Windows XP / Getting Started

Working with BIOS

Every personal computer has a system basic input/output system, or BIOS, which is what takes control of your computer the moment you turn it on. The screen that you first see when you turn on your computer is called the power on self-test screen, better known as the POST screen. If you purchased your computer from one of the major computer manufacturers, this screen is often hidden by the manufacturer's logo. To get rid of this logo from the screen, just press the ESC button on your keyboard, you will then see what is going on in the background. At this stage in the system boot, the BIOS is probing the hardware to test the system memory and other device connections. Once the POST is completed, the BIOS proceeds to look for a device to boot from. Once it finds your hard drive, it will begin to load Windows.

The BIOS also acts as a main system component control panel, where lowlevel settings for all of your hardware devices are made. The device boot order, port addresses, and feature settings such as plug and play are all found in the BIOS setup screens. For example, if you want to change the order of the drives that your computer checks to boot from, then you will want to modify the device boot order.

BIOSs on each and every PC may be made by different companies or accessed in different ways. Nevertheless, the most common way to access the setup screen is to press F2 or the Delete key when the POST screen is displayed. Some computers even tell you which key to push to enter setup, as my Notebook does. If your PC does not allow you to access the setup screen in this way, consult your computer documentation or contact your computer manufacturer for instructions.

While you are making changes in the BIOS, make sure you do not accidentally change any other settings. If you accidentally change a value of a setting and do not know what to change it back to, simply exit the BIOS setup screen as the on-screen directions indicate and select Do NOT Save Changes. Then just reboot and re-enter the setup screen and continue hacking away at your system.

Changing the boot order of your drives

Most computers are set up so that when you first turn on your computer, it will check to see if you want to boot from other drives besides your hard drive. It will automatically check to see if you have a bootable CD in your CD drive. If your computer has a floppy drive, it will check to see if you have a boot disk in the floppy drive. Then, once it has checked all possible locations for a boot disk, the system will default to your hard drive and start booting Windows.

What are the benefits of changing the boot order of your system devices? If you modify the order of the boot devices so that the hard disk is placed at the top of the list, the system does not have to waste time checking other devices for boot records. Just by changing the order of the devices, you can shave anywhere from one to several seconds off of your boot time, depending on the speed of your hardware. To change the boot order (or sequence, as some call it), you will have to enter the BIOS setup screen that was mentioned earlier.

  1. Press F2, Delete, or the Correct key for your specific system on the POST screen (or the screen that displays the computer manufacturer's logo) to enter the BIOS setup screen.

    Working in the BIOS setup screens will allow you to change many critical values that could affect the performance and the stability of your computer. Be careful which settings you decide to change because they may cause device resource conflicts as well as render your hardware unusable. However, there are very few settings in the BIOS that, if set incorrectly, will lead to physical hardware damage. The only feature that my BIOS has that can do that is the CPU overclocking functions. If set those values too high, CPU could burn up. Changing basic feature settings such as the boot order will only result in a minor inconvenience if it was set incorrectly. To fix a problem, you will just have to go back into the BIOS and set the right value and everything will be back to normal.
  2. Look for where it says Boot and enter the sub menu and then select Boot Sequence, and press Enter.
  3. Navigate to where it states "first device" and cycle through the list to where it states "Hard Disk Drive" or "IDE0" (assuming that your hard drive is connected to IDE0). If your setup screen does not specifically state "first device" but rather just lists all of the devices, then all you have to do is select the hard disk and move it to the top of the list. That can be done by using the change values keys, which for my BIOS (made by Phoenix) is the spacebar to move an item up and the minus symbol key to move an item down. The specific keys are different on almost every system but the basic concepts are the same. You want to get your hard disk to the top of the list or listed as the first device from which to try to boot.
  4. Once you have made the changes, exit the BIOS by pressing the Esc key and making sure that you select to save your changes upon exit. Once you reboot, the new settings will be in effect.

What are the consequences of changing the boot order? Changing the boot order will not hurt your system in any way if you do it correctly. If, by accident, you remove your hard drive from the list and save the BIOS settings, you will get a pleasant surprise when your computer reboots-a statement that the computer cannot find any operating system. If you happen to get that message, then just reboot by pressing Ctrl → Alt → Delete and go back into the BIOS settings and make sure that you select your hard drive as a boot device. Once you have done that, your system will be back to normal.

Another possible issue that you may encounter is simply a matter of inconvenience. Once you change the boot order of the system devices so that the hard drive is listed first, you will no longer be able to use system restore CDs or floppy boot disks. If something has happened to your computer and you need to boot off of those drives to restore your system or run diagnostics, just go back to the BIOS and lower or remove the hard disk from the first boot device.

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