When you need to make changes to the BIOS settings in your computer, you will use the Setup program provided by the BIOS manufacturer. If you don’t know how to enter Setup on your computer, the motherboard’s documentation will explain the procedure. If you don’t have the manual for your motherboard, though, the entry procedure may not be readily apparent.

Different BIOS manufacturers use different techniques to enter the Setup program. Most modern BIOSs expect you to press a specific key or combination of keys as the computer is loading, before the boot sector is fetched to load the operating system. There will usually be a notation on your screen with specific instructions, such as “Press Del to enter Setup,” but such a message may not appear on your system.

If there’s no Setup message
If your system doesn’t display a Setup message, and you don’t know what is required for entry to this function, you can play a “guessing game” and try these various techniques. With only a few vendor-specific exceptions, all of these possible entry keys need to be pressed as the system is first powering up, before fetching the boot sector.

The most common key used to enter Setup is the [Del] key, so that is always the first one I try on a system I haven’t seen before. Most Award BIOSs, as well as some AMI and some Phoenix chips, use this key. If that doesn’t take you into Setup, keep working your way down the list until you find the right key for your system.

The next key I try is [F2]. This is used by a wide range of BIOS manufacturers in systems from many vendors and is the second most frequently used in my experience.

Another common Setup entry key is [F1], which is used by many IBM computers and some of the current production machines from Hewlett-Packard. There may be other manufacturers who use this key as well, although it presents the opportunity for some confusion.

The possible confusion comes from the fact that [F1] is also used to bypass some error conditions that are detected by the BIOS at startup time. So, on these systems, you may inadvertently bypass an error condition when you really intended to enter the Setup routine. This will happen if your timing is slightly off and you press [F1] after the “window” for entering Setup has closed, and one of these error conditions has been detected, such as a floppy drive failure.

[Ctrl][Alt] combos
If you still haven’t determined the magic key for entering Setup, your system may require a combination of keys. The combinations I’ve seen used include [Ctrl][Alt][Enter], [Ctrl][Alt][Esc], and [Ctrl][Alt]S. On some motherboards that use these key combinations, you can actually enter Setup at any time. Be sure not to do this, though, at any time except initial startup. If you start making changes to BIOS settings while your operating system is running, you could cause yourself serious problems.

[F10] for Compaq
There are at least two more vendor-specific methods of entering the Setup routine. All Compaq machines use [F10] at startup, but you may need to pay attention to exactly where the computer is in the startup process, depending on the model of the machine.

If your Compaq computer displays a flashing white rectangle in the top right-hand corner of the screen as it’s coming up, that is the time to press [F10]. On some Compaq models, the initial screen will display at the bottom, “F10=Setup.”

[Esc] for Toshiba
Toshiba laptops employ a different technique to enter Setup. On these models, when you hold down [Esc] as you power the system up, you will be taken into the Setup routine.

There may well be other techniques used by different computer and BIOS manufacturers to enter the all-important Setup program, but these are all I have personally experienced over the years. As always, the final word on the subject comes from the documentation that was written specifically for your system.
The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.

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