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The first stage of a typical POST operation. (AMI BIOS)
The second stage of a POST. Sometimes, it is shown 'Boot from CD'. (AMI BIOS)

A power-on self-test (POST) is a process performed by firmware or software routines immediately after a computer or other digital electronic device is powered on.

This article mainly deals with POSTs on personal computers, but many other embedded systems such as those in major appliances, avionics, communications, or medical equipment also have self-test routines which are automatically invoked at power-on.

The results of the POST may be displayed on a panel that is part of the device, output to an external device, or stored for future retrieval by a diagnostic tool. Since a self-test might detect that the system's usual human-readable display is non-functional, an indicator lamp or a speaker may be provided to show error codes as a sequence of flashes or beeps. In addition to running tests, the POST process may also set the initial state of the device from firmware.

In the case of a computer, the POST routines are part of a device's pre-boot sequence; if they complete successfully, the bootstrap loader code is invoked to load an operating system.

  • 1IBM-compatible PC POST
    • 1.1Progress and error reporting
  • 2Macintosh POST
  • 3Amiga POST
    • 3.4Sequence for A4000

IBM-compatible PC POST[edit]

In IBM PC compatible computers, the main duties of POST are handled by the BIOS, which may hand some of these duties to other programs designed to initialize very specific peripheral devices, notably for video and SCSI initialization. These other duty-specific programs are generally known collectively as option ROMs or individually as the video BIOS, SCSI BIOS, etc.

The principal duties of the main BIOS during POST are as follows:

  • verify CPU registers
  • verify the integrity of the BIOS code itself
  • verify some basic components like DMA, timer, interrupt controller
  • find, size, and verify system main memory
  • initialize BIOS
  • pass control to other specialized extension BIOSes (if installed)
  • identify, organize, and select which devices are available for booting

The functions above are served by the POST in all BIOS versions back to the very first. In later BIOS versions, POST will also:

  • discover, initialize, and catalog all system buses and devices
  • provide a user interface for system's configuration
  • construct whatever system environment is required by the target operating system

(In early BIOSes, POST did not organize or select boot devices, it simply identified floppy or hard disks, which the system would try to boot in that order, always.)

The BIOS begins its POST when the CPU is reset. The first memory location the CPU tries to execute is known as the reset vector. In the case of a hard reboot, the northbridge will direct this code fetch (request) to the BIOS located on the system flash memory. For a warm boot, the BIOS will be located in the proper place in RAM and the northbridge will direct the reset vector call to the RAM. (In earlier PC systems, before chipsets were standard, the BIOS ROM would be located at an address range that included the reset vector, and BIOS ran directly out of ROM. This is why the motherboard BIOS ROM is in segment F000 in the conventional memory map.)

During the POST flow of a contemporary BIOS, one of the first things a BIOS should do is determine the reason it is executing. For a cold boot, for example, it may need to execute all of its functionality. If, however, the system supports power saving or quick boot methods, the BIOS may be able to circumvent the standard POST device discovery, and simply program the devices from a preloaded system device table.

The POST flow for the PC has developed from a very simple, straightforward process to one that is complex and convoluted. During the POST, the BIOS must integrate a plethora of competing, evolving, and even mutually exclusive standards and initiatives for the matrix of hardware and OSes the PC is expected to support, although at most only simple memory tests and the setup screen are displayed.

In earlier BIOSes, up to around the turn of the millennium, the POST would perform a thorough test of all devices, including a complete memory test. This design by IBM was modeled after their larger (e.g. mainframe) systems, which would perform a complete hardware test as part of their cold-start process. As the PC platform evolved into more of a commodity consumer device, the mainframe- and minicomputer-inspired high-reliability features such as parity memory and the thorough memory test in every POST were dropped from most models. The exponential growth of PC memory sizes, driven by the equally exponential drop in memory prices, was also a factor in this, as the duration of a memory test using a given CPU is directly proportional to the memory size.

The original IBM PC could be equipped with as little as 16 KB of RAM and typically had between 64 and 640 KB; depending on the amount of equipped memory, the computer's 4.77 MHz 8088 required between five seconds and 1.5 minutes to complete the POST and there was no way to skip it. Beginning with the IBM XT, a memory count was displayed during POST instead of a blank screen.[1] A modern PC with a bus rate of around 1 GHz and a 32-bit bus might be 2000x or even 5000x faster, but it might have more than 3 GB of memory—5000x more. With people being more concerned with boot times now than in the 1980s, the 30 to 60 second memory test adds undesirable delay for a benefit of confidence that is not perceived to be worth that cost by most users. Most clone PC BIOSes allowed the user to skip the POST RAM check by pressing a key, and more modern machines often performed no RAM test at all unless it was enabled via the BIOS setup. In addition, modern DRAM is significantly more reliable than DRAM was in the 1980s.

As part of the starting sequence the POST routines may display a prompt to the user for a key press to access built-in setup functions of the BIOS. This allows the user to set various options particular to the mother board before the operating system is loaded. If no key is pressed, the POST will proceed on to the boot sequence required to load the installed operating system.

Progress and error reporting[edit]

BIOS POST card for ISA bus
BIOS POST card for PCI bus.
Professional BIOS POST card for PCI bus.
Two POST seven-segment displays integrated on a computer motherboard

The original IBM BIOS made POST diagnostic information available by outputting a number to I/O port 80 (a screen display was not possible with some failure modes). Both progress indication and error codes were generated; in the case of a failure which did not generate a code, the code of the last successful operation was available to aid in diagnosing the problem. Using a logic analyzer or a dedicated POST card‍—‌an interface card that shows port 80 output on a small display‍—‌a technician could determine the origin of the problem. Once an operating system is running on the computer the code displayed by such a board may become meaningless, since some OSes, e.g. Linux, use port 80 for I/O timing operations. The actual numeric codes for the possible stages and error conditions differ from one BIOS supplier to another. Codes for different BIOS versions from a single supplier may also vary, although many codes remain unchanged in different versions.

Later BIOSes used a sequence of beeps from the motherboard-attached PC speaker (if present and working) to signal error codes. Some vendors developed proprietary variants or enhancements, such as MSI's D-Bracket. POST beep codes vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.

Information on numeric and beep codes is available from manufacturers of BIOSes and motherboards. There are websites which collect codes for many BIOSes.[2]

Original IBM POST beep codes[edit]

BeepsMeaning
1 short beepNormal POST – system is OK
2 short beepsPOST error – error code shown on screen
No beepPower supply, system board problem, disconnected CPU, or disconnected speaker
Continuous beepPower supply, system board, or may be RAM problem, keyboard problem
Repeating short beepsPower supply or system board problem or keyboard
1 long, 1 short beepSystem board problem
1 long, 2 short beepsDisplay adapter problem (MDA, CGA)
1 long, 3 short beepsEnhanced Graphics Adapter (EGA)
3 long beeps3270 keyboard card

POST AMI BIOS beep codes[edit]

BeepsMeaning
1Memory refresh timer error
2Parity error in base memory (first 64 KiB block)
3Base memory read/write test error
4Motherboard timer not operational (check all PSU to MB connectors seated)
5Processor failure
68042 Gate A20 test error (cannot switch to protected mode)
7General exception error (processor exception interrupt error)
8Display memory error (system video adapter)
9AMI BIOS ROM checksum fix
10CMOS shutdown register read/write fix
11Cache memory test failed
continuous beepingMotherboard does not detect a RAM module (continuous beeping)

Reference: AMIBIOS8 Check Point and Beep Code List, version 2.0, last updated 10 June 2008

POST beep codes on CompTIA A+ certification exam[edit]

These POST beep codes are covered specifically on the CompTIA A+ Exam:

BeepsMeaning
Steady, short beepsPower supply may be bad
Long continuous beep toneMemory failure
Steady, long beepsPower supply bad
No beepPower supply bad, system not plugged in, or power not turned on
No beepIf everything seems to be functioning correctly there may be a problem with the 'beeper' itself. The system will normally beep one short beep.
One long, two short beepsVideo card failure

IBM POST diagnostic code descriptions[edit]

CodeMeaning
100–199System boards
200–299Memory
300–399Keyboard
400–499Monochrome display
500–599Color/graphics display
600–699Floppy-disk drive or adapter
700–799Math coprocessor
900–999Parallel printer port
1000–1099Alternate printer adapter
1100–1299Asynchronous communication device, adapter, or port
1300–1399Game port
1400–1499Color/graphics printer
1500–1599Synchronous communication device, adapter, or port
1700–1799Hard drive or adapter (or both)
1800–1899Expansion unit (XT)
2000–2199Bisynchronous communication adapter
2400–2599EGA system-board video (MCA)
3000–3199LAN adapter
4800–4999Internal modem
7000–7099Phoenix BIOS chips
7300–73993.5-inch disk drive
8900–8999MIDI adapter
11200–11299SCSI adapter
21000–21099SCSI fixed disk and controller
21500–21599SCSI CD-ROM system

Macintosh POST[edit]

Apple's Macintosh computers also perform a POST after a cold boot. In the event of a fatal error, the Mac will not make its startup chime.

Old World Macs (until 1998)[edit]

Macs made after 1987 but prior to 1998, upon failing the POST, will immediately halt with a 'death chime', which is a sound that varies by model; it can be a beep, a car crash sound, the sound of shattering glass, a short musical tone, or more. On the screen, if working, will be the Sad Mac icon, along with two hexadecimal strings, which can be used to identify the problem. Macs made prior to 1987 crashed silently with the hexadecimal string and a Sad Mac icon.

New World Macs (1998–1999)[edit]

When Apple introduced the iMac in 1998, it was a radical departure from other Macs of the time. The iMac began the production of New World Macs, as they are called; New World Macs, such as the iMac, Power Macintosh G3 (Blue & White), Power Mac G4 (PCI Graphics), PowerBook G3 (bronze keyboard), and PowerBook G3 (FireWire), load the Mac OS ROM from the hard drive. In the event of an error, but not a fatal hardware error, they display the same screen as seen when holding ⌘ Command+⌥ Option+O+F at startup but with the error message instead of the '0 >' prompt. In the event of a fatal hardware error, they give these beeps:[3]

BeepsMeaning
1No RAM installed/detected
2Incompatible RAM type installed (for example, EDO)
3No RAM banks passed memory testing
4Bad checksum for the remainder of the boot ROM
5Bad checksum for the ROM boot block

New World Macs (1999 onward) and Intel-based Macs[edit]

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The beep codes were revised in October 1999,[4] and have been the same since. In addition, on some models, the power LED would flash in cadence.

BeepsMeaning
1No RAM installed/detected
2Incompatible RAM types
3No good banks
4No good boot images in the boot ROM, or bad sys config block, or both
5Processor is not usable

Amiga POST[edit]

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Amiga historical line of computers, from A1000 to 4000 present an interesting POST sequence that prompts the user with a sequence of flashing screens of different colors (rather than audible beeps as in other systems) to show if various hardware POST tests were correct or else if they failed:

POST sequence of Amiga[edit]

The Amiga system performs the following steps at boot:

  1. Delays beginning the tests a fraction of a second to allow the hardware to stabilize.
  2. Jumps to ROM code in diagnostic card (if found)
  3. Disables and clears all DMA and interrupts.
  4. Turns on the screen.
  5. Checks the general hardware configuration. If the screen remains a light gray color and the tests continue, the hardware is OK. If an error occurs, the system halts.
  6. Performs checksum test on ROMs.

If the system fails the ROM test, the screen display turns red and the system halts.

Sequence for all main Amiga models[edit]

Almost all Amiga models present the same color sequence when turned on: black screen, dark gray, light gray color screens filling all monitor screen in a rapid sequence (Amigas taken up usually 2, or at least max 3 seconds to turn on and boot).

Color screens scheme[edit]

ColorMeaning
RedBad ROM
YellowCPU Exception Before Bootstrap Code is Loaded
GreenBad Chip RAM or fail of Agnus Chip (check seating of Agnus)
BlackNo CPU
WhiteExpansion passed test successfully
GreyTurn on
Constant whiteFailure of CPU
VioletReturn from InitCode()[5]

Sequence for A4000[edit]

Correct tests color sequence scheme[edit]

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A4000 presents just a light gray screen during its boot time (it just occurs in 2 or max 3 seconds)

  • Light Gray
  • = Initial hardware configuration tests passed
  • = Initial system software tests passed
  • = Final initialization test passed

Failed tests color scheme[edit]

ColorMeaning
RedROM Error - Reset or replace
GreenCHIP RAM error (reset AGNUS and re-test)
BlueCustom Chip(s) Error
Yellow68000 detected error before software trapped it (GURU)

Amiga keyboard LED error signals[edit]

Post

The keyboards of historical Amiga models are not proprietary as it happened in early computer ages, but more pragmatically it was based on international standard ANSI/ISO 8859-1. The keyboard itself was an intelligent device and had its own processor and 4 kilobytes of RAM for keeping a buffer of the sequence of keys that were being pressed, thus can communicate with the user if a fault is found by flashing its main LED in sequence:

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BlinksMeaning
1ROM checksum failure
2RAM test failed
3Watchdog timer failed
4A shortcut exists between two row lines or one of the seven special keys (not implemented)

See also[edit]

  • Serial presence detect SPD memory hardware feature to auto-configure timings

References[edit]

  1. ^Williams, Gregg (January 1982). 'A Closer Look at the IBM Personal Computer'. BYTE. p. 36. Retrieved 19 October 2013.
  2. ^A website with PC BIOS, POST and BEEP code information
  3. ^[1]
  4. ^[2]
  5. ^http://www.amiga.org/forums/archive/index.php/t-37543.html

External links[edit]

  • POST as part of the BIOS - by www.basicinputoutputsystem.com (wayback machine)]
  • Power poweronselftest.com - from www.poweronselftest.com
  • Amiga Power On Self Test and Color Screens Schemes at Wayback Machine (originally on NewTek Inc. site)
  • What your Amiga is telling you article at Amiga History Guide
  • Power On Self Test Beep Codes for AMI and Phoenix BIOS - from PC Hell.
  • Computer Hardware - Additional information on computer POST / Beep Codes - from Computer Hope.
Retrieved from 'https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Power-on_self-test&oldid=920825183'

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