Remove the Boot Loader when Troubleshooting Your PC - dummies

Remove the Boot Loader when Troubleshooting Your PC

By Dan Gookin

If you are troubleshooting a PC that will not start up properly, the problem might be a corrupt boot loader. It would keep it from starting from the hard drive, though you could still boot the computer from an optical disc, a USB drive, or a media card. Nonetheless, knowing how to remove the boot loader comes in handy when your PC can’t find its operating system.

A boot loader is a special program that appears just as your PC’s hardware is passing the baton of control to an operating system. The boot loader primarily dwells on the start-up hard drive in the master boot record, though it’s found on any bootable media.

Like an operating system, the boot loader is transferred from the storage device, loaded into memory, and executed. But keep in mind that the boot loader isn’t a full operating system.

The job of the boot loader is to help you choose an operating system for your computer. Some boot loaders do nothing more than continue the process of loading the computer’s only operating system. But many boot loaders are more complex.

For example, a simple type of boot loader may merely display a menu from which you choose an operating system to use. Other, more complex, boot loaders might offer partitioning and storage management tools.

  • Windows features the boot loader NTLDR. The NT came from Windows NT, where the NT stands for New Technology.

  • A common boot loader is the LILO, or Linux Loader. LILO displays a list of operating systems and you choose one, and then the operating system loads.

  • The most popular boot loader is the GNU GRUB. GRUB stands for Grand Unified Bootloader. It’s often used after installing Linux on a PC.

  • The GRUB settings file is edited only from the Linux partition for which it was installed. You cannot modify GRUB’s menu from within GRUB itself. The configuration file, named either grub.conf or menu.lst, is found in (or linked from) the /boot/grub directory.

  • Running Windows on a Macintosh involves the Boot Camp boot loader.

To remove a boot loader, you must rewrite the storage system’s master boot record (MBR). That’s where the boot loader dwells, so all you need is a tool to raze the existing boot loader like a bulldozer would raze a perfectly good old government building to make room for a new, more expensive government building.

Though it would be emotionally satisfying to use a bulldozer on your PC’s hard drive to fix the problem, you must use the recovery console.

  • If problems persist after fixing the MBR, the boot manager wasn’t the source.

  • Removing the Boot Camp boot loader when you’re running Windows on a Macintosh is not recommended. Even when you plan to use only Windows on your Macintosh, it would just be a bad idea to remove the option for starting OS X.