Some people confuse BIOS with the CMOS RAM in a system. This confusion is aided by the fact that the Setup program in the BIOS is used to set and store the configuration settings in the CMOS RAM. They are, in fact, two totally separate components.

The BIOS on the motherboard is stored in a fixed ROM chip. Also on the motherboard is a chip called the RTC/NVRAM chip, which stands for real-time clock/nonvolatile memory. This is where the BIOS Setup information is stored, and it is actually a digital clock chip with a few extra bytes of memory thrown in.

It is usually called the CMOS chip because it is made using CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) technology. The first example of this ever used in a PC was the Motorola MC146818 chip, which had 64 bytes of storage, of which 15 bytes were dedicated to the clock function, leaving 50 bytes to store BIOS Setup settings.

Although it is called nonvolatile, it is actually volatile, meaning that without power, the time/date settings and the data in the RAM portion will in fact be erased. It is considered nonvolatile by many because it is designed using CMOS technology, which results in a chip that still requires power but very little compared to other chips.

A battery in the system, rather than the AC wall current, provides that power. This is also why most people call this chip the CMOS RAM chip; although not technically accurate (almost all modern chips use a form of CMOS technology), the term has stuck.

Most RTC/NVRAM chips run on as little as 1 microamp (millionth of an amp), so they use very little battery power to run. Most lithium coin cell batteries can last up to 5 years or more before the battery runs out and the information stored (as well as the date and time) is lost.

Some systems use special versions of these chips made by Dallas Semiconductor, Benchmarq, or Odin (such as the DS12885 and DS12887) that include both the RTC/NVRAM chip and the battery in a single component.

When you enter your BIOS Setup, configure your hard disk parameters or other BIOS Setup settings, and save them, these settings are written to the storage area in the RTC/NVRAM (otherwise called CMOS RAM) chip.

Every time your system boots up, it reads the parameters stored in the CMOS RAM chip to determine how the system should be configured. A relationship exists between the BIOS and CMOS RAM, but they are two distinctly different parts of the system.