What happens when you start up your PC? In most cases (and putting it very simply), after the power switch has controlled the flow of electricity to the motherboard and the fans have started up, your hard disk drive will be initialized and the boot section read.
From here, the operating system will load up from the hard disk drive. But what if you don’t want it to?
For instance, you might want to boot from the optical drive; you might want to boot from an external or network drive, or even from a USB stick.
In these cases, you would need to change the boot order for your computer. This means accessing a menu in the BIOS and rearranging it, so that the preferred device is listed as the primary boot drive.
Best of all, it’s not as complicated as you might think.
Accessing the BIOS Screen
There are different ways for you to access the BIOS screen. You need to be quick with your fingers, be close to the keyboard when you switch the computer on, and make sure that your monitor/display is already switched on – otherwise you might miss the instruction!
What happens is that a short line of text – usually across the bottom of the screen – will indicate which key you need to press to launch the BIOS screen. This is often the Delete/DEL key (as above), but might also be F1, F2 or one of the other function keys.
In some cases you may need to reset the computer if it progresses through to loading Windows too quickly – I would advise waiting for Windows to load (assuming you’re not experiencing any Windows loading problems) rather than pressing the reset button, as this can cause problems later on.
Note that if you have a password set on your BIOS, this will be required before you’re able to access any of the menus and options.
Why You Might Change the Boot Order
There are various reasons why you might want to change the boot order.
For instance, you might have added a new hard disk drive and want to use it as your primary boot device; changing the boot order will enable you to install your operating system.
Alternatively, you might have problems booting Windows. Setting an optical drive or USB drive as the primary device will allow you to use a disc, flash storage or external HDD to provide assistance to recovering data or repairing the operating system.
Finding and Changing the Boot Order Menu
Once you have logged into the BIOS, you will need to find the Boot menu. In every BIOS I have seen in my 15+ years using and servicing PCs, this can be quickly found across the top of the screen, and is accessed by navigating with the left/right arrow keys (these and other controls are usually displayed as a legend at the bottom of the screen).
In the Boot order menu, you will need to use the up and down arrows to select an item and probably tap Enter to select it. This might open up a secondary menu which you will again use the arrows to navigate and Enter to confirm your choice (in some BIOS menus there may be no option to select; instead the Page Up/Page Down keys will be used to cycle the boot item up and down through the list. Once again, check the legend at the bottom of the screen).
Note that some motherboards will only display the USB option if a USB device is connected when the computer boots. If you want to boot from USB, ensure the device is attached before switching on your computer.
Once the change to the BIOS is made, you will need to save it. You should see a menu option labelled Save and Exit – navigate to this and use the arrow keys and Enter to select the save changes option. Many motherboards offer a keyboard shortcut for this command, often F10.
With this step completed, the computer should restart, allowing you to access the chosen boot device.
Additional Boot Tips: Windows Advanced Boot Menu
Along with the BIOS boot menu, your computer’s operating system will offer its own set of instructions for booting up. This can be access by tapping the F8 key after the BIOS POST screen has closed.
Reaching the Windows Advanced Boot Menu can prove tricky. My advice is to repeatedly tap the F8 key until it appears, as the window of opportunity for the command to be detected and accurately responded to can be very narrow.
Once opened, the Windows Advanced Boot Menu offers a list of options:
- Safe Mode
- Safe Mode with Networking
- Safe Mode with Command Prompt
- Enable Boot Logging
- Last Known Good Configuration (advanced)
- Start Windows Normally
Other options might also be available, depending on your hardware setup and Windows version. The screenshot above is from Windows 7.
These can be used to troubleshoot issues loading Windows and uninstalling troublesome software, even malware.
Linux operating systems also have advanced boot menus, but launching might require some different steps.
Using the steps outlined here, you should be able to change the boot order of your PC, perhaps selecting a different device from which to boot your computer. This can prove useful for recovery or for adding a new hard disk drive or other storage device to your PC.
Additionally, don’t forget that the Windows Advanced Boot Menu can also prove useful, offering different boot options that enable troubleshooting of the operating system.