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BIOS Power-On Self Test (POST)
The first thing that the BIOS does when it boots the PC is to perform what is called the Power-On Self-Test, or POST for short. The POST is a built-in diagnostic program that checks your hardware to ensure that everything is present and functioning properly, before the BIOS begins the actual boot. It later continues with additional tests (such as the memory test that you see printed on the screen) as the boot process is proceeding.
The POST runs very quickly, and you will normally not even noticed that it is happening--unless it finds a problem (amazing how many things are like that, isn't it?) You may have encountered a PC that, when turned on, made beeping sounds and then stopped without booting up. That is the POST telling you something is wrong with the machine. The speaker is used because this test happens so early on, that the video isn't even activated yet! These beep patterns can be used to diagnose many hardware problems with your PC. The exact patterns depend on the maker of the BIOS; the most common are Award and AMI BIOSes. This part of the Troubleshooting Expert will help you figure out what the POST beep codes mean and what to do about them, if you are having this problem.
Note: Some POST errors are
considered "fatal" while others are not. A fatal error means that it will halt
the boot process immediately (an example would be if no system memory at all is found). In
fact, most POST boot errors are fatal, since the POST is testing vital system components.
Many people don't realize that the POST also uses extended troubleshooting codes that you can use to get much more detail on what problem a troublesome PC is having. You can purchase a special debugging card that goes into an ISA slot and accepts the debugging codes that the BIOS sends to a special I/O address, usually 80h. The card displays these codes and this lets you see where the POST stops, if it finds a problem. These cards are obviously only for the serious PC repairperson or someone who does a lot of work on systems.
Next: BIOS Startup Screen