Processors

Two quick tips for getting past a lost BIOS password

A user has set a BIOS password and then forgotten it. Now the computer won't move past the booting process. Here are two quick tips from the Technical Q&A that will help you get this hapless user back up and running in no time.

Setting a BIOS password provides a basic yet highly effective level of PC security. Unfortunately, users forgetting that password can cause real headaches.

If a BIOS password has been set, many computers won’t get past the booting process or allow you to change the BIOS settings without that password—turning the machine into an expensive doorstop.

The question of how to handle a lost BIOS password came up recently in the Technical Q&A, and two suggestions were prominent in the replies.

Depending on the motherboard of the computer in question you can:
  • Locate and change the position of a jumper that will clear the BIOS settings.
  • Unplug the machine and pull out the battery that maintains the BIOS settings in RAM.

In this article, we will take a closer look at each of these suggestions.

Jumping to it
Okay, those of you who can put their hands on the manual that came with the motherboard of your computer, go to the head of the class.

This is one of the reasons you kept the manual in the first place, so take a look in there and see if it tells you what options you have regarding the CMOS. You should find the jumpers in the NORMAL position, and there may be one or two other options.

Craig Shepherd of Australia wrote in the Technical Q&A that recent Intel-based motherboards offer NORMAL, CONFIGURE, and RECOVERY jumper settings. CONFIGURE is the setting where you can clear the password.

The only other option most boards will have to NORMAL will be to clear the CMOS.

After changing the jumper from NORMAL, you usually reboot the machine with the jumper in the alternate position to clear the password or all of the BIOS settings.

Reset the jumper to NORMAL and then reconfigure the BIOS settings to what they were before you started. Having a backup of your BIOS settings will come in handy at this point.

The major drawbacks to this method are:
  1. Finding the motherboard manual.
  2. Finding a magnifying glass to read the printing on the motherboard.

Assault on the battery
The second tip for getting around the lost BIOS password setting is simply to unplug the computer and pull out the battery that powers the RAM that holds the BIOS settings.

The battery typically looks like a watch battery and is very low voltage. Be careful removing the battery from its holder, or you’ll have bigger problems than a lost password.

It should only take a few minutes of no power to lose the BIOS settings, but there is a chance that it could take longer. In that case, you can touch the battery connections (with the battery removed) with a [10,000-ohm resistor] to discharge any stored energy in the system, according to the Phoenix Technologies BIOS FAQ.

Once the settings are lost, just replace the battery and restart the computer, resetting your BIOS settings in the CMOS.

The major drawbacks to using this method include the following:
  1. The battery could be soldered to the motherboard.
  2. The battery holder could be broken during removal.

A case in point
P.J. Paulson of New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada, who posted the question in the Technical Q&A, chose to remove the battery from his machine.

Paulson is CEO of 1010 Net/Soft Systems, a biometric applications and systems integration company, but even he has a boss that expects him to know a variety of technical information.

The chairman of the board wanted to change the BIOS so that the Num Lock key would activate on startup, so Paulson turned to TechRepublic members for quick advice when his boss couldn’t remember the BIOS password to his machine.

Within 12 minutes, Paulson had two answers to his question. “I just went across the street for a cup of coffee, and when I came back, I had my answer,” he said.

He chose pulling out the battery as his remedy because he believes the best solutions are at the rudimentary elements of any problem.

“Go down to the simplest point—it always works,” Paulson said.
If you were faced with a user whose CMOS password was forgotten, what would you do? Share your thoughts on the matter in a discussion below, or send us a note. Want to know more about TechRepublic’s Technical Q&A? Read our FAQ.
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