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The Function of BIOS
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The CPU must be able to communicate with all devices in a computer system This communication is made possible via the Northbridge chip, which is the primary bridge between the CPU and the rest of the computer The Northbridge deals with high-speed devices, such as the video card, RAM, and the PCI bus A second chip, the Southbridge, works with the other devices The Northbridge and Southbridge chips are manufactured as a set called the chipset The chipset extends the data and address buses to every device in the PC A ROM (read-only memory) chip is non-volatile, meaning it retains the information stored on it even when the power is turned off Usually attached to the Southbridge, the ROM chip stores hundreds of little programs that enable the CPU to communicate with basic devices like the floppy drive, CD and DVD drives, hard drives, video card, and others These programs, called services, are collectively referred to as the basic input/output services (BIOS) These programs are stored on a read-only medium and can t be changed by the user, so they are known as firmware, in contrast to programs stored on erasable media that are called software The term system ROM refers to the ROM chip on the motherboard Although the system ROM chip has room for as much as 2 MB of programs, only 65,536 bytes store the BIOS Correspondingly, the last 65,536 addresses on the address bus are reserved for the BIOS on the ROM chip When the CPU indicates one of these reserved addresses, the Northbridge sends the address directly to the ROM BIOS
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Your motherboard includes a changeable chip, capable of storing about 64 KB of data, called the complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) chip CMOS does not store programs It stores the data that is read by BIOS, and that data is used by the programs residing in BIOS Although CMOS used to be a separate chip on the motherboard, it is almost always built into the Southbridge on modern motherboards The CMOS chip also keeps track of the date and time CMOS requires a constant trickle of electricity to maintain its data This is supplied by a small battery on the motherboard If the data you have stored in CMOS continues to disappear or if the date/time resets itself, it may be time to change the motherboard battery
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Within the system ROM is a CMOS setup program that lets you access and update the data on the CMOS chip The terms CMOS setup program, CMOS, and system setup utility are functionally interchangeable today Most techs just call it the CMOS Two major manufacturers control 99 percent of the BIOS business: American Megatrends (AMI) and Phoenix Technology (which includes Award Software) The CMOS setup program can be started in many different ways, depending on the brand of BIOS you have on your computer Pressing DEL when the computer boots is the most common way to access the CMOS setup program The screen itself usually tells you how to access setup If it doesn t, you can check the motherboard book or the Web site of your PC or BIOS manufacturer All CMOS setup programs have basically the same main options On the Standard CMOS Features screen, you can change floppy drive, hard drive, and date/time settings Today s setup programs have extra CMOS settings that control items such as memory management, password and booting options, diagnostic and error handling, and power management The Award Modular BIOS enables motherboard manufacturers to add or remove options from the setup program Among the other things you can configure in CMOS setup are the voltage and multiplier settings for the CPU (the CPU Soft menu), boot options (check the Advanced BIOS Features menu), power management, password protection, and ports (the Integrated Peripherals menu) All setup programs include options to Save and Exit or Exit Without Saving You should not change CMOS settings unless you know exactly what you re doing On older systems, if the information on the CMOS chip was lost or erased, the computer would not boot The most common cause was a dead onboard battery, but other factors such as electrical surges, chip creep, or a dirty motherboard could also erase CMOS data Lost CMOS information produces errors such as No boot device available or CMOS date/ time not set Making a backup copy of the CMOS data enabled you to restore the information and recover from this catastrophe Unlike earlier ROM chips that you had to replace when you wanted to upgrade the BIOS programs,
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today s computers use flash ROM chips that you can reprogram without removing If you install a CPU or other new hardware that the flash ROM chip does not support, you can run a small command-line program combined with an update file to change your BIOS The exact process varies from one motherboard maker to another If the flash ROM utility allows you to make a backup of your BIOS, you should always do so Don t update your BIOS unless you have a good reason As the old saying goes, If it ain t broke, don t fix it!
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Many CMOS setup programs enable you to set a boot password, a password to enter the CMOS setup program itself, or both These passwords are stored in CMOS If you forget your password, you simply need to clear the CMOS data Unplug the AC power from the PC and remove the motherboard battery This will remove the trickle charge that enables CMOS to store information and clear all CMOS data, including the passwords Reinstall the battery, plug in the power cord, boot up the computer, and re-enter your CMOS settings Alternatively, many motherboards provide a clear CMOS jumper that enables you to clear the CMOS data without removing the battery Small padlocks on the system chassis can prevent unauthorized users from accessing the motherboard and clearing CMOS data
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