Intro to the BIOS Setup Utility
As mentioned in the introduction, the BIOS is the core to the operation of your PC. It is the framework for your computer to be able to run the rest of its software. It performs the POST, or Power On Self Test. This is the sequence of system checks the BIOS goes through every time your turn on your system.
The BIOS is what underlies the operating system. In a way, the operating system is a simplified user-interface to the BIOS. This is of course rather exaggerated, since the OS is also very core to your system. But, without the BIOS, the operating system does not do anything. For instance, when you hit a key on your keyboard, the processor performs an interrupt to read that key. This interrupt is handled by the BIOS, which assigns and manages the interrupts. This is similar for other components on the system, which also operate by interrupts. By using this method, the processor is able to conduct many jobs at once in regards to other hardware.
BIOS is often confused with CMOS. The two are often, and mistakenly, thought of to be one and the same. Actually, CMOS, which stands for Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor, is the little 64 byte piece of RAM which stores the settings for the BIOS to work off of. It is because of the CMOS that the BIOS remembers your PC’s configuration and is able to load it properly upon each boot-up. The CMOS resides in a small integrated circuit, or IC, found on your motherboard. The memory is maintained by a small current generated by a battery which also resides on your motherboard. Newer board use a NiCad battery which recharges whenever the PC is on, but the older ones use a standard battery, which when it runs out of juice, must be replaced. In a similar fashion, if you wish, for some reason, to clear your CMOS and start fresh, simply disconnect the battery. Of course, on newer boards, there is a CMOS-clear jumper, usually located near the battery, which performs the same function.
The other articles in this section will give you a rundown of the settings in each screen of the BIOS. But, let’s start with the basics and how you actually operate in the BIOS Setup area.
First, in order to enter the BIOS setup utility, you have to hit a particular key or key combination on boot-up. The key combination itself it usually displayed immediately after you turn the system on. You may see some video BIOS screen, then you will see the processor type and memory count. At this point, at the bottom of the screen, it will say “Press XXX to enter Setup”. In many BIOS versions, XXX is the DEL button. So, in this case, you must press DEL at this point to enter BIOS setup. You have to hit it at the right time, too, because the system will just continue on booting if it does not sense the DEL button on time. Pressing the button later in the process will not get you into the setup utility, forcing you to reset the system again to try getting it at the right time.
Once you are in the BIOS setup utility, you will see a variety of meny options, arranged in a two column format. At the top of the screen will be a title which tells you you are in the setup utility. It will also indicate the brand of BIOS you have, whether it be Award, Phoenix, AMI BIOS, etc. At the bottom of the screen will be the key legend that tells you how to navigate around your BIOS with your keyboard. While there are BIOS editions out there that allow you to use a mouse, most do not and you have to navigate with your keyboard only. Here is a typical mapping of keys and their functions:
|F1||General Help||Gives the list of options available for each item|
|F5||Previous Values||Restores the values that were in place at the time the user entered the BIOS. Useful if you can’t remember what you changed, but is only valid if you have not yet rebooted.|
|F6||Load Fail-Safe Defaults||Loads all options with pre-set conservative values that the system whoudl be able to run with with no conflict.|
|F7||Load Optimized Defaults||Loads all options with pre-set values that are more optimized, for better performance.|
|F10||Save||Saves changes and reboots the system|
|ESC||Exit||Returns for any sub-screen to the Main Menu.|
|ENTER||Select||Used to enter into a sub-screen which provides options for an item on a higher level menu|
|+/-.PU/PD||Value||Used to toggle up and down the available options for a particular item|
The up and down arrow keys are used to move up and down, side to side on the menu options on the screen. Some of the functions in the table above also have corresponding entries in the main menu. F10 does the same thing as the “Save & Exit Setup” option, for example. You can also exit BIOS without saving.
Some of the menu options in the CMOS do not have settings, or at least many settings, to worry about, so they do not have a corresponding article in this section of the site. Nonetheless, these sections can be useful.
- PC Health Status
This page has not settings, but basically displays information based on some of the sensors on the motherboard. This information includes the CPU core temperature, the case interior temperature, the RPM speeds of the chassis fan and CPU fan, as well as voltage readouts for the processor, AGP, DDR-DRAM, etc. This information can be useful for monitoring information in high-speed situations such as overclocking. Overclockers run their hardware past the normal lists, so monitoring temperatures is important information. Monitoring voltages is also important, as it can help track down whether a piece of hardware is acting up because it has too little voltage. It should be noted that the information from these sensors should nto be taken as gospel. They have been known to be inaccurate at times.
- Set Supervisor/User Password
These are ways to set BIOS-level password security for your system. When a supervisor password is enabled, a password will be required before the CMOS setup can again be entered and changed. If a user password is specified, then a user who tries to enter setup will only be able to change his own password, nothing else. When setting a supervisor password, you also set the level of security, whether you want it to only protect the BIOS Setup or if you want a password required in order to even use the system.
With that, hopefully I’ve provided an orientation to the BIOS Setup Utility. consult the other articles of this section for settings in each section of the setup utility.