What is BIOS?
I've heard you can change BIOS settings to affect performance and startup options, but I've always been hesitant to poke around in the BIOS setup screens. Can you demystify this for me?
BIOS and Setup Options
When you switch on your computer, it needs a set of instructions to initialize all of its basic functions. These instructions, which must be run even before the operating system (such as Windows or Linux) is loaded, are stored in a chip called the BIOS. BIOS is the acronym for Basic Input/Output System. On a PC, BIOS controls the functioning of disk drives, serial communications, the display screen, keyboard, mouse, etc. Note that the term BIOS can refer to the chip on your motherboard, the program hard-coded on that chip, or the BIOS setup screens we'll cover shortly here.
After telling your computer where all the input and output devices are located, it searches for and loads an operating system from your hard drive, CDROM, floppy or other storage media. With the job of the BIOS now done, the operating system begins loading programs and displays your desktop.
Using a human analogy, the BIOS would tell your brain something like this: "Time to wake up! The time is 6:42:07.029am, your eyes, ears and nose are configured to receive input on ports AC28, EF12 and BD07. You may now speak by sending audio output to the mouth device at CF29. You can store permanent files in the cerebrum and use those dangly things to pick up stuff and move around. I see you have Life 1.0 in sector zero of your cerebellum, so I'm transferring control to it now..."
Configuring the BIOSOn certain occasions, you may need to access the BIOS Setup screens and change or update some features there. To change or update BIOS settings, you'll need to press the right key when the computer is booting up. Unfortunately, there's no universal standard for which key gets you into the BIOS, because there are many different BIOS chip vendors, such as AMI, Phoenix and Award. Watch carefully when the computer is starting up, and the instructions will be displayed briefly. Usually you'll need to hit Del, F1, Alt, or Ctrl within a few seconds of seeing the instructions to enter the BIOS setup screens.
But be careful in there... make sure that you take a backup of your data before you attempt any significant changes in the BIOS setup. If you change the BIOS settings in a wrong way, your computer may not start correctly. Here are some of the most common features you can change in BIOS.
- Power-on Passwords - Many BIOS setups will allow you to set or change the power-on password of the BIOS. This prevents unauthorized access of your computer, and is NOT the same as your Windows logon password. Don't forget this password, because without it you cannot even power on the computer!
- Running Diagnostics - Diagnostics can be run from BIOS to check the hardware components of the computer. If you suspect a problem with your computer, you can check out the hard drive, system memory, video card and other components.
- Boot Order - This setting tells the BIOS which devices to look for to load the operating system. You will see typical options such as Hard Drive, CDROM, Floppy Drive, Network etc. If you need to boot from your Windows setup CD to install or repair your system, this option may need to be selected.
- Overclocking - Overclocking is configuring the computer to run at a higher speed than the speed suggested by the manufacturer. The CPU, motherboard chipsets, video cards, and RAM are some of the components which may be overclocked. While overclocking MAY increase the performance of your system, it can also cause damage due to overheating these components. Search for help online to see if others have successfully overclocked a system like yours before trying it yourself.
You can upgrade your BIOS to support new functionalities and features on your computer. You may need to perform a BIOS upgrade in order to update your system to accept a new hardware part or to fix a bug. But before you do this, do not forget to make a backup of all your important data and applications. Start by going to the motherboard manufacturer's web site, then look for the download or support section to download the BIOS upgrade file and instructions for applying it.
The BIOS setup screens are not known for being user friendly. There are no point and click niceties, and the instructions are not always clear. While changing the way BIOS functions may provide good results, you can also damage your hardware and data if handled carelessly. So don't mess with BIOS on a whim. In general, only experienced users should make changes to BIOS functions, and only after researching the pros and cons of doing so.
Got comments about hacking your BIOS? Post your thoughts below.
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 1 Mar 2007
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- What is BIOS? (Posted: 1 Mar 2007)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved