.

    Windows 11, 10 & 8: System Restore is available outside Windows from the Advanced Startup Options menu.

    Windows 7 & Vista: System Restore is available from outside of Windows 7 & Vista via System Recovery Options and is most easily available when booting from your Windows installation disc. If you’re using Windows 7, System Recovery Options is also available right here from the Advanced Boot Options menu as the Repair Your Computer option. However, this may not work depending on what’s causing your overall problem, so you may have to boot to the installation disc after all.

    Another Option for Windows 11, 10, 8, or 7: If you don’t have your Windows installation media, but you do have access to another computer with one of those versions of Windows installed, you can create repair media from there that you can use to complete this step on your broken computer. See How to Create a Windows 7 System Repair Disc or How to Create a Windows Recovery Drive for tutorials.

    Windows XP & Me Users: This troubleshooting option doesn’t apply to you. System Restore was made available from a bootable disc starting with the release of Windows Vista.

  4. Use the System File Checker command to repair protected Windows files. A damaged operating system-related file could be preventing you from getting past the Startup Settings or ABO menu, and the sfc command could fix the problem.

    Since you can’t access Windows right now, you’ll need to execute this command from the Command Prompt available from Advanced Startup Options (Windows 11, 10 & 8) or System Recovery Options (Windows 7 & Vista). See the notes above about accessing these diagnostic areas.

    Windows XP & Me Users: Again, this troubleshooting option is unavailable to you. System File Checker is only available from within Windows in your operating system.

    The chances are that if the Windows repair you tried in Step 2 didn’t work, then this won’t either, but it’s worth a shot considering the hardware-focused troubleshooting up next.

  5. Clear the CMOS. Clearing the BIOS memory on your motherboard will return the BIOS settings to their factory default levels. A BIOS misconfiguration could be why Windows won’t even start in Safe Mode.

    If clearing the CMOS does fix your Windows startup problem, make sure any changes you make in BIOS are completed one at a time, so if the issue returns, you’ll know which change caused the problem.

  6. Replace the CMOS battery if your computer is more than three years old or if it’s been off for an extended amount of time.

    CMOS batteries are inexpensive, and one that is no longer keeping a charge can cause all sorts of strange behavior during the Windows startup process.

  7. Reseat everything you can get your hands on. Reseating will reestablish the various connections inside your computer and could clear up the glitch that’s causing Windows to get stuck at the Advanced Boot Options or Startup Settings screen.

    Try reseating the following hardware and then see if Windows will start properly:

    It wouldn’t hurt to also unplug and reattach your keyboard, mouse, and other external devices.

  8. Test the RAM. If one of your computer’s RAM modules fails, your computer won’t even turn on. However, memory fails slowly and will work up to a point most of the time.

    If your system memory is failing, Windows may be unable to start in any mode.

    Replace the memory in your computer if the memory test shows any problem.

    The next two steps involve more difficult and destructive solutions to Windows getting stuck at the Startup Settings or ABO menu. It may be that one of the below solutions is necessary to fix your problem, but if you haven’t been diligent in your troubleshooting up to this point, you can’t know for sure that one of the easier solutions above isn’t the right one.

  9. Test the hard drive. A physical problem with your hard drive could be why Windows might not start as it should. A hard drive that can’t read and write information properly certainly can’t load an operating system properly—even Safe Mode.

    Replace your hard drive if your tests show an error. After replacing the hard drive, you’ll need to perform a clean installation.

    If your hard drive passes your test, the hard drive is physically fine, so the cause of your problem must be with Windows, in which case the next step will solve the problem.

  10. Perform a clean install of Windows. This type of installation erases the drive Windows is installed on and then install the operating system again from scratch.

Tips and More Information

If Windows will start in one or more of the Safe Mode options, but that’s it, continue with the troubleshooting steps on this page, which will be a bit easier to complete thanks to your access to Safe Mode.

If Windows starts after enabling Last Known Good Configuration, some change made after the last time your computer started correctly caused this problem, and the error may return if the same changes are made. If you can avoid causing the same problem again, there’s nothing more to do, and everything should be fine.

There’s a huge chance your computer’s video card is glitchy if Windows starts with low-resolution video enabled:

  1. First, try to adjust the screen resolution to something more comfortable and see if the problem goes away. If not, go to the next step.

  2. Borrow a working monitor from another computer and try it.

  3. Update the drivers to the video card.

  4. Test your computer’s memory and replace the memory if tests show any problem.

  5. Replace the video card or add a video card if your video is integrated into the motherboard.


  • How do I turn off safe mode?

    To get out of safe mode in Windows 10, open Start, select Power > Restart. If you’re stuck in a loop, select Win+R to open the Run dialog box, enter  MSConfig, and uncheck Safe Boot in the Boot tab.

  • How do I open Outlook in safe mode?

    To open Outlook in safe mode, press and hold the Ctrl key and select Yes to confirm that you want to open Outlook in safe mode. Or, press Win+R and enter outlook.exe /safe.

  • How do I start a Mac in safe mode?

    To use your Mac’s safe boot option, shut down your Mac, press and hold the Shift key, and start up your Mac. Release the Shift key when you see the login window or desktop.