Software // Enterprise Applications
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8/12/2004
02:47 PM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa
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Langa Letter: Solving USB Boot Problems

Sometimes, getting a PC to boot from a USB device can seem like black magic. Here's help!

If the message goes by too fast to read, hit CTRL-ALT-DEL to reboot the machine, wait for the beep, and then simply try pressing the most common BIOS access keys until you find one that works: DEL, F1, F2, F8, F11, ESC, CTRL-ALT-ESC, CTRL-ALT-ENTER. If none of these most-common access keys works, visit your PC vendor's site for the correct access method for your PC, or see sites like this or these for additional information on accessing the BIOS setup on just about any PC. This site also is one of the very best for general information on BIOSes.

Once you're in the BIOS setup program, you'll see something like what's shown in Screen One, although the exact display may differ.

Your system's BIOS setup program gives you control over many of your PC's low-level hardware settings and functions, including USB booting, if it's available.
Your system's BIOS setup program gives you control over many of your PC's low-level hardware settings and functions, including USB booting, if it's available.

Look for a tab or menu relating to booting in the BIOS setup software's opening screen. In this example, it's simply called "BOOT," and can be accessed by using the tab and/or arrow keys to highlight the word "BOOT" on the menu bar. Once there, hit enter, and you'll see a submenu that's specific to how the PC boots. Although your system will differ in the details, the boot setup menu probably will look something along the lines of what's shown in Screen Two.

Entering the BOOT submenu offers a number of choices relating to how your system boots, what boot devices it recognizes (including USB), and in what order the boot devices will be accessed.
Entering the BOOT submenu offers a number of choices relating to how your system boots, what boot devices it recognizes (including USB), and in what order the boot devices will be accessed.

Using the tab and/or arrow keys, highlight any USB-related boot menu items to see what's available. You may have several choices to select among, or just one, as is shown in Screen Three--simply to enable or disable USB booting. Make whatever changes you wish (e.g., enabling USB booting).

Some systems offer a number of choices relating to USB booting. Others offer only a simple enable/disable choice, such as the system shown here. Still other systems, especially older PCs, have no USB boot options available at all. (See the text for more info.)
Some systems offer a number of choices relating to USB booting. Others offer only a simple enable/disable choice, such as the system shown here. Still other systems, especially older PCs, have no USB boot options available at all. (See the text for more info.)

When you've enabled booting from USB, look for an option to make USB first in the boot sequence, so the PC will try booting from a USB device before moving on to try booting from floppies, hard drives, CDs, or networks. (In some systems, you may have to reboot with the USB device plugged in before you see this option.)

When you're done with the BIOS setup program, using the tab and/or arrow keys to navigate to the EXIT menu, select the option for saving the changes you just made, and then reboot. (In many BIOSes, a special key--often the F10 key--will save, exit, and reboot in one step.) In any case, read the on-screen prompts for the correct way to save, exit, and reboot your system, as shown in Screen Four.

If you make any changes to your BIOS settings, be sure to save them before exiting: the EXIT menu in our example system offers an 'Exit Saving Changes' as the first choice, for example, but also offers other choices, including some potentially useful options for restoring the BIOS settings to known-good defaults in the event that a change doesn't work the way you wanted.
If you make any changes to your BIOS settings, be sure to save them before exiting: the EXIT menu in our example system offers an "Exit Saving Changes" as the first choice, for example, but also offers other choices, including some potentially useful options for restoring the BIOS settings to known-good defaults in the event that a change doesn't work the way you wanted.

At this point, assuming you found a "boot from USB" option in your BIOS and enabled it, your PC's hardware is ready for USB booting, and you can now move on to making the external USB boot device itself ready.

But if you found no USB boot-related items in the system BIOS, you may be out of luck. Your system may simply lack that capability. Your best bet is probably to visit your system vendor's Web site and inquire about a BIOS upgrade; a free or (usually) low-cost do-it-yourself process that may be able to add support for newer hardware to an aging system. If your system vendor can't or won't help, try visiting the Web site of your motherboard vendor; or if that fails, then try the support sites of your BIOS vendor. If USB boot support can be added to your PC through a BIOS update, one of those sources will be able to help.

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