A lot of Windows 95 and 98 problems occur during the boot-up sequence as system files and device drivers are loaded. If any of them are corrupted or missing Windows may freeze or you might see one of those worrying error messages. To help overcome problems such as these Windows has a special troubleshooting option called Safe Mode, which bypasses the configuration files and start-up programs and loads only the bare minimum of drivers for the monitor keyboard and mouse. These should be enough to get Windows up and running, albeit with limited functionality.

On Windows 95 and 98 Safe mode is engaged by pressing the F8 key (on some models you may have to press the Ctrl key), as soon as the 'Starting Windows 95/98' message appears on the screen. A moment or two later the boot up sequence stops and you will see a menu, usually with seven numbered options. We'll look briefly at each one in turn, and how they can be used to diagnose problems.

Menu option 1 is Normal mode, use this if you entered Safe Mode by mistake and the Windows boot-up sequence will resume.

Option 2 is 'Logged (\BOOTLOG.TXT)'. Selecting this will also make Windows resume normal loading but at the same time it creates a text file (called bootlog.txt) which is stored in the root directory of the C: drive. This file records all of the actions during the loading sequence and notes whether or not each operation was successful; it may help you or an engineer to pinpoint an obscure fault.

Number 3 is Safe Mode, which loads Windows but with a basic configuration. The words 'Safe Mode' appears in each of the four-corners of the desktop (which may be in black and white) and a warning message pops up. Click OK and loading continues. Resolution will be set to VGA standard (600 x 400) so the icons on the desktop and Start menu may look bigger than usual and some programs and peripherals might disappear from the desktop or stop working. Don't worry, when you have fixed the problem and Windows resumes normal operation everything will be restored though you may have to manually reset things like the hidden taskbar and small icons on Start menu features on the Setting menu.

Safe Mode is handy for accessing files that you can't get to if Windows won't start. For example, you will be able to use applications like your word processors and spreadsheets, so you can continue working or retrieve important files, and wait until you are not so busy to fix the problem. Safe Mode is useful for tracking down problems associated with display drivers and programs that load automatically at the same time as Windows. If you suspect one of them is misbehaving you can remove them one at a time from the Start Up program group (Start > Programs > Start Up), then restart Windows as normal.

If your problems began after installing a new item of hardware or software and Windows plays dead carry out a Safe Mode start and look for IRQ or DMA conflicts (see Jargon Filter) in Device Manager (Start > Settings > Control Panel > System). Select the Device Manager tab and look for yellow exclamation marks on the list. Highlight the item and click the Properties button, a window will appear with a brief description of the problem and sometimes a possible solution.  Frequent lock-ups can sometimes be resolved from Device Manager by changing display and hard disc settings. Select the Performance tab, click on the Graphics button and set the 'Hardware Acceleration' slider to none. Select the File System button and set the 'Read Ahead Optimisation' slider to none. Only change one thing at a time though, and re-boot the PC afterwards, to see if it has any effect.

Safe Mode 4 is for PCs that are connected to a network, it's similar to mode 4 but files that are needed to access the network are loaded as well, so you can carry on working if necessary.

Mode 5 is one of the most useful diagnostic options since it asks you to confirm each step of the loading sequence. Simply type 'Y' for yes at each step. If it freezes jot down the message and restart the machine in Safe Mode again. This time when you reach the suspect step type 'N'. If Windows then continues to load you will have a pretty good idea of where the problem lies.

Mode 6 is Command Prompt Only. Try this if you can't get Windows to load in Safe mode. This starts the PC in MS-DOS mode and after a few seconds you will see the flashing C:\> command prompt. You will still be able to access files from here so in an emergency you could copy an important file to floppy disc. You can also get into system files by typing 'edit', followed by the name of the file (i.e. edit config.sys). The mouse won't work, so you will have to use keyboard commands to navigate your way around the menus. Use the 'Alt' key to step between menus and the direction arrows and the enter key to change and select menu items. To return to the DOS prompt select Exit on the File menu, and to start Windows type 'Win' at the C: prompt.

The final option is Safe Mode Command Prompt Only, which also starts the PC in DOS mode but leaves out Windows start up files, so Windows cannot be loaded.  

Next week - Essential backups




Direct Memory Access - a means of transferring data quickly between the hard disc and the PC's memory


Interrupt Request, a signal from a device connected to a PC motherboard -- such as an expansion card -- asking the central processor to send receive or process data


Video Graphics Array - standard display format used on PCs, typically made up of 640 x 400 pixels and 256 colours



If you are use Outlook Express as your email client this handy little trick can help to speed things up. It will put a new icon on your Start menu. When you click on it a blank email message window opens from where you can compose and send an email, without waiting for Outlook Express to open. Move your mouse pointer to the Start button, right-click on it and select Explore from the menu that appears. When the Explorer window opens, right-click in an empty spot in the right-hand pane and select New, then Shortcut. The Create Shortcut dialogue box should appear; under Command Line type in 'mailto:' (leaving off the quotation marks), then click on Next. Now you can give your shortcut a name, clear the highlighted default name and type in something like 'email' or 'messend', and select close. Now go to the Start menu and try out your new high-speed message system.

Search PCTopTips 



Boot Camp Index















Top Tips Index

Windows XP

Windows Vista

Internet & Email

Microsoft Word

Folders & Files

Desktop Mouse & Keyboard

Crash Bang Wallop!

Privacy & Security

Imaging Scanning & Printing

Power, Safety & Comfort

Tools & Utilities

Sound Advice

Display & screen

Fun & Games

Windows 95/98/SE/ME






 Copyright 2006-2009 PCTOPTIPS UK.

All information on this web site is provided as-is without warranty of any kind. Neither PCTOPTIPS nor its employees nor contributors are responsible for any loss, injury, or damage, direct or consequential, resulting from your choosing to use any of the information contained herein.