Motherboard BIOS

All motherboards must have a special chip containing software called the ROM BIOS. This ROM chip contains the startup programs and drivers used to get the system running and act as the interface to the basic hardware in the system.

When you turn on a system, the power on self test (POST) in the BIOS also tests the major components in the system. Additionally, you can run a setup program to store system configuration data in the CMOS memory, which is powered by a battery on the motherboard.

This CMOS RAM is often called NVRAM (nonvolatile RAM) because it runs on about 1 millionth of an amp of electrical current and can store data for years when powered by a tiny lithium battery.

The BIOS is a collection of programs embedded in one or more chips, depending on the design of your computer. That collection of programs is the first thing loaded when you start your computer, even before the operating system. Simply put, the BIOS in most PCs has four main functions:

  • POST (power on self test). The POST tests your computer's processor, memory, chipset, video adapter, disk controllers, disk drives, keyboard, and other crucial components.

  • Setup. The system configuration and setup program is usually a menu-driven program activated by pressing a special key during the POST, and it enables you to configure the motherboard and chipset settings along with the date and time, passwords, disk drives, and other basic system settings.

You also can control the power-management settings and boot-drive sequence from the BIOS Setup, and on some systems, you can also configure CPU timing and clock-multiplier settings. Some older 286 and 386 systems did not have the Setup program in ROM and required that you boot from a special setup disk.

  • Bootstrap loader. A routine that reads the first physical sector of various disk drives looking for a valid master boot record (MBR). If one meeting certain minimum criteria (ending in the signature bytes 55AAh) is found, the code within is executed.

The MBR program code then continues the boot process by reading the first physical sector of the bootable volume, which is the start of the volume boot record (VBR). The VBR then loads the first operating system startup file, which is usually IO.SYS (DOS/Windows 9x/Me) or NTLDR (Windows NT/2000/XP), upon which the operating system is then in control and continues the boot process.

  • BIOS (basic input/output system). This refers to the collection of actual drivers used to act as a basic interface between the operating system and your hardware when the system is booted and running. When running DOS or Windows in safe mode, you are running almost solely on ROM-based BIOS drivers because none are loaded from disk.