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In the first article in this series on Windows 7/10 Safe Mode, we looked at what to do when the F8 method of starting up Windows in Safe Mode just won’t work. However, we also uncovered a few boot option gems that can serve as powerful troubleshooting and diagnostic tools that the standard Safe Mode just doesn’t offer.

To take a look at these options, begin by clicking on Start and then on Run. If you don’t have the Run command on your Start menu, hold down the Windows key on your keyboard and press R. In the Run dialog box, type in msconfig and then click OK.

Click on the Boot tab and locate the section titled Boot Options.

Windows 7/10 Safe Mode Boot Options

This part of the article explores the four major Safe Mode boot options. Each one offers distinct advantages over the others and each is used for different troubleshooting and diagnostic purposes.

Minimal Safe Mode

As discussed in the previous article in this series, the Minimal option is the same type of Safe Mode you would get using the F8 method. Minimal loads up the graphical user interface (GUI), but with only critical system services running.

This does not include your video card’s drivers, which is why when you boot to Minimal Safe Mode, your computer usually displays the minimum resolution of 800×600. Minimal Safe Mode is best when you have no idea what the problem is with your computer and you need to start from ground zero.

Alternate Shell Safe Mode

Alternate Shell Safe Mode loads Windows with a command prompt with the GUI completely disabled. This Safe Mode requires advanced knowledge of how to navigate Windows with only text commands and without the aid of the mouse.

This mode is especially useful for troubleshooting graphics issues with your video card or when having problems with the hard drive or file system. Alternate Shell Mode also does not load any networking drivers or software, so you will not have access to your local network or the Internet.

Active Directory Repair Safe Mode

Active Directory Safe Mode is a bit difficult to explain. Unlike the Windows Registry, Active Directory does not contain dynamic information or data that is likely to change often. One of the things stored in the Active Directory is machine-specific information such as print queues, contact information, and data pertaining to the hardware in your computer.

If Active Directory becomes corrupted or if you unsuccessfully change the hardware in your computer, you may experience instability problems with Windows. One of the most common issues occurs when a computer owner replaces a faulty motherboard with one that is not the same make and model of the old one. Active Directory Repair Safe Mode can help you restore your computer’s stability by storing new or repaired information in Active Directory.

You`ll probably never need to use this option unless your computer is a domain controller or part of a domain.

Network Safe Mode

As its name implies, Network Safe Mode loads Windows with the GUI and with networking enabled. This means that you will have access to your local network and the Internet as well.

This Safe Mode is best used when your Windows computer is unstable and you need to upgrade or download a driver, patch, or update the hardware or software in your computer. Network Safe Mode is especially useful when you install new hardware such as a video card and you need to download the newest driver from the manufacturer’s website.

Network Safe Mode is also useful when you are certain that your computer’s problem is not the network. Restarting Windows 7 in this Safe Mode allows you to make backups on your local network and download drivers from the Internet before you troubleshoot and diagnose what is wrong with your computer.

In the last article in this series, we will discuss the remaining options available to you and explore how they differ from the Safe Mode options introduced above. Although technically not a part of the Windows Safe Mode options, they do complement the Safe Mode options to help you troubleshoot and diagnose computer errors.