What is Boot Sequence?

Definition of Boot Sequence

Screenshot of a BIOS Setup Utility Boot Menu
BIOS Setup Utility Boot Menu (CD-ROM Priority).

The boot sequence often called the boot order, is the order of devices listed in BIOS that the computer will look for operating system information on.

Although a hard drive is usually the main device a user may want to boot from, other devices like optical drives, floppy drives, flash drives, and network resources are all typical devices that are listed as boot sequence options in the BIOS.

The boot sequence is also sometimes referred to as the BIOS boot sequence or the BIOS boot order.

How to Change the Boot Order in BIOS

On many computers, the hard drive is listed as the first item in the boot sequence. Since the hard drive is always a bootable device (unless the computer is having a major problem), you'll have to change the boot order if you want to boot from something else, like a DVD disc or a flash drive.

Some devices may instead list something like the optical drive first but then the hard drive next. In this scenario, you don't have to change the boot order just to boot from the hard drive unless there's actually a disc in the drive. If there isn't a disc, just wait for the BIOS to skip over the optical drive and look for the operating system in the next item, which would be the hard drive in this example.

See How to Change the Boot Order in BIOS for a complete tutorial. If you're not sure how to access the BIOS Setup Utility, see my guide on How to Enter the BIOS.

If you're looking for complete help with booting from different kinds of media, see my How to Boot From a DVD/CD/BD or How to Boot From a USB Drive tutorial.

Note: A time when you'd want to boot from a CD or flash drive might be when you're running a bootable antivirus program, installing a new operating system, or running a data destruction program.

More on Boot Sequence

After the POST, BIOS will attempt to boot from the first device listed in the boot order. If that device is not bootable, BIOS will attempt to boot from the second device listed, and so on.

If you have two hard drives installed and the only one contains the operating system, be sure that that particular hard drive is listed first in the boot order. If not, it's possible that the BIOS will hang there, thinking that the other hard drive should have an operating system when it really doesn't. Just change the boot order to have the actual OS hard drive on top and that will let you boot correctly.

Most computers will let you reset the boot order (along with the other BIOS settings) with just one or two keyboard strokes. For example, you might be able to hit the F9 key to reset the BIOS to its default settings. However, remember that doing this will most likely reset all of the custom settings you've made in the BIOS and not just the boot order.

Note: If you want to reset the boot order, it's probably less destructive to the overall settings of the BIOS to just reposition the devices how you want them, which usually only takes a few steps.