BOOT CAMP 123
STARTUP & SHUTDOWN PART 1
For most of us switching a Windows PC on and off is only
marginally more exciting than watching paint dry. The machine bleeps, lights
wink, the hard disc chatters, lines of apparently meaningless text and pictures
of clouds come and go then all being well a minute or so later the desktop
appears. Switching off should be equally routine click the Start button, then
Shutdown and the PC obligingly turns itself off.
However, from personal experience and judging by the
enormous number of letters and emails we receive, problems during start-up and
shutdown are very common and cause a great deal of frustration. Forget ‘Where
do you want to go today?’ for a lot of Windows 95 and 98 users the real
question is how much time will I waste today, getting the damn thing to work…
For the next two weeks we’ll be looking what happens when
you switch your PC on, some of the many things that can go wrong and how to fix
them -- or at least where to start looking. In part three we’ll consider what
to do if your PC won’t switch off properly.
The first thing that happens after switch on is a program
called the BIOS (Basic Input Output System) -- stored in a ‘non-volatile’
memory microchip -- carries out a sequence of diagnostic checks called POST
(Power On Self Test) to make sure that the motherboard, memory chips, keyboard
and disc drives are all present and correct, and working properly. The point
about having the BIOS program stored in a solid-state memory is that the PC can
begin the boot up sequence, even if the disc drives are faulty or disconnected.
If you watch the screen during these early stages usually
the first thing you see is information about the PC’s video adaptor followed by
the name and version number of the BIOS program then a name check for the PC’s
central processor unit or CPU. If everything is okay you will hear a single
beep from the PC’s loudspeaker and the first part of the boot up sequence
continues with the memory test. The numbers should whiz around to something
approximating the size of your PC’s RAM capacity, in other words if your PC has
64Mb of RAM the memory test number should read
‘65536K OK’. If you’re wondering how it arrives at that particular
value, that’s because -- for reasons we haven’t got room to go into here -- a
kilobyte is actually 1024 bits, thus a megabyte would be 1,024,000 bits, times
64 equals 65,536,000 or 65536K.
During this part of the proceedings you should see a message
on the screen to the effect that pressing the ‘Del’ key (or a combination of
keys), enters the ‘setup’ menu. This is a set of controls for the BIOS program
and a no-go area for novices. It contains lots of critical settings that can
very easily stop your PC working or make it misbehave in ways you wouldn’t
believe! By all means have a look but touch nothing and when you have finished
(usually by pressing the Esc key) choose the ‘Exit without Saving Changes’
The BIOS then goes on to identify the floppy and hard disc
drives and any other drives attached to the PC and instructs the PC to look for
a set of system or start-up files on a floppy disc in drive A. If a
‘non-system’ disc is in the drive – i.e. a disc with no start-up files on it –
you will be prompted to ‘press any key to continue’, and the PC starts scanning
for files on the hard disc drive (usually drive C). Otherwise if there’s no
disc in drive A it automatically goes directly to drive C. Incidentally you can
instruct the BIOS to skip drive A and go straight to drive C, but if there’s a
problem with the start up files on the hard disc the PC won’t finish booting.
That is why you need an Emergency Start-up floppy disc, it’s the one you made
and stored in a safe place when you used your PC or Windows for the first time.
(If not you must make one right now, go to Add/Remove Programs in Control
Panel, select the Start-up tab and follow the instructions).
The PC looks for system files on a special area of the main
hard disc drive called the boot sector (a common hiding place for viruses,
where they can lay undisturbed and do the maximum amount of damage). System
files, whether on a floppy or drive C contain information about the PC’s
configuration and a vital program called the Disc Operating System otherwise known
as DOS (aka Microsoft DOS or MS-DOS on a Windows PC). DOS tells the processor
how to communicate with and process the files contained on the rest of drive C,
organise its memory and look after all of the input and output devices attached
to the PC. When DOS has finished loading an instruction in the start-up files
tells the PC to begin loading Windows.
Now the fun really begins, Windows is a huge program
comprising thousands of files the first of which is a real monster called the
Registry (and the subject of a future Boot Camp). This is a massive database
containing everything the PC needs to know about Windows, your preferences,
your PC’s hardware and peripherals plus the programs stored on the disc drives.
Suffice it to say a lot of problems can occur at this stage, but more about
that next week. Next come a series of configuration files (config.sys,
autoexec.bat etc), which may also contain instructions for other programs, such
as a virus scanner, to start loading. More configuration files follow, then
comes the last major trouble spot, Windows drivers. These are data files
requested by the Registry and configuration files Windows needs to communicate
with various bits of hardware, printers, the monitor, programs and so on.
Finally, with a bit of luck there’s a welcoming ‘ta-da’ fanfare from the
loudspeakers, the desktop appears and you’re ready to start work, or not as the
case may be, in which case don’t miss next week’s Boot Camp.
Next week – common start-up problems and their solutions
The main printed circuit board inside a PC, containing the
main processor chip (Pentium etc.), memory chips (RAM) and plug-in expansion
cards or ‘daughter’ boards
A memory chip that retains data when the power supply is
Disc testing utility program that checks the integrity of
data stored on a hard disc drive, identifies problems, and where possible, puts
Recently we looked at some solutions for Windows 98 users having
difficulty with Dial Up Networking (DUN) remembering their Internet log-on
passwords. Since then we’ve heard from a lot of Windows 95 users with the same
problem. Here are some suggestions for those who know their way around Windows.
Uninstall and re-install DUN from Add/Remove programs in Control Panel, it’s on
the Windows tab under Communications. In Network in Control Panel install
Client For Microsoft Networks, click on the Add button then Client >
Microsoft > Client for Microsoft Networks, then OK and reboot. Lastly use
Find to search drive C: for your Windows password files (type *.pwl), rename
the files with the extension .old. Reboot, Windows may ask you to enter a new
password, decline the kind offer, retry your Internet connection and don’t forget
to tick the Save Password box.