How-To Geek

How to Boot Your Computer From a Disc or USB Drive


Usually, you boot your computer from its main hard drive, which contains your operating system (like Windows). But occasionally, you may need to boot from a CD, DVD, or USB drive–say, if you’re running a recovery program, or testing out a new operating system like Linux.

In order to do this, you need to tell your computer’s BIOS to load the operating system from a different place than usual. You can do this in two ways: By changing the boot order in the BIOS, or by accessing a boot menu on startup. We’ll show you both methods in this guide. (The first is permanent until you change it again, but should exist on every computer. The latter method is faster, but may not exist on every machine.)

Note: This process will look different on each computer. The instructions here will guide you through the process, but the screenshots won’t look exactly the same.

How to Change Your BIOS’ Boot Order

To access the BIOS, you’ll need to restart your computer and press a specific key at the start of the boot process. This key is generally displayed on-screen during the boot process. For example, you may see a message that says “Press <DEL”> to enter setup” or “Press F2 to access the BIOS.” Press the required key at the correct time and your computer’s BIOS will appear.


While Delete and F2 are probably the most common keys, your computer may require another key, such as F1, Escape, or Ctrl+Alt+Escape. If you don’t see the required key on-screen, consult your computer’s manual or search for your computer’s model name and “bios key” on Google.

(If you built your own computer, consult the motherboard’s manual instead.)

Once you’re in the BIOS, look for some sort of “Boot” option menu. If you’re lucky, there will be a tab at the top of the screen named Boot. If not, this option may be located beneath another tab.


Use the arrow keys to navigate through the BIOS. To select something, press Enter. You’ll generally see a list of the keys you can use at the bottom-right corner of your screen.


Locate the boot order screen that lists the boot devices. This may be on the Boot tab itself or beneath a Boot Order option.


Select an option and press Enter to change it, either to disable it or specify another boot device. You can also use the + and – keys to move devices up or down in the priority list. (These steps may be slightly different on some computers; consult the list of keyboard shortcuts on your screen.)


Note that “USB drive” doesn’t appear as an option in the list, even though our computer has USB ports. If we connected a USB device to the computer before starting our computer and accessing this screen, we’d see the USB drive option in the list. Some computers display the USB drive option even when a drive isn’t connected, while some don’t.

The boot order is a priority list. For example, if “USB drive” is above “hard drive” in your boot order, your computer will try the USB drive and, if it’s not connected or no operating system is present, boot from the hard drive.

To save your settings, locate the Save & Exit screen. Select the Save Changes and Reset or Save Changes and Exit option and press Enter to save your changes and restart your computer.

You may also be able to press a specific key to save your settings and reset the computer. Ensure you select the “save and exit” option, not the “discard changes and exit” option.


Once your computer restarts, it will boot using your new boot order priority.

How to Access Your Computer’s Boot Menu (If It Has One)

To reduce the need to change your boot order, some computers have a Boot Menu option.

Press the appropriate key – often F11 or F12 – to access the boot menu while booting your computer. This allows you to boot from a specific hardware device once without changing your boot order permanently.


Most new computers will soon be using UEFI instead of the traditional BIOS, but PCs with traditional BIOSes will be with us for a long time to come. While different computers use different BIOS keys and have different BIOS layouts, the process is similar on all computers using the traditional BIOS.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 11/26/12

Comments (9)

  1. Bill

    is it just me, or is anyone else ANNOYED with the 3/4 page pop-up car ad that comes up each time you change a page on this site? If causes text to constantly shift around and, even though I’ve closed it six times, it STILL keeps popping up? No wonder AdBlock is so popular on FireFox… wish I had it at work as I could skip that crap entirely. Advertising will be the vice that killed the web because publishers DO NOT KNOW when to stop. They aren’t satisfied with the complete right hand column full of ads… NOOOoooooooooooo they just pop them on top, bottom, EVERYWHERE. Pretty soon, ads will be more than content and I’ll switch the whole damned thing off.

  2. indianacarnie

    I’m not getting the ad you’re talking about. I DO get it on my yahoo page(s) But just once. It IS annoying, if you’re getting it every page turn here I suggest you use a different browser maybe? I agree with you mostly, I have quit going to a few sites because the ad space totally overwhelms the content space.Thankfully thats only a small percentage of the places I visit though. I don’t begrudge HTG making some money, if they didn’t ……. I would hate to think of a morning without my coffee and Geek comic! :)

    But thats neither here nor there actually as this comment section is for the article itself. While I’m way past needing this particular information I think the article was spot on. I can remember (sorta…. blush :)) the trepidation I felt the first time I had to change my boot order. Wish I would have had this then!

  3. Bill

    I keep coming back here and I’m stuck with a browser IT is forced on us at work…

  4. indianacarnie

    Man , that bites……….

  5. cam2644

    Good article.I know a few people who’ve mucked up their BIOS.
    -Bill- you’re right Adblock Plus in Firefox is increasingly useful.

  6. Dic

    Not getting ’em in Chrome.

    Good article for newbies to BIOS. I remember how I was when I first went there, somewhat as I do now when I go to Registry: extremely careful about making any change.

  7. Man I've an answer


    or you can download chrome and use adblock (without plus). The moment you install and click few skips you’re done. All the ads will go away without you filtering them. I mean all of them such as google ads pop-up ads and the rest except for russian websites ( you’re probably english anyway it won’t matter to you). Go to chrome you won’t have to update flash any more it’s built in.

  8. Sudo Bash

    Browser wars can happen any-time anywhere. Be vigilant!

    Regarding the article…

    Don’t be afraid to look at the BIOS. That is how you learn. Even though many BIOSes have warnings about how you can mess up your system, the settings are actually rather straightforward, and 99% of the time, changes can be reversed easily. If you are worried that you may mess something up, you can always exit without saving changes after poking around.

  9. Teresa

    I did not experiance any pop ups on this site, I have my internet settings tuned up pretty good and I also use Windows Defender as a tool. The key with defender is to update all the stuff. It is simply used as a guard dog and I have been pretty happy with it. I have been working on a computer that continues to run the the memory scan in sytem recovery. It was already having a problem loading windows but I used to have some options and now none.I cant get it to do anything else.
    the error message comes up, (\windows\system32\winload.exe) a boot error that may be corrupt or missing.. I am un able to get into the bios to change settings. Any suggestions? Windows 7 laptop

    I have another computer that is a Dell CPU With Windows xp. I can not get into the bios either because it is blocked by a “supervisor password needed”. diolouge box. I dont have a password set up in the set up -before windows installs. I am unabe to attempt anu data input because it is not allowing me that function on the keyboard, and I have tried several keyboards. I have also tried several boot discs and beleive that it is not reading my cdrom to boot up. I think the drivers dont get installed /loaded. not sure what to do.. When I attempt to enter set up… again I do not have key board functions.

    would love some input/

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