In this issue of “In Layman’s Terms”, we’re going to look at a few terms related to a computer’s start-up process.


BIOS stands for Basic Input/Output System. If you strip away the primary operating system of your computer, you’re left with the BIOS. It’s essentially the software that controls things behind the scenes. It’s primarily responsible for starting up your system’s hardware and setting up its boot loader, which in turn starts up your operating system. Basically, it’s what makes your computer start ticking.

You can use the BIOS to edit a bunch of stuff related to how your hardware operates. I wouldn’t recommend fiddling around with the BIOS settings unless you actually know what you’re doing.

Safe Mode

Let’s say your system won’t start up properly. Maybe it’s got a virus, or maybe there’s a borked driver somewhere in there that’s preventing it from operating. Start your computer in safe mode. Basically, safe mode is a diagnostics method for Windows, and loads only the most basic software on your operating system. Device drivers and all programs except for those required for Windows to operate are not loaded.

If your computer won’t load in safe mode, that means your registry is very likely corrupt, or one of your key system files is damaged.

Either that, or your hard drive is pretty much slag.

Boot Loader

If you’ve been following my articles for a while, you’ve probably heard this term in relation to Android phones. In terms of PCs, the Boot Loader does pretty much the same thing in the context of a PC as it does in an Android phone- it loads the operating system, as well as any other key programs related to said system. PC boot loaders usually tend to load programs of increasing complexity in a sequential order- this is known as “chain loading.”

Boot Menu

A Boot menu is essentially what it sounds like. It’s a menu of options for modes in which you can start the system. Generally, when you’re starting up Windows, press F8 and you can access the boot menu. That’s pretty much all there is to it. Honestly, this is probably the simplest definition on the list today.

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The best way I can describe a partition is to explain that it’s a segment of a computer’s hard drive on which an operating system (and all files associated with that system) is stored. There can be up to four primary partitions on a single hard drive.

Now, it’s a little bit more complicated than that, of course. There are two ‘types’ of primary partition; a boot partition and a system partition. The boot partition contains all files necessary to start the computer, such as the BIOS. The system partition, on the other hand, contains the operating system and all files related to it.

In a typical Windows installation, the boot partition and system partition are one and the same. Creating a new partition means you’ll be creating another system partition. The boot partition will always remain the same. Further, there can only be one primary partition active at any given time.

There’s a bit more to it than that, but I’ve explained enough to give you guys a basic understanding. We might look more in depth at partitions at some point in the future.

For now, you know what you need to know.