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Issue #530: September 17–23, 2017

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Q: When I turn on the computer I get the following message:

No Boot Device available
SATA1: None
SATA2: Installed
SATA3: None
SATA4: None
SATA5: None
Strike the F1 key to retry boot, F2 to run the setup utility.

Striking F1 does nothing. If I strike F2 it enters the setup utility. I do nothing except strike F10 to save and exit and then the computer boots up correctly. My hard drive is installed in the SATA1 position, but it appears that it does not recognize it on initial startup. What can I do to get past this long startup procedure?

 – Kevin K.
Destin, Florida

A: There is quite a lot of text there, but the overall error you are receiving is that your PC cannot find any connected device that contains what is called a boot sector, which is a specially prepared area of a drive that contains machine instructions on how to load the rest of the operating system.  Modern PCs can load the OS off of almost any connected data storage device, so your system is actually looking for any one of a CD, DVD, thumb-drive, SD/MMC chip, and perhaps other device types trying to find one that has a boot sector on board.  Finding none, there is no way for it to load the operating system and it throws that lovely error you’re getting.

Since your hard drive works once you get the system to recognize it, I believe we can safely discount the drive itself as the source of the problem.  Now, pressing F1 merely re-tries what already didn’t work, so the fact that the failure simply repeats isn’t too big of a surprise.  But pressing F2 enters the BIOS (Basic Input-Output System) Setup Utility.  Since everything works after doing so, this is perhaps a clue as to what’s going on.

I discussed the BIOS in a column earlier this year (I.G.T.M. Issue #512, May 14, 2017).  In that instance, reader Randall R. was having a problem with the computer failing to read from a solid state drive installed in his computer.  This issue is available in the column archive on my website, so you may want to go back and check it out, as his problem seems similar to yours.

The BIOS in your PC stores certain system configuration data, among which is specific information about the type, size, and configuration of any attached magnetic drives.  Most, if not all BIOS only store this information when you are in the BIOS Setup Utility.  Once there, the drive configuration is automatically detected, and its information will be stored in the BIOS if you save it before exiting.  Of course, if you exit without saving, it will be lost.  At this point, exiting the BIOS Utility with the system still powered-on allows the PC to boot normally, since it now knows how to access the drive and its all-important boot sector.

What seems to be happening is that when you shut your PC off, the BIOS is not retaining the setting for the hard drive.  You didn’t mention it, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear that other BIOS information, such as the time and date, are also being lost.  Windows does have the ability to set its own clock via the Internet, and it may be recovering so quickly that you aren’t even noticing that the time is getting corrupted.

The bottom line is that the BIOS retains its settings through use of a battery-backup.  If that battery fails or becomes disconnected somehow, the BIOS settings are lost, and you must re-enter the BIOS utility to set them up again, and allow the BIOS to auto-detect your hard drive.  The process of replacing the battery varies from PC to PC, but it should be a fairly painless process if you’re at all handy with a screwdriver.  It’ll be even easier for you if use your PC’s owner’s manual and follow the manufacturer’s detailed procedures.  Look in the index under BIOS Battery Replacement, or something similar.

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