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What does the OS change when it boots into safe mode, as compared to normal mode?

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See also this TechNet article. –  grawity Aug 15 '11 at 13:40
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up vote 6 down vote accepted

Safe mode boots Windows with only the bare minimum of drivers and services to get Windows going. It's used mainly in diagnosing trouble with Windows when running normally (e.g. people will ask "does it happen in safe mode?"

You can read more on microsoft.com and Wikipedia.

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Safe mode just loads up a subset of drivers, and services - for example, loading generic VGA drivers as opposed to specific ones, and loading network drivers only if asked. On windows XP, i believe 'step by step' mode only loads the drivers you have specifically asked for.

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You can make your answer more comprehensive with this. –  JdeBP Aug 15 '11 at 13:58
    
i was looking at that actually - linked now –  Journeyman Geek Aug 15 '11 at 14:23
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