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Power-On Self Test (POST)
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BIOS isn t the only program on your system ROM When the computer is turned on or reset, it initiates a special program, also stored on the system ROM chip, called the power-on self test (POST) The POST program checks out the system every time the computer boots To perform this check, the POST sends out a command that says to all the devices, Check yourselves out! All the standard devices in the computer then run their own internal diagnostic the POST doesn t specify what they must check The quality of the diagnostic is up to the people who made that particular device Let s consider the POST for a moment Suppose some device let s say it s the keyboard controller chip runs its diagnostic and determines that it is not working properly What can the POST do about it Only one thing really: Tell the human in front of the PC! So how does the computer tell the human PCs convey POST information to you in two ways: beep codes and text error codes
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Before and During the Video Test: The Beep Codes
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You ll find lots of online documentation about beep codes, but it s usually badly outdated!
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The computer tests the most basic parts of the computer first, up to and including the video card In early PCs, you d hear a series of beeps called beep codes if anything went wrong By using beep codes before and during the video test, the computer could communicate with you (If a POST
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error occurs before the video is available, obviously the error must manifest itself as beeps because nothing can display on the screen) The meaning of the beep code you d hear varied among different BIOS manufacturers You could find the beep codes for a specific motherboard in its motherboard manual Most modern PCs have only a single beep code, which is for bad or missing video one long beep followed by three short beeps You ll hear three other beep sequences on most PCs (although they re not officially beep codes) At the end of a successful POST, the PC will produce one or two short beeps, simply to inform you that all is well Most systems make a rather strange noise when the RAM is missing or very seriously damaged Unlike traditional beep codes, this code repeats until you shut off the system Finally, your speaker might make beeps for reasons that aren t POST or boot related One of the more common is a series of short beeps after the system s been running for a while That s a CPU alarm telling you the CPU is approaching its high heat limit
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Some newer motherboards can also talk to you if there is a problem during POST To use this feature, all that is normally required is to plug a pair of speakers or headphones into the onboard sound card
Text Errors
After the video has tested okay, any POST errors will display on the screen as a text error If you get a text error, the problem is usually, but not always, self-explanatory (Figure 41) Text errors are far more useful than beep codes because you can simply read the screen to determine the bad device
Figure 41
Text error messages
POST Cards
Beep codes and text error codes, although helpful, can sometimes be misleading Worse than that, an inoperative device can sometimes disrupt the POST, forcing the machine into an endless loop This causes the PC to act dead no beeps and nothing on the screen In this case, you need a device, called a POST card , to monitor the POST and identify which piece of hardware is causing the trouble POST cards are simple cards that snap into an expansion slot on your system A small, two-character light-emitting diode (LED) readout on the card indicates what device the POST is currently testing (Figure 42) The documentation that comes with the POST card tells you what the codes mean BIOS makers also provide this information on their Web sites Manufacturers make POST cards for all types of desktop PCs POST cards work with any BIOS, but you need to know the type of BIOS you have in order to interpret the readout properly I usually only pull out a POST card when the usual POST errors fail to appear When a computer provides a beep or text error code that doesn t make sense, or if your machine keeps locking up, some device has stalled the POST Because the POST card will tell you which device is being tested, the frozen system will
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