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When you first turn your computer on, the only thing it's capable of doing is finding the BIOS (Basic Input Output System) ROM (Read Only Memory) chip on your mainboard. This BIOS chip has a program burned onto it that knows where to look for, and how to access, the different expansion slots, ports, drives, and the Operating System.

The computer begins the start up process (or boot sequence). It loads the programming code and instructions on the BIOS chip into memory and then carries out the instructions in order. It takes an internal and external inventory of equipment and performs several self-tests (called POWER ON SELF TESTS). To view any actions being carried out on screen, press the Pause/ Break key. The POST process will be halted until you press the key (or Esc) again. During the POST if any errors are detected, the computer may deliver an error code. Error codes, both visual and audible differ from manufacturer to manufacturer. To interpret either the visual (printed) or audible (beeps) error codes, you will need a table of these codes from the manufacturer of the computer/motherboard. These error codes typically report problems with hardware, such as memory, keyboard, monitor, and disk drives. Because of the inter-related nature of some of these devices, troublshooting may not be straight forward--a problem might be masked by an error code that seems to point to a different part of the system. The POST starts with an internal CPU check, and with a check of the boot code by comparing code at various locations against a fixed template. The results of the POST are compared to data held in CMOS (Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor). CMOS is a manufacturing technology used in many chip devices (including CPUs). However, in common usage for PCs, CMOS is understood to be the chip(s) that preserve system setup data (supported via a trickle charge from a system board battery) when the power is turned off. Parameters (data) in CMOS can be changed with a setup program. The setup program is, typically, stored in firmware but in older machines this program may be stored on a disk. The POST checks computer things like the bus, ports, system clock, display adapter memory, RAM, DMA, keyboard, floppy drives, hard drives, and so forth. The CPU sends signals over the system bus to make sure that these devices are functioning. If there is a parameter for it in CMOS, it is possible that the POST performs a test on it. In addition to the POST, the BIOS initialisation routines initialise memory refresh and loads BIOS routines to memory. BIOS initialisation routines will add to the system BIOS routines with routines and data from other BIOS chips on installed controllers (video, drives, etc.) The routine then compares the information it has gathered with the information stored in the CMOS chip's setup program. If there are any discrepancies, it halts the boot process and informs the operator. If everything is OK, it will usually be displayed on screen. If any problems are encountered during the POST routine, then you know that it is hardware related. In some cases, you can find and repair problems by searching for poor connections, damaged cables, seized fans and power problems. Check that adapter cards and RAM are installed in their respective slots properly. In extreme cases, you may have to strip the computer down to its motherboard, RAM, video card, power supply and CPU. By adding the rest of the devices individually and restarting after each one, you can sometimes discover the cause of the problem.
Anne Watson 1

If the POST is successfully completed, the computer has to locate the Operating System. So near the end of its routine, the BIOS looks for the master boot record (MBR), which contains information on how to locate the bootable drive and the system files 'IO.SYS', MSDOS.SYS and COMMAND.COM for older systems. For NTFS systems, the files sought would be NTLDR, BOOT.INI and NTDETECT.COM.

Depending on how the BIOS is set up, it first looks on the floppy drive. If there is a disk in this drive, it must have a copy of the OS system files on it. If it does, the operating system is loaded into RAM (Random Access Memory). If the disk doesn't contain any operating files, then the computer halts and gives an error message. You then have to remove the disk and press a key to continue.

If there is no disk in the floppy drive, then the computer checks the hard drive for the Operating System files and, once found, continues to load the OS into memory (RAM)

BOOT - Where did this come from? Historical note: the term boot derives from `bootstrap loader', a short program that was read in from cards or paper tape, or toggled in from the front panel switches. This program was always very short (great efforts were expended on making it short in order to minimize the labour and chance of error involved in toggling it in), but was just smart enough to read in a slightly more complex program (usually from a card or paper tape reader), to which it handed control; this program in turn was smart enough to read the application or operating system from a magnetic tape drive or disk drive. Thus, in successive steps, the computer `pulled itself up by its bootstraps' to a useful operating state. Nowadays the bootstrap is usually found in ROM or EPROM, and reads the first stage in from a fixed location on the disk, called the `boot block'. When this program gains control, it is powerful enough to load the actual OS and hand control over to it. HARD BOOT AND SOFT BOOT A hard (cold) boot occurs when the computer is started up from a powered down state. It is important to remember that you should always wait a few seconds after switching off the computer before applying the power again. Failing to wait could cause damage to your computer. A soft (warm) boot refers to resetting a computer that is already turned on. Resetting it returns the computer to its initial state. A warm boot is sometimes necessary when a program encounters an error from which it cannot recover. On PCs, you can perform a warm boot by pressing the Control, Alt, and Delete keys simultaneously. If you have a reset button, this could be pressed.

Anne Watson

Boots disks can be made from your computer at any time. It is best to create these at the time of installation and keep them in a safe place. CREATING A WINDOWS 98/ME BOOT DISK An excellent feature of Windows 98/ME is its boot disk. Using Windows to create a Windows 98 boot disk will give you all the needed files as well as CD-ROM support. To create a Windows 98 boot disk click Start / Settings / Control Panel / double click the Add Remove programs icon / click the Startup Disk and create disk. CREATING WINDOWS 2000 BOOT DISKS To create a Windows 2000 Professional bootable diskette you will need four 1.44MB disks and the Windows 2000 Professional CD. Click Start / Run / browse to the CD-ROM drive. Open the Boot disk folder and double-click makeboot.exe and click ok to launch the program to create the disks. Note - As long as you have the Windows 2000 CD-ROM, you can create the setup disks from a computer running any version of Windows or MS-DOS. CREATING A BOOT DISK WITH A WINDOWS-XP COMPUTER Format a floppy disk by using the Windows XP format utility. For example, with the floppy disk in the floppy disk drive, type format a: at a command prompt, and then press ENTER. Copy the Ntldr and the Ntdetect.com files from the I386 folder on the Windows XP Setup CDROM, Windows XP Setup floppy disk, or from a computer that is running the same version of Windows XP as the computer that you want to access with the boot floppy.. Create a Boot.ini file (or copy one from a computer that is running Windows XP), and then modify it to match the computer that you are trying to access. HOW TO USE A BOOT DISK Once the bootable disk has been successfully created, by following the below steps you will be able to boot from the disk. Place the disk into write protect mode (in case a virus is on the computer, this will not allow the virus to transfer itself onto the disk). Insert the disk into the computer and reset or turn on the computer to begin the boot process. As the computer is booting up, answer the questions prompted (if any). Once at the A:\> take the appropriate actions depending upon the situation of the computer.

Alternatively, if you wish to download your boot disks, they are available at the following web site. http://www.bootdisk.com/original.htm
Anne Watson 3

COMMON BEEP CODES The following examples of beep codes given by faulty POSTs are fairly general. Most motherboards have their own BIOS manufactured especially for that particular board. The error codes are often specific to the version of the BIOS. It must be remembered that if the PC speaker cable is not connected you will hear no beeps. Before powering up a computer for the first time (or after repair), always check that the PC speaker is connected to the motherboard. AMI BIOS BEEP CODES


A COMMON VISUAL ERROR MESSAGE If you see one of the error messages listed below, it is most likely that you are trying to boot with a disk in the floppy drive. The system is looking for the files needed to boot into the operating system but, of course, unless the floppy is a boot disk, it will not find them.

Non-System Disk Error, replace and press any key when ready. NTLDR is missing. Press any key to restart.

Anne Watson

The Bootstrapping Process for Dos or Windows 9x (Set to boot from a then c)




Look for IO.sys MSDOS.sys Command.com on drive C









SHOW C: PROMPT (or boot into Windows) WAITING USER INPUT

Anne Watson