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Change the Boot Order on Your PC

When your PC is first starting up — also known as booting up — it looks for the operating system. Should you need to troubleshoot, it is helpful to know where it looks and in what order. Depending on the problem, you may need to change the order.

The boot order is the sequence of storage devices that the computer’s hardware checks to find an operating system. As luck would have it, an operating system can lurk in several places:

Hard drive: This is the main storage device for most PCs. More than one hard drive may be in your computer, and those hard drives may be partitioned into separate, logical drives. The master boot record (MBR) on the primary hard drive holds a map that indicates where the operating system can be found or provides a boot menu to select an operating system.

SSD: Eventually, the solid state drive will replace the hard drive as the PC’s primary storage device. Internally, the SSD is composed of flash memory, just like a thumb drive or media card, but with a much higher capacity (and price). Externally, an SSD works just like a hard drive with an MBR and partitions.

Optical drive (CD-ROM/DVD): Even when you don’t choose the optical drive as the primary boot device, many PCs automatically detect a bootable disc in the optical (CD or DVD) drive. When that happens, an option is displayed on the screen, something like Press Enter to boot from the CD or DVD. Press the Enter key to direct the computer to start from that disc on the fly.

Network (Ethernet): Rather than load an operating system from the PC’s own (local) storage devices, the network option directs the computer to load its operating system from the network. On start-up, the network adapter requests an operating system to load, which it then downloads from the server.

USB device: The USB device can be a thumb drive, a media card, or an external disk drive. This option is useful for laptops that lack optical drives, allowing you to install or upgrade your PC’s operating system.

You set the boot order in the PC’s Setup program. Generally, the steps go like this:

  1. Restart or turn on the computer.

  2. Press the key or keys to enter the Setup program.

    As a reminder, the most common key used to enter the Setup program is F1.

    Ensure that you press the key to enter the Setup program or menu. Do not press the key to enter the boot menu, which is a different item.

  3. Choose the menu option or options to display the boot sequence.

    The option may not be obvious from the Setup program’s main menu, not to mention that the Setup program is in Text mode. Various computers I’ve researched display the menu that changes the boot order in these ways:

    • Startup→Boot

    • Boot→Boot Device Priority

    • Advanced BIOS Features→(various priority submenus)

    • System→Boot Sequence

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  4. Set the boot order.

    Use whichever keys or techniques are required in order to set the sequence in which the hardware searches the storage devices for an operating system.

  5. Save the changes and exit the Setup program.

    The computer restarts with the new settings.

You might see other options in addition to those that set the boot sequence search order. For example, you might see a way to exclude certain devices from being searched. This might be a good idea for USB media cards or for legacy floppy drives.

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