Microsoft

Revive the F8 method of booting Windows 8 into Safe Mode

It is possible to reconfigure the Windows 8 boot process to allow you to use the F8 key to access the Advanced Boot Options menu of old.

As you may have noticed, Microsoft has disabled the standard method of accessing Safe Mode in Windows 8 in favor of a new Modern UI system. In other words, you can no longer press F8 during the Windows start up sequence and access the black and white Advanced Boot Options menu system from which you can select Safe Mode. Microsoft's justification for disabling the F8 key is essentially that computers boot up so fast these days that people will have trouble pressing F8 before Windows starts.

I suppose that if you are running Windows 8 on a SSD-based UEFI system where as Microsoft says the F8 window is less than 200 milliseconds, you won't be able to use F8 to get to Safe Mode. However, on my test systems, which are not UEFI and running on SATA drives, I definitely have time to press F8 and I'll bet that a lot of you do too. Fortunately, there is a way that you can re-enable the F8 key and revive the good old black and white Safe Mode menu system.

Now if you do in fact have a system that boots way too fast to be able to access Safe Mode with the F8 key, then Microsoft states that when there is a boot problem, the system will automatically allow you to get to the Startup Settings menu where you can then access all the available Safe Mode options. In addition, you can access Safe Mode from within Windows by accessing a series of menus and commands in the Modern UI.

I'll show you how to reconfigure Windows 8's boot process to allow you to use the F8 key to access the black and white Advanced Boot Options menu of old. However, before I do, I'll show you how access Safe Mode options from the Modern UI's Startup Settings menu-just in case you want to know. As I do, I'll describe both the old and new options on the Safe Mode system.

This blog post is also available as a TechRepublic Screenshot Gallery.

The modern way

As you can image, the Modern UI method involves a menu system very similar to the Windows Recovery Environment that I have described in a recent series of articles. However, you can't access Safe Mode from the Recovery Drive - instead you access it from within Windows 8. Let's take a closer look.

To begin, press [Windows]+C to access Charms bar. When you see the Charms bar, click Settings as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

From the Charms bar select the Settings button.
When you see the Settings bar, click Change PC settings at the very bottom of the panel, as shown in Figure B. You'll then see the PC settings screen.

Figure B

From the Settings bar, click Change PC settings.
On the PC settings screen, choose General from the menu bar, scroll down to Advanced Startup, and then click Restart now button, as shown in Figure C. When you do, your Windows 8 system will reboot into the Recovery Environment.

Figure C

Scroll down to Advanced Startup and click Restart now button.
When you see the first menu in the Recovery Environment and are prompted to choose an option, select the Troubleshoot tile as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

When you are prompted to choose an option, choose the Troubleshoot tile.
When you see the Troubleshoot screen, as shown in Figure E, select the Advanced options tile.

Figure E

From the Troubleshoot screen, select the Advanced options tile.
In a moment you'll see the Advanced options screen, as shown in Figure F. When you do, select the Startup Settings tile. (Note that when you boot from a Recovery Drive, the Advanced options screen does not contain the Startup Settings tile.)

Figure F

From the Advanced options screen, select the Startup Settings tile.
Once you do, you will see the Startup Settings window like the one shown in Figure G, which informs you what options you will be able to change in the Safe Mode environment. To continue, click the Restart button and the system will reboot into the Safe Mode Environment.

Figure G

The Startup Settings window provides you with a preview of the options in the Safe Mode Environment.

The Startup Settings menu

When you use the Modern UI method to access Safe Mode, you'll see a menu titled Startup Settings, as shown in Figure H. As you can see there are nine options on this menu that can be accessed by pressing the corresponding number key or by using the corresponding function key. You can also press F10 to access one more item or press [Enter] to start Windows normally.

Figure H

In the Windows 8 Modern UI, the Advanced Boot Options menu is titled Startup Settings.
When you press F10, you'll see the additional item on the menu, as shown in Figure I. You can then press F10 again to return to the first menu or you can press [Enter] to start Windows normally.

Figure I

Pressing F10 reveals one more item.
Table A lists and describes each of the options on the Startup Settings menu.

Table A: The options on the Startup Settings menu.

Menu Option

Description

Enable debugging This option enables kernel debug mode in Windows. Debug mode is primarily of use to developers creating drivers for the operating system. You can learn more on Microsoft's Dev Center site.
Enabled boot logging This option enables logging when the computer is started with any of the Safe Boot options. The Boot Logging information is written to a file called Ntbtlog.txt, which can be found in the %SystemRoot% folder. The data in this file is designed to help you determine the cause of problems, such as starting a driver or other boot process errors.
Enable low-resolution video This option starts Windows in a low resolution mode, typically 640 x 480. This mode is useful if the resolution is inadvertently configured for a setting that the monitor cannot properly display.
Enable Safe Mode This option enables basic Safe Mode, which provides a minimal set of device drivers and services necessary to start Windows.
Enable Safe Mode with Networking This option enables Safe Mode along with the drivers required to load networking.
Enable Safe Mode with Command Prompt This option basically works the same as Safe Mode, except that it displays a Command Prompt window rather than the Safe Mode desktop
Disable driver signature enforcement As you may know, Windows doesn't allow any drivers to load if they haven't been digitally signed with a signature that verifies the company it belongs to. Disabling this feature allows drivers that aren't signed to load, which could allow malware loaded drivers access to your system. Again, this might be more appropriate for use by developers creating drivers for the operating system.
Disable early launch anti-malware protections The early launch anti-malware protection feature is new with Windows 8 and is designed to allow certified anti-virus software to load a driver before any other 3rd-party driver is installed. This allows the anti-virus software to scan every driver that attempts to load. If a driver appears to be malware infected, it will block it from loading. This feature really shouldn't be disabled unless you are certain that a driver conflict is preventing Windows from starting.
Disable automatic restart after failure If windows encounters problem that causes the operating system to crash, it will display an error message and then automatically restart. In some cases that can cause a problem and you might want to disable it. For instance, the system may restart before you can read the entire error message. Or, the system could enter an endless loop where in crashes and then restarts over and over again.
Launch recovery environment Selecting this option simply returns you to the Windows Recovery Environment where you can use any of the other recovery tools such as Refresh your PC.

Bring back F8

To revive the F8 method of accessing the Safe mode, you begin from within Windows 8 by pressing the [Windows]+X keystroke to bring up the WinX menu, Then select the Command Prompt (Admin), as shown in Figure J. You'll then encounter a UAC and will need to respond appropriately.

Figure J

From the WinX menu, select Command Prompt (Admin).

When the Administrator: Command Prompt window appears, type the command and press [Enter].

bcdedit /set {default} bootmenupolicy legacy

When you do, you should see the message The operation completed successfully, as shown in Figure K.

Figure K

This command line sets the default boot menu policy back to the way it was in Windows 7.
This command line launches the Boot Configuration Data Editor and sets the default boot menu policy to legacy i.e. back to the way it was in Windows 7 and previous versions of Windows. Now, you can close the Administrator: Command Prompt and restart Windows 8. When you see the blue windows flag appear on the screen for the first time, press and hold down the F8 key. In a moment you should see the old black and white Advanced Boot options menu, as shown in Figure L.

Figure L

You can now access the Advanced Boot Options menu.

If at a later date you would like to disable the F8 key and go back to the original Windows 8 setting, you can launch the Administrator: Command Prompt window and type the command

bcdedit /set {default} bootmenupolicy standard

Booting into Safe Mode

When you select one of the Safe Mode options, your system will restart and you'll be prompted to login. When you do, the option you selected will be enabled. For example, if you select that standard Safe Mode, you will see a screen like the one shown in Figure M.

Figure M

If you select the standard Safe Mode, your desktop will look like this.

One more method

Before I conclude this article, there is one more method that you can use to boot Windows 8 into Safe Mode from within the operating system. This method works just like it did in Windows 7.

To access it, press [Windows]+R to bring up the Run dialog box, type msconfig and click OK. When you see the System Configuration window, select the Boot tab. Then, in the Boot options section, select the Safe Boot check box, and then one of the available options, as shown in Figure N.

Figure N

You can boot into Safe Mode from the System Configuration tool.
When you click OK, the system will prompt you to restart, as shown in Figure O. When you click the Restart button, the system will then reboot straight into the Safe mode option you selected.

Figure O

You can restart immediately or later if you choose.

What's your take?

Have you had to use Safe Mode in Windows 8? Did it come up automatically as Microsoft stated? Will you revive the F8 method of accessing Safe Mode? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

Also read:

About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

20 comments
Lmr47
Lmr47

Thanks so much for this tutorial. I followed the steps and it enabled me to view Windows 8 on an old monitor which became incompatible when I erroneously increased screen resolution beyond the monitor's capacity. Neither the computer manufacturer nor Microsoft (forum) offered effective help. HP would have had me recover the system, erasing the drive, and MS never replied.

rcpendle
rcpendle

This really sticks us repair techs in a tough spot, taking away one of our most-used tools. Take the Reveton or any of a number of other infections; Safe Mode is the best and often only way to remove them...but if you cannot boot into Windows, you cannot get into Safe Mode. I have had several machines across the bench in recent weeks that are so gutted and messed up that I cannot get into anything: Advanced System Options, msconfig, etc. ...just no dice at all. I suppose they either didn't think of that or they have too much faith in their puny Windows Defender app. Aside from setting this up on every Win8 machine we sell before it goes out...but even then, we are still stuck with infected machines we did not sell new.

naberps
naberps

It is unusual you would not be able to boot in safe mode. What happens when your system simply does not boot? Safe Mode was... and should still be available in this case. Again, like the modern UI, I think Microsoft should have given the option whilst the install of Windows to choose whether or not you want to install in a classic UI (Win7) style or modern UI. Not everyone has bought a new computer with SSD and Win8 is an extremely hot OS with its improvements (speed, security etc.). Therefore, MS would have the same OS for PCs and Tablets. There would be no consumer complaints etc. Besides, until Windows Blue comes out... it is still possible to boot to the classic desktop. http://www.classicshell.net/ Download and install... Within this classic shell, you have a large range of options to which Win8 start's up. There is another way, this one for a small fee... from a company called Stardock. The software is called Start8. This is the one I chose because... I don't know why... just because! Both of these options were very easy to find in a Google search... by simply typing classic win8 startup w/StartUp button... and VOILA! Incredible that in 2013, people have more time "Doing people and/or company BASHING" whilst it would have taken so much less time to do a search to resolve. Hey! Internet is your and my "FRIEND".

dunngm
dunngm

Ditto most of the comments so far. I was cleaning the first (for me) Win8 system for a client and ended up overshooting my estimate by 1/2 hour (which I really do NOT like to do) primarily because of the Win8 F8 issue and the time it took to find a solution. A small part of the extra 1/2 hour was due to other obfuscations that MS has added due to their hubris of 'thinking for the client.' Otherwise, I was right on schedule. Good article. It had several other solutions besides what I found.

Geezer-In-Training
Geezer-In-Training

by eliminating the "{default}". No clue why that was necessary for some of us but not others. Thanks to jacquot51 and johnpbanks for the answer. Greg, thanks for another great article. I was using curly brackets, but without luck.

johnpbanks
johnpbanks

I had the same issue as F8 Legacy...; removing the "{default}" fixed it. (For both the legacy and standard options.)

johnpbanks
johnpbanks

Thanks Greg for yet another great article. Is there a bcdedit query command that will show the current setting (status) of bootmenupolicy?

sbarker207
sbarker207

Great article! Thank you - I've wanted to use that feature for a few of my older, slower systems, which have been "acting up".

jacquot51
jacquot51

I had to use the following command line to get it working: bcdedit /set bootmenupolicy legacy (nothing more...nothing less) and had to hold the F8 key BEFORE the blue Windows 8 screen appears.

Geezer-In-Training
Geezer-In-Training

I attempted to apply the bcdedit change, but it is not working. I get the following error statement: The element data type specified is not recognized, or does not apply to the specified entry. Run "bcdedit /?" for command line assistance. Element not found. Any suggestions? I am running Windows 8 64 -bit on an HP laptop.

Starry997
Starry997

I tried the BCDEDIT change to allow F8 and it did work. However, my previous solution works fine and looks more Win 8ish. I set up two more boot entries...one for Safe Mode and one for Safe Mode with Networking. If I'm not paying attention, it defaults to normal Win 8 after 30 seconds...if I am paying attention, I can arrow down to the default instantly and finish logging on. So I am always "primed" to use safe mode at bootup and that works for me. But for other PCs that I setup at work, I think I will try this method of activating F8. The PC it worked on was upgraded from Win 7 to Win 8, so it may be that when I start buying PCs with Win 8 installed, this fix may not work because of the speed issue. Thanks for publishing this information. I'm sure many people will want to apply this.

gsmith
gsmith

I can't tell you how many machines I have had to boot in safe mode because some malware has disabled my access to basic windows functionality (ie system restore). If some malware is smart enough to disable getting into the settings window (excuse me "charm"), you are sol. Maybe I'll just have to click the button and pay the $200.00 the malware wants next time......

dmac02
dmac02

win 8 is no different than any previous operating sys. We ALL have to remain subject to change. How often does the "average" user, use F8?? As long as you know where to go to find out how, it shouldn't matter. Everyone can' remember everything, its a matter of knowing where to go to get the information, to solve the problem you are working on.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

This is the first I'd heard of this. MS's excuse for removing it is freaking bogus. If the prompt disappears too fast for people to press F8, stick in a counter and make it last for a couple of seconds. Another example of MS pointlessly removing a tool they've spent a couple of decades teaching people to use.

joedob
joedob

My client's laptop needed safe mode and of course I tried F8 and of course it no longer works. When that is the only machine and it does not complete the boot and hangs, how do you find out about the "'improvement'" Microsoft introduced this time around? Please note how many steps it takes to do what? Get the old way back? Why did you pay money for the new improved version of the OS? I tell all the clients to get rid of Win 8 and go Linux - no matter how mandatory Microsoft tries to make it. If you have to learn a new GUI, it may as well be something for free and supported.

SerrJ215
SerrJ215

I had a machine that was just dragging after a client installed some older AV software. I tried to get into safe mode the traditional way, but I couldn't it took me a while to disable the AV and get in uninstalled since I couldn't get into safe mode on Win 8. This is just one of the reasons I am telling my clients that Windows 8 is not a good idea.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

So far, I have not had to reboot Windows 8 into Safe Mode - have you? What was the problem and how did you fix it?

Aakash Shah
Aakash Shah

If you type in just "bcdedit" at the cmd line, it will output the current status. On my computer, the last line under the "Windows Boot Loader" section listed the "bootmenupolicy" status.

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

...used parenthesis ( ) or square brackets [ ] instead of curly braces { } in the command line: bcdedit /set {default} bootmenupolicy legacy

Slayer_
Slayer_

And they removed it (sort of). Now you have to predict the need for safemode and turn it on, before you actually need it.

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