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Changing your BIOS settings without blowing up your PC

Updated on July 13, 2008
One of the BIOS settings screens.
One of the BIOS settings screens.

Although most computer users understand that there is a way to access and modify the information displayed in that enigmatic display which flashes for barely a second or two at bootup, they would never dare to venture into its uncharted depths. That BIOS control doesn't need to be feared, and can actually be used to significantly improve your computer experience as well as quickly ameliorate problems that your local technician would charge a couple of hundred bucks to fix.

The BIOS Settings, also known as the Setup Utility, is configuration software that sets the options held in the PC's CMOS to instruct all of the computer's subsystems to play nice together. In order to access this software, you need to press either the F1 or Delete key on most computers. Check the swift-passing BIOS screen and it will likely tell you which key to use at the bottom left.

Once you're in there, you will see instructions about how to navigate around the screen, usually by using Page Up, Page Down and some of those other "legacy" keys that you've often wondered why the heck they exist at all. Now you have access to all sorts of functions. Some can be experimented with to see if you like what they do. Some will screw up your PC bigtime and put a big wad of your hard earned money in the wallet of the local geek squadder. Here is a short guide to the major functions: the ones to play with and the ones to leave alone. If you start messing around with BIOS options you don't understand please remember that you've been warned!

Boot Sequence: This is the order that the computer will use its peripherals to boot itself up. You can save some boot seconds in both XP and Vista by setting your C: drive (where your Operating System resides) as your first choice. This function is very handy if you'd like to temporarily set a USB key or external HD, or even your CD-DVD drive as the source of the boot. This way you could have a dozen keys on your desk, each one loaded with a different flavor of Linux and Windows and boot into whatever OS you felt like at the time. If that's what turns your crank!

Date & Time: Changes the Date and Time. Whoopee. You can do the same thing by right clicking on the time on your Windows taskbar.

Diskette Drives: Most PCs no longer have floppies so forget this.

Hard Disk Priority: The Primary or Channel 1 Master should be your C: drive with your Operating System. However, for various reasons, you may have different operating systems on different hard drives or partitions. This is where you set the priority of what drives the computer should look at after C:.

Hard Drive Settings: Although you can modify all sorts of functions here, most of them will just scramble the data on your hard drives.

Hardware Monitor: There are various sensors on your motherboard which provide information on operating temperature, voltage supply and other operational data. Keep in mind that BIOS temperature sensors are famously inaccurate, and the only real way to measure if your CPU is overheating is by using an accurate temperature probe while the PC is under load. Either that or by waiting for the big puff of smoke to billow from the case. If you're really a freak about what temp your processor is running at and want a constant readout on your Windows taskbar, download SpeedFan written by my old friend Alfredo. We I-ties stick together.

Memory Settings: You can change the latency settings here but that is primarily of interest to Overclockers who are on the way to frying their systems anyway, so avoid this.

NumLock Status: What a pain. This is one of those pointless legacy features that made sense in 1973 but not since. Of course you want your numeric keypad to work. Duh!

Power Management: Another total pain. Back in the Jurassic Age those amazingly fast 2400 baud modems were set up to turn on your PC when the phone rang. Yeah. Really. These days it's about the last thing you want. Make sure it's off.

OK, so now you've played around with all these settings and when you go to reboot the PC you get to the BIOS screen, then nothing, then the BIOS screen, then nothing, and you're really starting to panic. Before you set out a contract for my life from Cousin Vinnie and his Violin Case, go back into the BIOS Settings and find the Default Settings. That will return the PC to its minimal operating bootup configuration. So now you bootup again and you get to the BIOS screen, then nothing, then the BIOS screen, then nothing, and you're picking up the phone and hitting Cousin Vinnie's speeddial number. Before you commit a felony and I get to eat lead, clear your BIOS settings. This is not exactly as simple as going back to Default Settings as it requires you get your hands into the PC.

Of course use static protection to keep from frying the delicate electronics and open the side of the case. Check your motherboard's user manual to find the location of the Clear CMOS Memory Jumper. It will most likely be a little tiny plug that sits atop a couple of prongs which you can delicately use tweezers to pull off. When the jumper jumps off the motherboard, the CMOS no longer gets electricity from the battery and will clear itself out. The next time you reboot, the BIOS will reset the CMOS to factory default values. Leave the jumper off for at least 15 and better yet 30 seconds, then replace. In the rare instance that your motherboard doesn't have a jumper or you can't find it, you can always pull out the battery for a bit. Has the same effect. Now that you have everything back together, plug in the PC, fire it up and you should boot into your Operating System with no problem at all.

Er... you say it still won't boot? Ok. I give up. Tell Vinnie to come and get me. My address is 123 Avenida Cochino, Chavalo, Tierra Del Fuego...


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