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Get IT Done: Speed boot time by tweaking the BIOS

Tweak the computer BIOS to speed boot process


When end users complain about their computer being too slow, they are often referring to the boot process. Fortunately, there are several BIOS tweaks that can shave seconds off of a lengthy boot sequence. This article will show you how to disable a series of self-tests that the computer performs during the boot process. Under many circumstances, these tests aren’t essential; indeed, some are holdovers from the days when users booted from floppy disks. Disabling them won’t make Windows load faster, but the seconds you save before Windows starts can make the boot process less of a chore.

Accessing the BIOS
While not all computers access the BIOS settings the same way, one thing they do have in common is that the user intervenes during the boot sequence by pressing a key usually indicated on the screen. Many systems designate the Delete key for this task, but on my Compaq, I’d press [F10].

Again, the resulting screen will differ slightly depending on your computer’s manufacturer, but you’ll likely see a series of drill-down categories, or a text-based table listing the current settings. Before making any changes, take a moment to write down these settings—all of them. Since we’re presuming the present BIOS configuration works, you’ll need a way to return the settings to their current state should your changes foul up the configuration.

To change a setting, refer to the on-screen instructions. Most often, you’ll use the arrow keys to navigate to a given setting. Then, you’ll either use another arrow key or the Page Up or Page Down keys to change the setting.

Disable the floppy test
The first thing you’ll want to look for is a setting that determines whether the computer tests the floppy drive. Disabling this setting not only eliminates a lengthy hardware delay but also saves wear on the disk’s motor. Make your end user aware that the computer will no longer make the familiar sounds as it tests the drives, nor will the floppy’s activity light illuminate.

Disable the memory self-test
Moving on, you’ll want to disable the memory self-test. This test examines all memory over 1 MB—sometimes twice. Naturally, on computers with hundreds of megabytes, this check can be time-consuming. Fortunately, Windows also tests memory on startup, so disabling this test shouldn’t prevent legitimate warnings.

Place the HDD first in the boot sequence
Although you disabled the floppy drive seek, you might also have an unnecessary floppy drive hit in the boot process. Look for a setting that designates the boot sequence. By default, computers usually try to boot from the floppy disk first, but that process is rarely necessary. You’ll want to designate the C: drive as the first in the sequence, but you’ll also put the floppy next in line to allow for an emergency floppy boot. As a bonus, booting from the hard disk first should prevent error messages in case a user left a nonsystem disk in the drive.

Other tricks to try
All of the preceding settings should be present in your computer’s setup program. There are a couple of other settings you might want to look for. For example, some newer BIOS programs provide a “Quick Boot” setting that bypasses some other self-tests. You might also consider disabling the keyboard check; it’s a lot easier to simply plug the keyboard in after boot if it’s disconnected. A user might also prefer the Num Lock setting to be on or off when the computer starts.

Microsoft recommends activating Direct Memory Access (DMA) for hard drives, if such a setting exists. On its Web site, Microsoft claims that doing so can save up to two seconds on boot.

Save and exit
Be sure to save the CMOS settings when exiting. Although you’re given the option to save or abandon changes when you exit, the command’s wording can be confusing. My Compaq offers an option to “save default and exit,” which means restore the defaults, not save the new settings as the defaults!

Once you’ve saved the settings, the computer will reboot. Watch and see if your changes had any effect on the startup speed.

Windows tips
Although Windows doesn’t offer many BIOS setting options, you can disable the floppy disk seek in Windows 98. Right-click My Computer and select Properties. Click on the Performance tab and then the File System button. In the resulting dialog box, click the Floppy Disk tab. Deselect the Search For New Floppy Disk Drives Each Time Your Computer Starts check box, shown in Figure A, and click OK.

Figure A
Windows 98 lets you bypass the floppy disk seek by deselecting this check box.


Finally, when you reboot Windows, try holding down the Shift key when you click Restart. Doing so bypasses the early part of the boot process and takes you directly to the “Windows Is Now Restarting” message.

The need for speed
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