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How to Enter BIOS Setup on Windows PCs
March 29, 2019
In an age where our technology gets smarter and smarter by the month, we often overlook the integral machinery that makes our computers so intuitive.
Each and every time you press your PC’s power button, the BIOS is the first operation to load your operating system and all of the personal settings that make your computer your own.
Whether you need to update your BIOS or sweep it clean of systematic bugs, knowing how to enter BIOS is essential for PC users. In order to access BIOS on a Windows PC, you must press your BIOS key set by your manufacturer which could be F10, F2, F12, F1, or DEL.
If your PC goes through its power on self-test startup too quickly, you can also enter BIOS through Windows 10’s advanced start menu recovery settings.
One thing PC users love most about Windows is how many options you can configure directly within your selected system.
Even before your computer has completed a full startup, you can venture into your BIOS software to modify the boot order, enable hardware components, or change the system time and date.
Depending on your computer’s age, entering BIOS may require a few more keystrokes on older PCs than newer ones.
Before pressing any keys or modifying any settings, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about your PC’s BIOS and how to enter BIOS on your laptop or desktop PC.
What is BIOS?
As your PC’s most important startup program, BIOS, or Basic Input/Output System, is the built-in core processor software responsible for booting up your system.
Typically embedded into your computer as a motherboard chip, the BIOS functions as a catalyst for PC functionality action.
Programmed on an erasable, programmable, read-only memory (EPROM) chip, BIOS is stored on this memory chip which retains data when the power source is switched off. When the PC is powered back on, BIOS retrieves that same stored data.
The BIOS system is also responsible for managing data flow between your computer’s operating system and any attached devices including a hard drive, keyboard, video adapter, printer, or mouse.
Each time you power your PC on, BIOS runs through a process called Power-On Self Test, or POST, that determines whether your attached devices are operating correctly and are in their proper place.
Once all attachments are allocated and given the OK, your computer startup continues as usual and takes you to your load screen in a matter of seconds.
If BIOS detects any problems, an error screen will appear or a series of beep codes will sound, effectively indicating to you that something has gone wrong.
New developments in BIOS technology
BIOS software has existed within computers since the 1980s and has made plenty of leaps and strides when it comes to efficiency and improvement. However, with the rapid speed of technological evolution, BIOS has become outdated and presents a number of roadblocks for today’s tech.
Newer PCs capable of handling several terabytes of storage prove to be too complex for weaker BIOS software. Limited to 16-bit processor modes and booting drives of 2.1TB or less, newer computers are usually equipped with 3TB drives or more.
Thus, the UEFI was born out of necessity for higher-powered booting. The new standard of BIOS accommodates the limitations the old BIOS system couldn’t work around. UEFI, or Unified Extended Firmware Interface Forum, can run in 32-bit or 64-bit modes and theoretically handle drives up to 9.4 zettabytes.
Not only is UEFI a BIOS replacement, but it also functions as a mini operating system that runs on top of your PC’s integrated firmware.
In essence, whether your computer is powered on by BIOS or UEFI, it is this software that you count on for fast boot times and proper processing functionality. Being able to access your PC’s BIOS allows you to perform regular maintenance for healthy computer upkeep.
What are the basic functions of BIOS?
Now that you understand what BIOS is, let’s dive into what it really does for your desktops, laptops, and tablets. BIOS’s functionality can be broken down into four key responsibilities.
As we mentioned before, POST is an acronym for the Power-On Self Test that your PC runs through the moment you turn it on. POST tests the hardware of your PC and ensures that there is nothing out of order and no errors present with your operating system.
POST goes through everything from your keyboard and disk drive to your random access memory and integrated ports. Should everything be in order, POST will continue as usual and allow your PC to boot normally.
If there is a detected error, BIOS will issue an error message that may come in the form of displayed text or a series of error-indicating beeps.
These beeps are always signals to certain messages, so if you happen to get this result, you will need to check out what it means for your computer’s hardware .
2. CMOS setup
Your PC stores all low-level settings like system time and hardware configuration within its CMOS.
This means that every change you make to your BIOS structure is saved on this special memory chip called the Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor, or CMOS. The CMOS setup is responsible for setting your password, time, and date.
3. Bootstrap loader
The program that lives within your computer’s EPROM or ROM, the bootstrap loader is tasked with reading your PC’s hard drive boot sector to move along the complete operating system load.
When you restart your PC, the bootstrap loader activates the POST, then loads Windows 10 into memory. Newer PCs have replaced the bootstrap loader with an EFI, or Extensible Firmware Interface.
4. BIOS drivers
BIOS drivers are the many programs stored in your computer’s many memory chips. These low-level drivers are used to boot your system and prompt basic operational controls on your PC.
How to enter BIOS in Windows 10
When you’ve run into an annoying computer bug or need to modify CPU hardware for a newly upgraded processor, you will need access to your computer BIOS.
Windows 10 laptops and PCs make accessing, checking, and updating your BIOS a breeze by offering two easy methods to achieve the results you’re aiming for. Let’s break down both methods.
Method #1: Use hotkey during boot-up
It may be too quick for you to have ever noticed, but your PC goes through a rapid POST process to get your startup screen loaded up as fast as it can. It is also within this tightly timed window that you can access your BIOS by clicking your PC’s designated hotkey.
Unfortunately, different PC brands were all on different pages when designating a definitive BIOS key. HP laptops generally use F10 or the escape key.
DEL and F2 tend to be the most popular hotkeys for PCs, but if you’re unsure of what your brand’s hotkey is, this list of common BIOS keys by brand may help.
- Acer: F2 or DEL
- ASUS: F2 for all PCs, F2 or DEL for motherboards
- Dell: F2 or F12
- HP: ESC or F10
- Lenovo: F2 or Fn + F2
- Lenovo (Desktops): F1
- Lenovo (ThinkPads): Enter + F1.
- MSI: DEL for motherboards and PCs
- Microsoft Surface Tablets: Press and hold volume up button.
- Origin PC: F2
- Samsung: F2
- Sony: F1, F2, or F3
- Toshiba: F2
Pressing your assigned BIOS hotkey while your computer boots up should retrieve the BIOS setup utility screen you’re looking for.
For example, on an HP Pavilion, HP EliteBook, HP Stream, HP OMEN, HP ENVY and more, pressing the F10 key just as your PC status comes up will lead you to the BIOS setup screen.
Some manufacturers require repeated hotkey presses, and some require another button to be pressed in addition to the hotkey. To best equip yourself with the most accurate information, check with your PC’s user manual or the manufacturer's website.
Method #2: Use Windows 10’s start menu
As computers have become more technologically advanced than ever, they boot up in seconds before our eyes. This leaves little room for pressing any hotkeys and can leave those looking to get into their BIOS settings puzzled.
For PC users who aren’t able to catch that tiny window to use their hotkey, this method of entering BIOS can be completed through your computer settings.
Step 1. Access your Windows settings
Navigate to your Windows start menu and select “Settings” located on the left panel. You can also access your Windows setting by using Windows shortcut keys Windows + I.
Step 2. Select “Update & security”
Within this window, you may need to scroll down to find the “Update & security” button.
Step 3. Select “Recovery"
Step 4. Click “Restart now”
Under “Advanced startup” you will see a “Restart now” button that allows you to reboot your PC for configuration or restoration.
After your PC boots back up, you will be met with a special menu that gives you the option to “Use a device,” “Continue,” “Turn off your PC,” or “Troubleshoot.”
Step 5. Select “Troubleshoot”
Within this window, select “Advanced options” then select “UEFI Firmware Settings.” This will allow you to enter BIOS on your Windows 10 PC.
Step 6. Confirm your restart
If your PC is running Windows 8.1 or Windows 8, these methods will also work for your older operating system.
How to access Windows 7, Vista, and XP BIOS
The same method of pressing your designated hotkey during boot-up should be able to gain you access into your BIOS. Be sure to press that button as soon as you see your manufacturer’s brand logo.
Older operating systems tend to load more slowly, so your window of time to press your designated hotkey should be wide enough for prompt BIOS access. Follow this three-step method to enter BIOS on Windows 7 or later.
Step 1. Turn off your computer
On older operating systems, you can only access BIOS just before the Microsoft Windows logo appears on your computer screen.
Step 2. Power your PC on
Step 3. Press the BIOS hotkey
The single keystroke or combination of pressed keys will open BIOS on your PC. Oftentimes your computer will indicate on the startup screen which key or keys need to be pressed in order to enter BIOS.
I can’t access BIOS, what do I do?
If you’re still struggling to figure out how to enter BIOS on your Windows computer, you may find yourself in somewhat of a pickle.
Whether your startup is too fast or you suspect a virus has attacked your hardware, you need access into your BIOS as soon as possible. Fortunately, we’ve got what you need. Try these two troubleshooting methods to gain access into your BIOS.
Troubleshoot method #1: Disable fast startup
If your PC is powering on too quickly for you to know when to press your BIOS hotkey, your timing may be keeping you from accessing your PC’s BIOS.
To slow down your boot time and open your window for hotkey pressing, you will need to disable fast startup. To do this:
1. Locate “Power options” in your control panel
2. Press “Choose what the power button does” in the left panel (you’ll note that the shutdown settings are all greyed out and unavailable for modification)
3. Press “Change settings that are currently available” located above the power button and lid settings (this will allow you to uncheck or check boxes to modify your shutdown settings)
4. Uncheck “Turn on fast startup”
5. Try restarting your PC and entering BIOS with your hotkey again
Troubleshoot method #2: Use an emergency boot disk
In the case that your PC refuses to enter BIOS or gives you the dreaded blue screen of death, you could be faced with boot failure. In order to access BIOS, you can try utilizing an emergency boot disk to bring your PC back to life via USB drive.
Once the USB drive boots up, you should be able to select a boot device at the startup.
1. Click “Repair your computer” instead of the centered “Install now” button
2. Click “Troubleshoot”
3. Click “UEFI Firmware Settings”
4. Click “Restart”
If nothing works, you may need to resort to finding a computer repair specialist in your area to help solve your issues.
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About the Author: Tulie Finley-Moise is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Tulie is a digital content creation specialist based in San Diego, California with a passion for the latest tech and digital media news.