Last Updated on March 21, 2021 by Dave Farquhar
I recently upgraded the memory in my HP Z210 workstation, and had a really hard time verifying everything was working right afterward. Here’s how to enter BIOS setup in HP computers.
It’s usually the F10 key that enters the BIOS in HP computers. But several things, including network boot, can interfere with this, so it helps to know my tricks.
Why entering BIOS setup is hard today
Traditionally, when you booted up a PC, it took a few seconds to initialize itself and run some diagnostics. And it usually greeted you with a screen with some information like the make and model of the computer, and a prompt that said something like “Hit F10 to enter setup” or something similar. The key varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Clones often used the DEL key. HP usually used F10, and other brands might use a different function key.
Back when Windows took two minutes to boot, it wasn’t a big deal if it took 30 seconds for a PC to initialize itself. If anything you appreciated it, because it gave you some time to get into the setup. But as Windows gained the ability to boot quickly, that 30-second delay became noticeable. So PC makers started reducing how much work the computer did at startup so the computer would boot faster. Today, you might only have 5-10 seconds to hit the key before Windows takes over. And the computer may not even prompt you. My HP Z210 workstation doesn’t.
How to enter BIOS setup in HP computers
To enter BIOS setup in HP computers, you hit the F10 key, even if the computer never prompts you with that information. Without the prompt, it’s hard to get the timing right. You have to hit F10 before Windows starts loading. Once Windows takes over, it’s too late. My Z210 may or may not prompt me. I don’t know because the network card’s boot routine immediately erases whatever is on the screen. That’s generally true of most business-class HP machines.
What I do to ensure I get into the BIOS is position one hand on the F10 key, then hit the power button with the other hand. Just as soon as the screen comes to life, I hit the F10 key until the computer beeps. When the computer beeps, that means I filled up the keyboard buffer. When the computer is ready to listen, it will acknowledge the keypress and enter the BIOS setup program. Then you can check your configuration and/or make changes as needed.
This is like booting from USB. Every brand is a little different, and if you’re used to one brand, every other brand probably gets on your nerves.
What to do when F10 doesn’t work
Sometimes, for some reason, the F10 key doesn’t work on certain models. When that fails, use the ESC key instead. Once again, hit the power button, then mash on the ESC key until the computer beeps at you. When the computer is ready to acknowledge your keypress, it will present you with a boot menu that allows you to do lots of things, including enter setup.
If ESC doesn’t work, it’s possible your computer has a non-HP motherboard in it. Off-the-shelf boards fit many HP cases, especially minitowers, so someone may have swapped in a different board at some point. If you can’t get ESC or F10 to work, try the delete key, or the other function keys. But on clone boards, delete is the most common.
How to get more time
If you work on your computer a lot, you may want it to give you more time. My HP Z210 workstation has an option for this, and your HP computer probably does too. Enter the BIOS setup, then go to Advanced Options. Mine has an option called POST delay. The default POST delay is none. You can set it for 5, 10, or 20 seconds. I set mine for 5. This gives me time to enter the BIOS setup if I need to, without rebooting several times, but without doubling the length of time it takes the computer to boot. I think it’s a reasonable compromise.
I don’t usually make many other changes to HP computers, but unless I absolutely, positively need the fastest possible boot time, this is one change I like to make.
David Farquhar is a computer security professional, entrepreneur, and author. He started his career as a part-time computer technician in 1994, worked his way up to system administrator by 1997, and has specialized in vulnerability management since 2013. He invests in real estate on the side and his hobbies include O gauge trains, baseball cards, and retro computers and video games. A University of Missouri graduate, he holds CISSP and Security+ certifications. He lives in St. Louis with his family.