Section 17.2. Editing the BIOS Settings

17.2. Editing the BIOS Settings

If you don't know why you need to edit the BIOS settings, you don't need to read this section except perhaps out of rainy day curiosity . This section describes how to enter the BIOS and make some of the changes discussed throughout this book.

Don't change anything unless you know exactly what setting you're supposed to change, either through advice from your PC's tech support staff, a trusted Internet site, or something listed in this book. Unlike Windows XP, the BIOS doesn't come with a System Restore safety net. Experimenting can lead to unexpected and unfortunate consequences.

The closest thing to a safety net awaits you at the Exit screen (see Section 17.2.9) where you leave the BIOS and load your operating system. There, your BIOS may offer the chance to "Exit and Restore Factory Defaults." That reverts all the settings to their states when the PC left the factory, a helpful last resort that wipes out all the changes you've made (including any helpful ones).

A Lightweight BIOS

Laptops offer their own set of hurdles for BIOS sleuths. A standard challenge is finding the magic key sequence that opens the BIOS settings for editing. Trial and error, starting with F1 or F2, usually solves this one. But another challenge comes when trying to push the Pause button to "freeze" the screen, so you can jot down a version number or other bit of identifying information. Most laptops don't come with a dedicated Pause key; instead, you need to hold down the Fn key (see Section 2.1.1), which toggles another key into a Pause key. Since the Fn key and a toggled Pause key often live on opposite ends of the keyboard, dedicate two hands to this task.

Once you finally reach the BIOS, don't expect much; since laptops offer few replaceable parts , they don't offer many BIOS options. The BIOS of most laptops lists version numbers for your video adapter and the BIOS itself, as well as the amount of installed memory. Some let you add a power-on password (Section 17.2.3) and change your drive's boot order (Section 17.2.7).

You may find some hidden gems, though, like a way to lower your laptop speaker's default volume. Adjusting this setting to a lower volume means that Windows XP's startup jingle is broadcast a bit less loudly. That alone makes your laptop's BIOS worth a look, even if just to see what's available.

17.2.1. Entering the BIOS Settings

The first obstacle to editing the BIOS settings is simply putting the darn thing on the screen so you can see it. Most PCs scoot through it in less than a second or two, letting Windows jump onto the screen as quickly as possible. Viewing the BIOS settings involves not only pressing certain keys immediately after your PC starts (see Figure 17-2), but pressing them before Windows jumps onto the screen. Since Windows jumps onto the screen faster than a dog runs out a front door, that doesn't leave much time.

Figure 17-2. Keen-eyed observers may see the key that lets them enter their PC's Setup area, otherwise known as the BIOS. Other PCs hide that information, making you guess at it. For clues, you can consult your PC's documentation, but an easier way is to search on Google for your PC's model number followed by the words "access" and "BIOS." If you've reached the guesswork stage, most PCs use either F1, F2, F3, F10, Del, Ctrl+Del, Ctrl+Alt+Esc, Ctrl+Alt+S, or Ctrl+Alt+Ins. Work your way through them all, letting Windows XP come fully to the screen before restarting your PC and trying again.

It's hard to know what key or keys to press. Several companies have sold BIOS versions to vendors, and many versions use different access keys, or even combinations of keys. Nor do all vendors use the same BIOS manufacturer for all their PC models. That's the problem: knowing what keys to press, and pressing them with the split-second timing necessary to catch the BIOS' attention before Windows jumps in.

Tip: The trick is to restart your PC, and then repeatedly press the key two or three times per second. If Windows boots up, you missed it. Restart Windows normally (Start Turn Off Computer Turn Off)dont just press your PC's power button, since Windows needs time to shut itself down normally. Then try again.

The table below lists some of the main BIOS varieties; you may spot one of their names as your PC first starts (see Figure 17-1). If you spot a name , head to that company's Web site and download a manual for your particular BIOS version. Armed with the BIOS manual, you can look up the key sequence that lets you in, as well as find explanations for all your BIOS options.

Table 17-1.



Web site


American Megatrends Inc.




Datatech Enterprises





17.2.2. Navigating the BIOS Menu Screens

Once you're inside your PC's BIOS area, you'll see several menus, like the ones shown in Figure 17-3. Near the screen's bottom or side, you see a list of which keys to press to navigate the menus .

Figure 17-3. Some menu items appear as a row along the top; here, they're along the left edge. Press the arrow keys to move through the categories, highlighting each one to see its contents. Keep a notepad handy when paging through your BIOS, and jot down any changes you make. That makes it easy to undo the change should your PC wake up in even worse condition.

That presents a problem for the small number of people using USB keyboards on older PCs. The BIOS from those old PCs recognizes only the old-style PS/2 keyboards (see Section 1.8.6), which plug into a special "keyboard-only" port. If your USB keyboard doesn't work while you're in the BIOS, turn your PC off. Return with an old PS/2 keyboard, and plug it into your PC's PS/2 port.

Tip: If you own an older PC, keep its old PS/2 keyboard handy, as it's universally recognized by the BIOS of every computer.

These keys let you meander through the menus found in most BIOS versions:

  • Arrow keys . These let you move from one menu to another. Press the up/down arrow keys to move up or down through a column of menus; press the left/right arrow keys to move across a row.

  • Enter . When you've reached the menu setting you want to change, press Enter. After you press Enter, you can enter a different option, usually by selecting Enable or Disable. Press Enter again to save that change.

  • Esc . Press this key to move to the Exit menu (see Section 17.2.9), which lets you leave the BIOS area.

Almost every PC has a slightly different BIOS, each offering different menus and options, so there's no way to predict exactly what you'll see. Unless you have your motherboard's manual (see Section 17.8), you need to spend some idle time paging through the menus, searching for the option you want to change.

17.2.3. Disabling "Silent Boot"

Normally, your BIOS doesn't bother to display the results of its searches when you turn on or restart your PC. That's because it's usually set to Silent Boot or to "Skip Tests. Although that speeds up Windows XP's entrance , speed is the least of your worries when you're diagnosing a problem. Disable the Silent Boot or Skip Tests options when you spot them. Enable any other options that let your BIOS perform a thorough check of your PC's parts when turned on, as well as list the results of its tests on the screen.

Once you've diagnosed the problem, feel free to revert to the previous settings, letting Windows jump to the screen a wee bit faster.

17.2.4. Changing the Power-On Password

A BIOS password offers your PC's first line of protection from intruders. Most BIOS settings include a place to create and type in a new password. If you enter one, your PC acts differently the next time it's turned on. Instead of loading Windows (or any other operating system), the BIOS places a password box in the face of the person who started the PC. If she doesn't enter the correct password, she's locked out.

But if your PC mistakes you for the intruder, it's usually easy to bypass the barrier with any of the following tricks. Remove the battery

Some manufacturers want the BIOS password to stop casual passersby, but they assume if you're willing to devote a few hours to resetting it, you're probably the troubleshooting owner. To remove the password, remove the battery from the PC's motherboard (see Section 1.9.2). Then leave the PC sitting for an hour or so until the CMOS drains all of its stored informationincluding the password.

When you replace the battery and restart your PC, your BIOS reverts to "factory default" settings, which didn't include a password. Remove the password jumpers

Many motherboards come with a pair of jumpers (plastic covers with metal innards), shown in Figure 17-4. Removing the jumper from the pins removes the password and returns your PC to its "factory default" settings.

Figure 17-4. Locating the right jumper is easy if you have the motherboard's manual (see Section 17.8); otherwise, look on the motherboard for vertical pins labeled Clear, Clr, Clr CMOS, PWD, or something similar. To remove the password, turn off your PC and pull off the jumper straddling the two pins. When you turn your PC back on, it should no longer have a password. If your trick works, turn the PC back off and replace the jumper. Back door passwords

To help people who have accidentally locked themselves out of their own PCs, many manufacturers build a "back door" into the BIOS in the form of a secret password that unlocks any of the PCs that the manufacturer makes. Call your PC's manufacturer, explain your predicament, and ask if your model PC has a back door password that opens your locked BIOS. Remove the hard drive

If all efforts to remove the password fail, you can usually still salvage your data by removing the hard drive and putting it in another PC. But at that point, it may be time to call or email a professional data recovery specialist like Password Crackers (, explain your mournful predicament, and ask for a quote.

17.2.5. Upgrading BIOS Firmware

The BIOS lives on a chip or two as firmware (see Section 17.2.9), or semi-permanent instructions. However, you can completely replace the firmware, if necessary, either to fix bugs or add features (usually to add support for that exciting new technology that wasn't around when your PC was built).

You can often find the version of your BIOS' firmware in three places:

  • Your PC often displays the BIOS version as the first sentence when it boots up.

  • The BIOS usually lists its version on its opening menu.

  • The BIOS version often appears in Windows XP's System Information program (Start All Programs Accessories System Tools System Information) on the System Summary page.

Compare your BIOS version to the version available on the BIOS manufacturer's Web site; you may have an old version. If your current version still works fine, don't automatically upgrade to the new version; you may introduce a new problem. But if the new one contains a fix for a bug that's plaguing your PC, download the latest version and upgrade your BIOS the same way you update any other firmware (see Section 17.2.9).

17.2.6. Disabling Onboard Motherboard Circuits

Some PCs come with video and sound built right into the motherboard, that flat platter of circuitry connecting all your PC's parts. The manufacturer shrunk the sound and video circuitry into a little chip or two, stuck them on the motherboard, and connected them to the VGA and sound ports on the back of your PC (see Chapter 1 for a refresher on the motherboard and its many ports). This design saves you money, as you needn't buy additional cards to handle specific jobs like playing audio or video.

But if you upgrade your PC with a more powerful video or sound card for gaming, the built-in circuits can cause problems; your PC won't know whether to use the built-in circuits or the newly installed ones. The solution is to tell the BIOS to stop using the built-in circuitry and switch control to your newly installed card instead.

Or, if you add a video card but want to use two monitors (Section 3.3), you may need to tell the monitor to use the motherboard's video in addition to your newly installed card.

The solution to both problems is to enable or disable the motherboard's onboard or integrated sound, video, or network adapter, shown in Figure 17-5. If you disable the onboard item, the BIOS then ignores the motherboard's built-in circuits, locates your newly installed part, and hands its name over to Windows as the preferred part that Windows should use.

Figure 17-5. This PC came with sound built in to the motherboard, which you need to disable if your PC doesn't notice your newly installed, high-performance sound card. Disabling the circuits doesn't kill them completely; if your new sound card doesn't sound as good as your old sound, just remove the new card and enable the onboard circuits to return your machine to the way it used to sound.

17.2.7. Changing the Boot Drive Order

When you turn on your PC, the BIOS examines each of your PC's drives , and then loads the first operating system it finds, usually the one on your hard drive: Windows. But you may want to make your PC start running from an operating system on a CD, either your Windows XP CD or a diagnostic program. Or perhaps you want your PC to find an operating system on a hard drive you've plugged into a USB port, especially if that hard drive contains a backup of your main hard drive.

That's when you need to change the "boot order," shown in Figure 17-6. You want to tell your PC's BIOS to look for the operating system first on the floppy drive, then your CD drive, then any "removable drives" like your USB drive, and finally end up looking in the hard drive.

Once you've changed the drive's order, the change takes place as soon as you save your changes at the BIOS' Exit screen (see Section 17.2.9) and restart your PC.

17.2.8. Numeric Keypad

Bankers, accountants , and mathematicians prefer that their PCs start up with the numeric keypad enabled, so that pressing the arrow keys creates numbers. Other people prefer their PCs to start up with the numbers turned off; they just push the NumLock key on the rare occasion they're working in a spreadsheet (see Section 2.1.1 for more details on how the NumLock key system works).

To please both camps, most PC's offer an option for the numeric keypad in the BIOS. Look for the setting "Numeric Keypad" and choose whether you're a banker (Enabled) or an editor (Disabled).

Figure 17-6. Here, the BIOS lists the order it searches drives when looking for an operating system. It starts looking on a CD, then a floppy disk, then a hard drive, and finally a USB device (like a keychain drive). To change the order, highlight a drive by pressing the arrow keys; next, press Enter to select it, and then press the up or down arrows to move it to the front or back of the list. When you've placed the drive in the position you want it, press Enter again to drop it in place.

17.2.9. Exit the BIOS

Unlike spray paint, the changes you make to BIOS entries don't take place immediately. Instead, the BIOS waits for your confirmation on your way out. The Exit menu usually offers choices like these:

  • Exit (Save Changes) . Choose this option when you've made careful changes and want them to take effect as you leave.

  • Exit (Discard Changes) . Tossed in for the curious or the mistake-prone. This option lets you exit the BIOS without saving any changes.

  • Get Factory/Default Values . When you've chosen BIOS settings that made things worse, choose this option to reset all values to the factory settings.

  • Discard Changes . Much like an Undo option offered by many programs, this option removes all changes you've made this session. However, it leaves you in the BIOS area so you can make additional changes.

  • Save Changes . This saves any changes you've currently made during this session for safekeeping, and then leaves you inside the BIOS, ready to make more changes.

Choose the setting that meets your needs; if something awful happens the next time you try to start your PC, head back into the BIOS and choose the Get Factory/ Default Values option.

PCs: The Missing Manual
ISBN: 0596100930
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2005
Pages: 206
Authors: Andy Rathbone

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