"Help, I've Lost My Password And My System Can't Boot UP!"
By Anthony Olszewski


Last Modified:

There are basically two kinds of passwords: CMOS and various software keys. This article is limited to circumventing the CMOS variety. The author's purpose is to help the computer owner that has inadvertently lost or forgotten the password to their system. Another possibility is somebody being the victim of a disgruntled employee or some other malicious party. As a form of sabotage, a devious person will slap on a password.

With a PS2 system, when it shows a logo of a skeleton key right after the computer is powered up, it's requesting the password to be entered. You'll have to reset the machine.

Flakey systems can intermittently enable the password. The default for the AMI BIOS is "ami", as you might guess. The default password often acts as a master password. This is always worth trying.

The CMOS passwords are incorporated into the system by the SETUP routine. The BIOS might prevent the computer from booting without the input of the correct characters. SETUP can also require a password before allowing modification of the computer's hardware definition.

The easiest way to remove the password is to look on the motherboard for a jumper marked "CLEAR PASSWORD." In the IBM PS2 55SX, reversing the speaker connector, thus shorting pins 5 and 6, will clear the password. With this model, since the battery and the CMOS are the same component, there is no other way to remove a password, if you don't already know it. For some systems, the jumper location might also be marked on the inside of the case cover. So much for security!

I've had success in forcing entry to a password-protected CMOS by simply making some change in the configuration. Removing RAM or pulling the hard drive cable will often induce an error message during POST. The BIOS might then ask if you want to run SETUP. Answer yes. When you're in SETUP, just remove the passwords.

The most radical, but the most certain course of action is to wipe out all CMOS settings. A CLEAR CMOS jumper might be on the motherboard. This will immediately set the CMOS to system defaults. The jumper of INTERNAL/EXTERNAL battery will serve the same purpose. Here it will be necessary to wait from 10 minutes up to several hours for an equivalent result. Very often, especially with PS2s and laptops, the battery must be removed and then replaced. For the PS2s it takes, MINIMUM, of a half an hour to remove the settings. Several hours is very likely.

When, by clearing the CMOS, the password has once and for all given its last gasp, you will then have to run SETUP and restore all the settings. On the newer machines, the SETUP routine is built into the system. Now, with the CMOS a clean slate, you will be prompted to run SETUP. On older 286s and even some 386s (some COMPAQ 386 models, for example), you will need a SETUP disk.

Most categories are obvious, like TIME and DATE. For the HARD DRIVE specs, with an up-to-date system, just run AUTO-DETECT in SETUP. On older motherboards, you'll have to manually enter the figures. The 3 necessary ones are HEADS, CYLINDERS, and SECTORS. The DRIVE TYPE might be written or printed on your hard drive. Open the case and look. If this is not so, then contact tech support for your drive. They all have automated info and fax back lines for this. If your motherboard does not have a definite DRIVE TYPE, then, for most systems, choose TYPE 47 or USER DEFINED and just fill in the blanks.

For all the more advanced, esoteric stuff (wait states, etc), leave the SYSTEM DEFAULTS as is.

Laptops can be handled in the same way. If you're lucky, the CMOS battery will be under a easily accessible hatch in its own little compartment. If that's not the case, you'll need to open up the unit. First remove all the screws. You're going to need a set of very small screwdrivers. Keep an eye out for screws hidden under labels and rubber pads. Quite likely, after removing all screws, you'll need to gently pry open the laptops case.

By the way, the laptops power battery has nothing to do with the CMOS battery.

With a Toshiba you can try a loopback connected to the parallell port during the boot. This is done by connecting pins 1-5-10, 2-11, 3-17, 4-12, 6-16, 7-13, 8-14, 9-15, 18-25.

 \ 1  2  3  4  5  7  8 ... 13 /       
  \ 14 15 16 17 18 .......25 /        

With a Dallas clock, not finding a clear jumper makes things a little tricky. If the chip is labeled 'A' (DS1287A or DS12887A or DS12B887 (bq3287A)), try this: Pin 21 is a RAM Clear input. To empty the RAM, ground that.

If you're the proud owner of an IBM MCA PS2 you're going to get one or more of THE PS2 16X SERIES ERROR CODES.

Your computer's working again -- so should you!