What does it mean to “boot” from a device, you might be asking? We here at Computer Repair Vancouver get this type of question all of the time and we understand why. Most computer users, whether beginners or experts, are continually confronted with a certain range of tasks: opening files and folders, launching software programs, browsing the Internet, and even turning their computer on and off. However, rarely is booting their computer off of a specific device one of these tasks. Consequently, due to lack of experience, individuals become confused by the topic.
We will discuss what booting means through a short explanation. When your computer starts up after being powered on its memory is empty; it can’t think about or do anything. Consequently, by default, it is hard-wired to look at a special section of its hard drive for memory-filling information (in computer lingo it “boots” off of its hard drive). This memory-filling information tells your computer how to load its operating system (Windows or Mac OSX) and perform a bunch of other critical tasks as it starts up. Eventually, the operating system takes over and continually fills the computer’s memory with new information whenever needed.
So when we here at Computer Repair Vancouver say that a PC boots off of its hard drive we mean that, when it first starts up, it looks to its hard drive for initial instructions on what to do (usually how to load its operating system). Now this is the default action of most workstations. However, you can modify your system to a certain degree so that it boots off another device such as: a USB, CD, or even DVD. If upon startup you tell your computer to boot off of a CD, instead of looking to a special section of its hard drive for initial memory-filling information, it will look to a specific section of whatever CD is in your PC.
It is important to understand that when you attempt to boot off a particular device, that device must contain certain files and have a specific structure. With regards to this process, your computer is fairly strict since it looks in certain places for certain information. If it finds this information then it proceeds on its merry way. If it doesn’t find what it wants then it simply quits and tells you (generally via a black screen) that you have chosen to boot off of an inappropriate source.
Hopefully, by this stage, you understand the general idea of what we are talking about. Yet, you may still have a fundamental concern: when, exactly, would I need to do any of this? Honestly, most average users will rarely have to change their boot settings. Computer professionals, like Computer Repair Vancouver, on the other hand perform this operation quite frequently.
The one time you may need to perform this procedure is if you have downloaded a program from the Internet which runs outside of the operating system environment. Take, for example, DBAN, a special hard drive erasing tool we have talked about in the past. The goal of DBAN is to go through your computer’s drive and erase every bit of information. Yet, how could it totally erase Windows if it ran from within Windows (it would be erasing resources it was relying upon). Consequently, the programmer allows you to place his program (along with a variety of special files) on a USB or CD and then boot off of either of them. Since it never loads information from the hard drive, it is free to erase it without contradiction.
We hope that you have enjoyed this Computer Repair Vancouver overview of the booting process. Make sure to come back soon as, next time, we will be discussing how to actually boot off a device other than your hard drive. We realize that this may seem useless to most of you, but trust us, this knowledge often comes in handy when you least expect it.