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JSI Tip 3414. What is a computer BIOS?

NOTE: In tip 1728, I listed many manufacturer's locations for obtaining a BIOS upgrade.

Microsoft Basic Computer BIOS Overview.

Basic Computer BIOS Overview

Because this information is directly related to hardware and not Microsoft software, this information is being provided for informational purposes only. If this information does not help you to identify information about your specific Basic Input/Output System (BIOS), contact the manufacturer of your computer.

The five main questions that are frequently asked about a BIOS are:

  • What is a BIOS?
  • Who makes the motherboard?
  • How do I determine who to contact about a BIOS upgrade?
  • Is a BIOS upgrade available?
  • Is a BIOS upgrade necessary?

What Is a BIOS?

The BIOS is created by a motherboard or hardware manufacturer. The BIOS is what starts the computer after you turn on the power to your computer. Software programs, such as the Windows operating system, work with the BIOS to make your computer more user friendly.

Who Makes the Motherboard?

To determine the manufacturer of your motherboard, view the documentation that was included with your computer. Most computers include a manual for the motherboard, and this manual is typically the best source of information about your hardware, motherboard, and BIOS. If you do not have this manual, contact the manufacturer of your computer to determine the manufacturer of your motherboard. Lastly, if the preceding methods cannot provide the name of the manufacturer of your motherboard, note that most manufacturers display BIOS information on the screen when you start your computer during the Power On Self Test (POST). However, there is no standard as to where or when the information is displayed. Generally, this information is displayed while the memory is being counted and tested. Note that this information may appear anywhere on the screen, and this is determined by the manufacturer's design. For example, American Megatrends Inc. almost always displays their information at the bottom of the screen in the form of a very long string of numbers. Award, another BIOS manufacturer, usually displays BIOS information near the top of the screen with their logo. 

To find BIOS information:

  1. From a powered-off state, turn on your computer.
  2. While the memory count is on the screen, press the PAUSE/BREAK key one time. On most computers, PAUSE/BREAK halts the power-up routine. Note that the memory count may continue on some computers.
  3. Read, and then write down all of the information that is displayed on the screen. It is very important to note the information that is at the bottom of the screen. The information that is listed there may contain information about the BIOS version, the date of the BIOS, as well as the version and level of the Plug and Play specification of the motherboard.

For example, the displayed information may contain:

  • Near the top of the screen:

    AWARD Modular BIOS version 4.51pg Energy Star Alliance
    PnP BIOS Version 1.0a Release 06/06/1996/L
  • At the bottom of the same screen:

    Hit F1 to run setup.

NOTE: The information at the bottom of the screen has several parts. In the preceding example, the date that is listed (06/17/96) is the date of the installed BIOS code. i430vx is the chip set that is in use, and in this example, it is the INTEL 430 VX chip set. 2a59Ht5BC represents the motherboard manufacturer information, and in this example, the information represents an Amptron PM8800A or ASEAGATEVX system board. If two digits follow a dash ("-") at the end of this string, such as "-00", the digits probably refer to the keyboard controller revision. Also, note that the information from the preceding example is case sensitive. The motherboard with the 06/17/96-001430vx-2a59HtBC-00 string is not the same as the motherboard that has the 06/17/96-001430vx-2a59htbc-00 string.

How Do I Determine Who to Contact About an Upgrade?

Now that you have the BIOS information, the next step is to view the manufacturer's Web site and search for information about the specific motherboard or BIOS. If you are unable to locate the manufacturer's Web address, you may be able to find the information on one of the following third-party Web sites:

The third-party contact information that is included in this document is provided to help you find the technical support you need. This contact information is subject to change without notice. Microsoft in no way guarantees the accuracy of this third-party contact information.

Is a BIOS Upgrade Available?

After you find the manufacturer who provided the BIOS code, the next step is to determine if the BIOS can be upgraded. Unless you are very certain that your BIOS needs to be updated, check with your hardware manufacturer. If you improperly flash (update) your BIOS, you may be unable to start your computer, and this may result in data loss or other problems.

Is a BIOS Upgrade Necessary?

Even if you determine that your computer has an outdated BIOS, it is important to note that an updated BIOS may not resolve a software problem. To determine if you need a BIOS upgrade, you must consult the hardware manufacturer.

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