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USB Keyboards in DOS Mode

If you have a USB keyboard, you may find that if you boot to a system prompt it refuses to work. Seems no amount of key pounding solves the problem—it’s like the computer doesn’t even know the keyboard is there.

You see, USB sometimes won’t work outside the Windows environment. However, all is not lost—sometimes there is an option to enable USB keyboard and mice buried deep within the mysterious regions of your computer’s CMOS. This is especially true on newer computers (really new computers usually already have it enabled).

So, if you have a USB keyboard (wireless or otherwise) that you want to use in DOS mode, follow these steps using your old PS/2 keyboard:

1. Read this warning—Messing around with your computer’s base settings (CMOS settings) can really mess things up. Proceed with caution and only do this if your 100% comfortable with it. We’re not talking windows here, these are actual machine settings. The potential consequences for messing up are enough to make your computer tech curl up in the fetal position. We assume no responsibility for you going in and nuking your computer.

OK, for the two of you who are still with me…

2. When you boot your computer, look for instructions for entering setup. They are usually at the bottom of the screen. In most systems you press the Delete or F2 key and it enters setup right after the memory test. Again, this is WAY before windows even begins starting up—we’re talking about 3 seconds after you tap the power button.

Sometimes manufacturers will give you a “splash” screen when you first turn on the computer to insulate you from all the jargon lurking just behind it. Now is not the time for digital squeamishness though. If you get a “splash” screen when you first turn on the power, hit the ESC key—that will usually let you see what’s hiding behind it (and what you need to press to get to the settings). If this is confusing, or you’ve just noticed a bead of sweat forming above your left eye, stop now :-)

3. OK, you’ve pressed your way into to system settings area—congrats! From here, I’m only going to give you very general advice: all these setup screens tend to be a little different. You’ll probably scroll through items using your tab, pageup / pagedown, or arrow keys (sorry, no mouse support here). Usually there is a “guide” as to which buttons to push somewhere to the south of your display.

4. For this tip, we’re looking for some sort of USB setup. Most of the time, it’s under a category called “Integrated Peripherals” or something equally cryptic. Use your arrow keys to highlight that category and press Enter to go see your options. Again, since this stuff varies from machine to machine, you may have to fish around a little before you stumble upon USB settings. Normally, hitting your ESC key will back you out of a category and dump you back to the main screen.

Once you find those USB settings, you may see an option for enabling a USB mouse, keyboard, or just enabling USB support. You generally highlight the selection you want, press the enter key, then use arrows to change. AGAIN, this may vary!!! Don’t make any changes you’re not sure about.

5. Finally, exit the system settings. There should be some kind of menu item that says “Save Changes And Exit”. If you have any lingering doubts about the computer’s ability to run again after your “adjustments”, exit with the one that says “Discard Changes And Exit”.

If all that’s too much for ya, you can always keep an old PS keyboard on hand for your DOS dealings :-)

~ Steve