How To Boot From A CD Or DVD

A simple guide to boot (start) your computer from a CD or DVD – all references to a CD apply equally to a DVD. A bootable CD is a special type of CD which can be booted (started) from – a good example is a Windows installation CD. A standard CD e.g. music is not bootable and will just be ignored when the computer starts up.

Why Boot From CD? Computers normally boot (start) from the hard drive – which makes sense as this is where Windows is stored. However, in some cases you will need to start from CD instead – e.g. to install Windows or boot from a utility CD such as DBAN (to securely erase a hard drive before disposing of an old PC).

Will My Computer Boot From CD? It makes no difference whether it is a desktop/tower PC or a laptop. Some computers will already be set up to start from a bootable CD – to check, just insert the CD and restart your computer. As it restarts look carefully for a message “Press any key to boot from CD or DVD…”

If you see the message then your computer is already set up correctly – just press any key as soon as you see the message and your computer will use the CD. Note: Some utility CDs may not display this message but will boot from the CD anyway without you needing to press any key.

In either case, if the CD boots up then you are good to go and can end this tutorial now :-) If you did not see the message and the CD does not start then your computer is not set up to boot from a CD and will continue to load Windows from your hard drive as usual – you need to change this so read on.

Make A Computer Boot From CD – You need to change the boot order in the computer’s BIOS Utility to put the CD drive before the hard drive. Do not make any other changes within the BIOS Utility unless you know exactly what changes you are making:

1. As your computer starts up, look for a message about a particular key, usually DEL (Delete) or F1 or F2, that you need to press to ‘Setup’ or ‘Enter Setup’. Press the setup key as soon as you see the message. If you weren’t quick enough the computer will continue to boot into Windows – restart again and this time try pressing the key several times as soon as you see the message (if you still miss it then try pressing the key repeatedly as soon as the computer starts up).

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Example BIOS Setup menu

2. You will now enter the BIOS Setup Utility. All BIOS Utilities are slightly different but instructions on how to move around the menus and make changes are usually listed at the bottom of the screen. In our example below you use keyboard arrows to navigate the menu and + or – to change values. U(p) and D(own) are also popular for changing values. [A mouse will not work in the BIOS – you must use the keyboard to make changes and move around the menus].

3. Follow the instructions for navigating around your BIOS Utility and locate the option for changing the boot order. Since every BIOS setup utility is different, the boot order options are located in different places. There may be a menu option called Boot Options, Boot, Boot Order, etc. or the option for boot order may be located within a general menu option like Advanced Options or Advanced BIOS Features etc. – in our example above it is located within Advanced BIOS Features – selecting that option takes us to the following example.

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4. The boot device/order options show any hardware that is able to be booted from – like your hard drive (hard disk) and optical (CDROM or DVD) drive. The order in which the devices are listed is the order in which your computer will look for a device to boot from. In our example the order is Hard Disk followed by CDROM so we need to change these round.

5. To change which device to start from first, follow the directions on the BIOS setup utility screen to change the boot order to move the CD/DVD drive to the first boot device and the hard drive to second in the list. In our example below we used the down arrow on our keyboard to move to the first boot device and kept pressing + until the first device changed to CDROM,  then we moved to the second boot device and pressed the + until it showed Hard Disk.

6. The computer will now look for a bootable CD in the CD/DVD drive first, before it tries to load from the hard drive. Almost there!

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7. To make your changes take effect, you need to save the changes you made by following the instructions in your BIOS utility to navigate to the ‘Save and Exit Setup’ or ‘Save & Exit’ or similar menu. In our example below we pressed Esc to get out of the Advanced BIOS Features menu and moved across to select the ‘Save & Exit Setup’ option:

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8. Now choose the Exit & Save Changes (or similar) option to save the changes you made to the boot order. When prompted to save your configuration changes (sometimes called ‘Save to CMOS’) select ‘Y’ or ‘YES’ (or similar) to save your boot order changes as shown in our example below and your computer should now restart itself:

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When your computer restarts, it will now try to start from the first device in the boot order you specified – the CD/DVD drive. If there is no bootable CD in the  first device your computer will boot into Windows as usual from the second device in the boot order – the hard drive.

Congratulations – job done! If you later decide to change the order back to boot from the hard drive first then follow the same procedure but in Step 5 put the hard drive first and the CD drive after it.

Troubleshooting Steps

Couldn’t get into the BIOS – Try Step 1 again making sure to press the correct key repeatedly as soon as the computer starts up. If you don’t see a message telling you which key to press, try Googling your particular computer make/model to find the correct key – 99% of the time it is DEL (delete) or F2.

BIOS needs a password to get into it – Most computers do not need a password to get into the BIOS but occasionally sellers or technicians put a password on to stop users ‘messing with it’. If a password is required, try contacting the seller to ask what it is as the alternatives are beyond the scope of this article.

Changed the boot order but the CD still doesn’t boot – Does the CD drive work – sounds obvious but double check it can read normal CDs e.g. a music CD within Windows. Is the CD itself actually bootable and not faulty – if you created/’burned’ the CD yourself it may not have burned correctly, test if it works in another computer. Did you choose the right boot order – see Step 5 and double check any CD/DVD drives are before the hard drive in the boot order.

Did you save the changes you made in the BIOS Utility – see Step 6 again. Did you ‘press any key’ quickly enough if prompted on restart – if you missed it the computer may continue to boot to Windows on the hard drive, restart and look out for the message.

1 Response to: "How To Boot From A CD Or DVD"

  1. SusyCool says:

    came across this article when looking to reinstall my windows

    thanks. i was always too scared to go into this bios thing to change anything…