8

It seems early on IBM, MS, and DOS clones established a standard of holding the F1 key down during boot to access the BIOS setup. Yes there were a few much less common combinations that used the DEL (perhaps the del key is the most common now) or CTRL+ALT+ESC.

Who established the early F1 desktop BIOS key and why did laptops start using an entirely different key - usually the F2 key? Who set the laptop standard for the BIOS key?

If there is interesting history that lead to the F1 or F2 key it would be of interest too.

  • 2
    I seem to remember some motherboards using the DEL key also. I think I even remember an ESC key or two. I wonder if it was purely a manufacturer choice? – Geo... Jul 29 '18 at 10:31
  • 3
    On every PC clone I've used, the DEL key is used to enter the BIOS settings screen. (That excludes early PCs where there was no BIOS setup screen, and you had to use a program to change the settings.) The F1 key is only used to continue after errors, as in the infamous "Keyboard Error. Press F1 to resume". – Ross Ridge Jul 29 '18 at 13:15
  • 2
    Working in tech support back in the '90s, this was a source of frustration. We didn't have all the product nanuals so it was up to the caller to figure out which key to press and to press it at the right time in the boot sequence, or to start tapping it right after turning on the computer. Some callers took several attempts to get into the BIOS. "Ok, let's try it again..." – snips-n-snails Jul 29 '18 at 14:46
14

Quick Answer:

Who established the early F1 desktop BIOS key and why did laptops start using an entirely different key - usually the F2 key? Who set the laptop standard for the BIOS key?

F2 came first, before any use of F1, as F1 was reserved for error recovery. And it was IBM that introduced F2 in the first place. F1 was later on chosen by IBM to simplify handling as both (error as well) ultimately did lead toward BIOS configuration. Except, at that point many compatible manufacturers had already chosen to follow IBM's original decision with F2.

Yes there were a few much less common combinations that used the DEL (perhaps the del key is the most common now) or CTRL+ALT+ESC.

This might again depend on your personal exposure to certain brands and computers, as the early majority was using multi key combinations, which soon changed to DEL. F1/F2 are rather confined to brand machines.


History

If there is interesting history that lead to the F1 or F2 key it would be of interest too.

Here you go:

First of, there is no standard, at least none set by IBM, as their way to access BIOS setup was thru a separate setup disk. It was when BIOS manufacturers enhanced their BIOS to include setup, each picked whatever they liked. And more important, each board manufacturer/system builder could/did modify this according to their ideas. When buying a BIOS customizing the setup key (and others) is one of the first options that where offered.

Originally the PC's setup was done via DIP-switches. When the AT introduced a battery backed up CMOS RAM, setup became a software, supplied by IBM on a floppy named ''Diagnostics for the IBM Personal Computer AT'.

Phoenix, who presented the very first clean room BIOS in 1985 (*1), offered the first AT compatible BIOS in 1985, still with a similar disk. Soon the BCU (BIOS Configuration Utility) got integrated into the BIOS ROMs. The first keystroke used to reach setup during POST (Power On Self Test) was CTRL-ALT-S. The key combination was chosen to minimize conflict with other utilities, and configurable by the licensee (*2).

Award followed with CTRL-ALT-ESC and AMI later on with DEL. Which then got taken over by most manufacturers as AMI was quite successful with board manufacturers not at least due a low price. Phoenix got their main market with brand systems, likewise Award (*3)

When IBM introduced the PS/2 systems they finally also included setup into their BIOS (*4). Here F1 was still meant for error recovery if some part of the BIOS couldn't act as configured. That included not only the infamous "Press F1 to continue" on a non existent Keyboard but every error during POST (*5).

With build-in setup, most errors resulted in a switch to setup, effectively F1 and F2 went at some point into the setup screen, which let IBM join them for simplified handling (and manuals) - right when many compatible manufacturers have switched from DEL (or whatever) for F2. So in the end even IBM/Lenovo had to go for F2 again - isn't it ironic?


Common uses are/have been:

(Yes, I have a quite torn up sheet with all the variation I encountered over the years. Written in pencil and touched many many times, so it's quite hard to read in some places:) *6)

F1

  • BIOS default:
    • Older AMI
    • MR.BIOS
  • Older Acer
  • Some Dell
  • IBM/Lenovo
  • Older Toshiba
  • Packard Bell
  • (older) Gateway

Fn-F1

  • Some Dell Laptop
  • Lenovo Laptops
  • Some HP

F2

  • Mainboards:
    • Intel mainboards
    • Asrock mainboards
  • BIOS default:
    • Older AMI
    • Inside BIOS
    • DTK BIOS
    • ALR PCI-BIOS (80486)
  • Many Asus brand computers
  • Acer
  • Fujitsu
  • SIEMENS
  • Most Dell
  • Some HP
  • IBM
  • Lenovo
  • Sony
  • Sharp
  • Samsung
  • Most Toshiba
  • NEC
  • Gateway

F3

  • Some Dell
  • Sony

CTRL+ALT+F3

  • Lenovo (pre-IBM)

F9

  • Asus

F10

  • Compaq
  • Some ASUS
  • Standard on most HP
  • Samsung

CTRL-ALT-F11

  • IBM Thinkpad - press when in DOS (!!!)

F12

  • Some Dell
  • Toshiba Equium series (joint with boot menu)

CTRL-ALT-S

  • BIOS default:
    • Early Phoenix

DEL

  • Mainboards:
    • ASUS mainboards
    • ASUS brand laptops
    • BFG mainboards
    • Biostar mainboards
    • Foxcon mainboards
    • Gigabyte mainboards
    • MSI mainboards
    • EVGA mainboards
    • ABit mainboards
    • Shuttle mainboards/barebones
    • Soyo mainboards
    • Super Micro mainboards/serverboards
    • Tyan mainboards
  • BIOS default:
    • AMI
    • Award
    • Phoenix
  • Packard Bell
  • Acer

CTRL-ALT-SHIFT-DEL

  • (can't read anymore)

INS

  • Some ASUS

CTRL-ALT-INS

  • BIOS default:
    • Some Phoenix
  • Lenovo

TAB

  • (Can't read)

ESC

  • Many early Toshiba
  • Many HP

Fn-ESC

  • Some Dell Laptop

CTRL-ALT-ESC

  • Older ASUS
  • Older Acer
  • Shuttle barebones
  • BIOS default:
    • Early Award
    • Some Phoenix

CTRL-SHIFT-ESC

  • Tandon PC

CTRL-ALT-ENTER

  • Some old Dell

Special Keys

  • Sony VAIO
    • Assist press when powered off
  • Microsoft Surface
    • Volume-Up
    • Volume-Down
  • Lenovo/IBM
    • NOVO button
    • ThinkVantage button (Thinkpad)
    • or IBM Access button (Pre Lenovo Thinkpad)

As shown, many manufacturers/brands changed their setting between machines or over time. Often when buying boards from a different supplier, or incorporating a new BIOS. HP is eventually the greatest example, using almost every key, including F1, F2, F3, F6, F10, F11, F12 and ESC over the years.

But the general pictures shows well that basic BIOS and thus bare boards are usually delivered with DEL for activation, while most system builders change it for F2 when integrating their logos and driver modifications.


In addition:

F10

  • Start with default BIOS on ACER
  • Network boot on many other

F11

  • Boot menu on Sony and Intel

Well, the usage of other keys and the function they access might fill a book on it's own.


*1 - Well, Compaq's BIOS was before and also clean room, but it was not only a PC one, but also not available to other PC manufacturers.

*2 - Licensing fee for Phoenix BIOS was a whopping 290,000 USD. This not only included configuration support to adapt it to specific hardware, but also an insurance against being sued by IBM.

*3 - Phoenix later on acquired Award - after buying some other manufacturers - so by now Phoenix and Award is about the same, and both based on a a third implementation :))

*4 - Which in fact was written by Phoenix for IBM.

*5 - Who remembers all the beep-codes anyway?

*6 - What's also hard to read is the often displayed "Press <whatsoever> for Setup" Surely there is a short display interval is adapted to the fast reading skill of today's nerds. Older ones like me will have to guess. But there's a secret trick for all of age: pressing SPACE during POST often stops the screen when all checks and setup is done, right before booting so even slow readers get a chance.

  • 2
    Whoa, serious flashback to shopping for motherboards and the selection of AMI vs. Award BIOS being a selling point... – chrylis -on strike- Aug 13 '18 at 7:29

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.