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What is the BIOS?

April 9th, 2012 | Posted by admin in I've Always Wondered...

What is the BIOS?

BIOS stands for basic input output system.  The BIOS is the underlying software system on your computer.  Any operating system on your computer is launched from the BIOS, and any hardware you use will communicate with it.  The BIOS is the linking component allowing hardware to see and interact with other hardware.  The BIOS is critical for successful computer operation, and if you ever make any changes to the BIOS you should write them down so they can be easily undone if the computer doesn’t boot properly the next time.  It is not recommended to make changes to the BIOS unless you are an experienced user, primarily due to the fact it is very easy to make a mistake as the BIOS is not always intuitive.

The BIOS isn’t something you normally interact with; however if you have ever tried to boot your computer in safe mode you’ll know what the familiar blue and white screen looks like.  Occasionally, BIOS drivers may be updated to fix a problem or a known issue.  Updating the BIOS is as easy as downloading and installing the new version from the computer manufacturer’s website.  To perform a BIOS update you will typically need a USB drive, Disc, or some other bootable media (maybe you have a blank floppy lying around…).

Common BIOS Uses

There are a number of functions that can be performed from within the BIOS:

Change the boot sequence

Set or change a BIOS level password

Change the data and time

View CPU or RAM info

Change the CPU settings (over clock)

Enable or Disable USB, onboard audio, or any ports

Modify power settings

Modify fan settings or system voltages

View system and CPU temperature

The BIOS is also useful for determining the specs of any computer, and to check if it is working properly. The first step in determining if an old computer is functioning properly is to see if it passes the POST test.  POST stands for power on self test and is used to determine if the computer will boot to the BIOS or not.  If the computer successfully passes the POST test, it may possible to install an operating system. If not there is likely an issue with either the BIOS or the computer itself and you should not buy it.

Each BIOS version is specifically designed for each make and model of computer it is installed on, and is usually not compatible with any other system.  If you find yourself in a situation where you don’t have the correct BIOS for a certain computer, you should consult the computer manufacturer’s website as they will most likely have a download available for you free of charge.

When you first boot up the computer the BIOS will attempt to identify the CPU, keyboard, mouse, graphics card, any RAM, the hard drive, and any optical drives if attached.  If there is an issue identifying any of these you will be prompted for a solution from the BIOS before the computer boots any further.

The BIOS is also entrusted with the system clock and sometimes a BIOS level password.  Time and date changes can be made at the BIOS level, as well as from within the operating system.  A BIOS password is also known as a BIOS level password, and will prevent any unauthorized users from accessing the BIOS and installing a new operating system without your approval.  In this way the BIOS also serves an important safety function safeguarding your data and operating system from any malicious users.

The BIOS has many uses and if you aren’t familiar with it, it can’t hurt to open it up and take a look- just make sure you write down any changes you make, in case you have a problem later.

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