Mr Wright's problem of not being able to access his PC's Bios is a chicken and egg situation. We suggest several things he can try before having to contact HP
Q I bought an HP Compaq Presario 3120 desktop PC just over a year ago. It came pre-installed with Windows 7 Home.
I’ve had no reason to look at the Bios setup but, when I recently tried to access it, I found that using the Delete or F2 key immediately on startup doesn’t work – Windows simply carries on regardless. I have also tried all the other function (F) keys, with no effect.
I’ve also noticed that if, Windows crashes and I have to restart, I cannot select options from the displayed ‘Boot menu’. The timer just counts down ignoring my mouse or key presses and eventually restarts normally.
I’m getting frustrated, as there are now a few things I want via Windows Safe Mode, too. I found all this out just a few days after my warranty ran out.
A We think we know the cause of your problem but whether or not it can be easily resolved depends on the computer’s motherboard. While you did tell us the PC’s make and model number, we couldn’t find a precise match for it on either HP’s or Compaq’s websites.
We found similar model names but these seem to relate to much older, discontinued PCs that were originally supplied with Windows XP – and yet we know yours is barely a year old and has Windows 7.
These details matter because – physical hardware faults excepted – when a keyboard fails to respond to key presses when a PC is first fired up, the cause is almost always because a feature called USB Legacy Support has been disabled in the Bios.
Unless this feature is enabled, a USB keyboard will only work when Windows has launched (because Windows can launch the necessary drivers).
So, it is our guess that you’re using a USB keyboard. Following this logic, then you might also assume that we think that the USB Legacy Support feature is disabled.
While that may be the case, there are other possible causes – but one thing at a time. If USB Legacy Support is indeed disabled, then the solution is to enable it in the Bios. But if you can’t access the Bios, how are you supposed to do this? It is a chicken-and-egg situation.
One option would be to buy or borrow a keyboard with an older PS/2 connector – a small, round plug that slots into a corresponding socket on the computer and is what all PCs used before the advent of USB.
However, many new PCs (or rather, their motherboards) have dispensed with PS/2 connectors for reasons of cost and obsolescence. As your PC is only a year old, the chances are high that it lacks a PS/2 port, so it may seem that you’re stuck.
We’ll come back to this point in a while but, as we said, there are other possible causes – USB Legacy Support may in fact be enabled in the Bios but some other USB device is taking precedence, or your keyboard is simply plugged in to the wrong USB port.
Even though all modern motherboards offer USB Legacy Support (though it goes by different names), it doesn’t follow that support is available on all USB ports. Sometimes, for instance, the USB Legacy Support feature is available only on rearside USB ports.
So, the first thing to do is to detach all other USB devices – such as your printer or an external hard disk – then connect the keyboard to each USB port in turn, restarting the PC each time to see if the problem has been fixed.
If you find a port that works, leave the keyboard attached to that one and then reattach all your other USB devices.
If not, it is possible that a device connected internally is the one that is making use of the USB Legacy Support feature (though this is unlikely on such a recent PC).
If the PC has a built-in memory card reader, for instance, then this may be connected to the motherboard via what’s known as a USB header connector – four little pins that stick out of the motherboard and are part of the USB architecture.
If you’re feeling sufficiently brave, don an anti-static wrist strap and take a look inside the PC. If you see such an arrangement, disconnect it, put the PC back together and then see if the keyboard works at boot.
Obviously this will stop the memory card reader (or other device) from working, but it will provide a way to access the Bios when needed.
If none of this has worked then we’re back to the chicken-and-egg problem: needing to change a Bios setting but with no way to access the Bios. In this case, we’d advise contacting HP for help.
Your PC may be out of warranty but your statutory rights don’t evaporate after 12 months (see the Consumeractive section of the magazine for regular advice on such matters) and the company that manufactured the computer is best placed to explain a way out of this predicament.
Finally, prompted by your key frustration of not being able to access Safe Mode, we do have one last idea – because it’s possible to force a Windows Vista or 7 PC to start straight into Safe Mode. To do this, click Start, type msconfig into the search box and press Enter.
This launches Microsoft’s System Configuration utility, which allows various aspects of a PC’s startup process to be tweaked. Click to select the Boot tab then click to place a tick in the Safe boot box.
Choose either the Minimal or Network radio button (the latter being useful if you need to retain access to your home network or the internet) then click OK and restart your PC.
Do whatever you need to do in Safe Mode then repeat these instructions and remove the tick from Safe boot to revert to the normal start-up process.
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