Greg Gore is Vice President of Praxis International, Inc.
Technical Training, Consulting, and Publishing since 1988



Battery Failure Brings Down CMOS, Leads to Wake-up Call
Greg Gore


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It was a ticking “time bomb” waiting to go off. I should have known better. After all, I had always been faithful in making backup copies of my data files and I had the disks or CDs for my program files. I even had a backup computer.

I had gone down to the basement to retrieve a document file from “old faithful,” the 486 backup computer I used for a number of years as my primary computer. When I pushed the power switch to “on,” the BIOS (basic input/output system) program began to run. The BIOS is the computer start-up program that is stored in permanent memory chips on the system board.

The first BIOS step is to test your system’s memory, configuration and functions using the power-on self-test (POST). I heard the normal “clicking” as the memory was checked and counted. I pushed the <Esc> button to bypass the memory check. As the POST read the CMOS (“complementary metallic-oxide semiconductor” denoting the manufacturing term for the type of computer chip) RAM (random access memory), the entire process came to a halt. That was my “wake-up” call.

The CMOS check had failed because the CMOS chip is powered by a small battery that had reached the end of its life. The purpose of having the CMOS chip powered by a small battery is to maintain the date, time, and computer configuration when the power to the computer is turned off. Before the introduction of the PC-AT class machine (286s and up), computer configurations were changed manually by using switches on the computer chassis.

With the failure of the CMOS check, I was confronted with a screen that read: “Press <F1> to enter setup program.” When I entered the setup screen, I saw that all of my configuration information was restored to default values. I started at the top of the screen and used the arrow keys to move the highlighted bar to the configuration I wanted to set. First, I set the correct time and date. Next, I changed my floppy disk type for drive A from 1.2 MB, 5 ¼ to 1.44 MB, 3 ½. These steps were all easy to do.

When I highlighted “Hard disk C: type:” the screen read “Not Installed.” This was a major problem to correct. Every hard disk is a given a type number that identifies its characteristics, i.e., heads, cylinders, size, etc. I could use the arrow keys and select from hard disk types 1-46. These hard disk types had predefined drive type tables for the characteristics. However, from looking at my CMOS setup screen out of curiosity a couple of times in the past, I knew my hard disk type was type “47,” or user-defined. Without setting the characteristics for my hard disk I could not access the disk.

Luckily, I remembered that I had made a backup of my CMOS settings using a program named “Replica” that came bundled with “Remove-It,” a software package I purchased in the mid-nineties. I put the Replica disk in drive A, rebooted the computer, and restored my CMOS settings. Incidentally, the BIOS is programmed to try the CD drive (if installed) and drive A first precisely because of potential problems in accessing the hard disk.

The CMOS problem with my backup computer gave me a wake-up call for making sure I was prepared in the event the CMOS failed in my primary computer, a Compaq Presario 5020. I realized I did not know how to enter the CMOS setup procedure for the Compaq. When I start the Compaq, the screen shows “COMPAQ” in large red letters, the cursor starts blinking in the upper right corner of the screen, and then Windows 98 loads.

The owner’s manual for the Compaq does not include any reference to making CMOS changes. A “QuickRestore” CD came with the system that offers only a “full restore” option to return “your computer to its original preinstalled software state, and reformats your hard drive.” An IMPORTANT notice is also posted in the manual: “If you have not backed up your personal files, software, or other data onto diskettes, THEY WILL BE LOST.”

I logged onto the Compaq support website via, searched under “CMOS,” and learned that the setup program for my computer could be accessed by hitting the “F10” key when the cursor is blinking on the Compaq logo. I tried this procedure and it works. I now know how to setup my computer. Compaq also provides a setup utility that can be installed on a floppy disk.

In addition, I also searched newsgroups for “CMOS” and “Compaq Presario” using  I learned that other people also wanted to know how to enter the CMOS setup procedure on a Compaq Presario. Moreover, several people had installed hard drives without knowing how to change the CMOS settings and as a result the hard drives did not work.

I encourage you to find out how to setup and backup the CMOS configuration settings on your computer. Do it now. Configuration setup procedures will vary by computer manufacturer. Check your computer manuals, your computer manufacturer’s website, and search the web or newsgroups. Of equal importance, do not change your configuration settings unless you know what you are doing. If you have any doubts about your capabilities in this area, get some knowledgeable help.

Let my wake-up call serve as your wake-up call.


The Greg Gore Web Site on Computers and the Internet (

This column was published in the Daily Local News, West Chester, PA on July 20, 2001. Greg Gore can be reached at

 © 2009 by Greg Gore. All rights reserved.