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BIOS from A to Z

Andreas Winterer

January 4, 2006 06:42


The Basic Input Output System - aka BIOS -resides in a small Flash EEPROM memory module
on the motherboard. It's a form of read-only memory, but may be rewritten or programmed
when the right tools and techniques are applied. During PC startup, the processor on the
motherboard always executes the program stored in the BIOS as its first major maneuver.

When a PC dawdles through the boot process, the system runs slowly, Windows crashes, or
the hardware fails, a badly configured BIOS may be at fault. In this article, we show you how
to manipulate the switch center of your PC, to make your system run faster and work better.

The section entitled "Basics" covers BIOS fundamentals. There, you'll learn what a BIOS is,
how you can access it, and how to find your way around it with confidence. The section
entitled "Key Settings" explains important BIOS options about which every computer user
should know. Advanced users may want to jump straight into the section entitled "BIOS
Tuning"; there, they'll find out how to use hidden settings to activate unused power reserves,
enable new functions, clear bottlenecks, and get rid of dead weight in the system.


As the first program executed by the processor at boot time, the BIOS introduces the CPU to
the primary components on the motherboard, and instructs the CPU regarding which program
to run next when the BIOS code has completed. As a rule, the BIOS then accesses the boot
sector on the boot device, which might be a floppy disk, a CD-ROM, a DVD, or a hard disk. The
boot sector in turn loads a boot manager program of some kind, which starts up the primary
operating system for the machine, such as Windows or Linux.

After the start-up process ends, the BIOS still isn't finished with its chores. Many types of
hardware access in a PC really involve the operating system accessing the BIOS, which then
accesses the hardware on the operating system's behalf.

1. BIOS Versions

Every motherboard has its own unique BIOS designed especially to handle the hardware it
contains. The basis for the majority of BIOS Programs is the Phoenix Award BIOS, which
occurs in two different formats. You'll also find some computers that run an American
Megatrends (AMI) BIOS.

The structure of BIOS menus and the nomenclature used for menu options vary from vendor
to vendor. In fact, BIOS menus for two successive motherboard models can even differ to a
greater or a lesser extent. This explains why we can't provide precise descriptions of BIOS
options in every PC known to humankind. Nevertheless, you should find the following
explanations based on the Phoenix Award BIOS directly related to (if not identical with) what
you find on your own PC. Don't stress if you can't find some of the settings named on your
computer - this just means the BIOS on your PC doesn't address the related hardware
functions or capabilities directly.

2. Accessing Your BIOS

During start-up, as the BIOS is checking hardware components on your system, tallying up
available RAM, and checking out hard disks (and other drives and devices), you can invoke the
BIOS Setup program by pressing a special key on your keyboard. Often, this means striking
the delete [Del] key, but it might be some other key such as [F2]. Look for an onscreen
message during boot-up: most BIOSes show a message that reads something like "<F10 =
Setup>" along the bottom edge of the monitor. If all else fails, you can always dig up a
manual for the PC or the motherboard to identify this magic key. Depress and hold this key
down for a second or two as the PC begins to boot.

If it works as it should, the BIOS will finish counting up available memory, and then the
primary BIOS menu screen will appear. If this doesn't produce the desired result, reboot the
PC and try a different key. Many notebooks, for example, use the [F1] or escape [Esc] key.
Sometimes, keys such as [F2], [F10] or key sequences like [Alt F1] may do the trick instead
3. Manipulating BIOS Settings

The BIOS Setup program: Navigate to an entry using the cursor keys, then hit Enter to make a selection
(Screenshot A)

To access an option in the BIOS, use the cursor (arrow) keys to highlight your choice, as
shown in Screenshot A. The Enter key will either invoke a sub-menu or open a selection
window, as illustrated in Screenshot B. To alter the value associated with the setting you've
selected, you'll have to use the plus [+]or minus [-] keys, or another combination such as
[Page Up] and [Page down]. From the main menu screen, you'll use this technique to navigate
into various sub-menus, some of which may have subordinate menus of their own as well,
until you get where you need to go.

Opening sub-menus: Many option values may be altered with the plus [+] and minus [-] keys, while others
require navigating inside selection menus or pick lists, as shown in Screenshot B.

Let's take a brief overview look at the various menus in a typical BIOS setup program:

In the "Main" or "Standard CMOS Setup" menus, you can set the date and time, and
also define the attributes of your hard disks.
In the "BIOS Features Setup" menu, you'll work with general settings of all kinds.
The "Integrated Peripherals" menu is where you can manage interfaces and auxiliary
system functions.
The "Power Management Setup" menu is where you go to configure energy saving or
power management functions.
The "PnP/PCI Configurations" menu permits you to rearrange which interrupts (IRQs)
relate to specific PCI expansion cards in your PC. If you don't find these functions
identified as such (or something similar) in the Main menu, you'll probably find them
under the "Advanced" menu instead.
The "Hardware Monitor" menu shows values from system sensors, such as the
processor temperature or fan speeds (in RPM). These are normally for the CPU cooler
and system fan, but may also be for the power supply or other fans for which the
motherboard has sensing hardware.
The "Load Setup Defaults" item restores factory default settings, and wipes out any
changes you may have already made. This can be especially useful when you've
misconfigured something and the results cause problems on your system.

4. Ending A BIOS Session

To end your work in the BIOS Setup program, you must strike the [F10] key, or select the
main menu entry that reads "Save & Exit Setup". Sometimes this involves first selecting an
"Exit" option, then choosing the "Exit & Save Changes" sub-entry. You will then be presented
with a choice between [Y] and [N], where the [Y] key saves your changes, and the [N] key
discards them. Select one or the other, and you'll exit the BIOS Setup program.

Key Settings

The following BIOS tricks will show you how to change the boot priority order on your
computer, start a desktop PC with a keypress or a mouse click, activate support for USB 2.0,
and handle problems with fans or hardware changes.

5. Establish Boot Priority Order

Skip the floppy during startup: Pick the hard disk as the boot drive (as shown in Screenshot C).

Most PCs attempt to boot from the floppy disk during startup. This consumes valuable time
and introduces the possibility of infection from boot sector viruses. And let's face it: there's
rarely any need to boot from the floppy these days anyhow. Telling the BIOS to not bother
with checking the floppy drive and turning off drive checks for floppies helps shorten boot

The BIOS has a mechanism to let you control the devices from which your PC can boot, and
the order in which those devices should be checked. The following configuration lets your PC
skip the floppy drive during startup, thereby speeding the boot process and beefing up system

Here's how you do it: First select "Advanced BIOS Features, Boot Sequence" then switch the
"1st Boot Device" from "Floppy" to "Hard Disk", as shown in Screenshot C; this may be called
"HDD-0". This instructs the BIOS to go straight to the boot sector on the hard drive without
taking any unnecessary detours.

With this change made the computer no longer tried to boot from the floppy drive, but it still
checks to see if a floppy drive is installed on your PC, which wastes time. To avoid this check,
be sure to set the "Boot Up Floppy Seek" option to "Disabled" as well.

6. Speed PC Boot Up

The bottom line on this change is that your PC won't go off looking for new hard disks and
other drives each time it boots. Skipping this check helps speed boot up.

Here's how you do it: Unless you change drives in your system regularly, set the drive search
time to zero. From the "Main" menu, set the "Timeout" value to "0".

7. Activate USB 2.0 Support

USB: Those who've installed Windows XP with Service Pack 2 should enable the "USB 2.0 Controller", shown in
Screenshot E.

On many motherboards, the "USB Controllers" Option is installed so that only USB 1.1 is
active. The root cause of this issue is that Windows XP itself, prior to the addition of any
Service Packs, does not support USB 2.0. The following BIOS manipulation lets you activate
support for USB 2.0 after the fact.

To do it, simply change the value for this option to "Enabled" (as shown in Screenshot E) or to
"V1.1+V2.0", as may sometimes be the case. The prerequisite for using the faster USB 2.0
interface is that Service Pack 1, at a minimum, must be installed for Windows XP.

8. Fixing Problems With USB Devices

Some memory sticks, flash drives, MP3 players with memory stick functions, and USB hard
drives draw their power from the USB port. If insufficient power is delivered, the device may
not work. That's why you need to make sure that the USB interface can deliver enough power
to attached devices.

Check your BIOS to see if you can find an option named "USB 2.0 HS Reference Voltage". If
that option is available, change the associated value from "Low" or "Medium" to "High" or

9. PC Reaction To Power Failure/Loss

Within the "Power Management" menu, the BIOS offers an option to determine how the
computer will react to a power outage or failure. The "AC Power Loss Restart" or "Restore on
AC Power Loss" option controls how the PC will behave once power is restored following a
power outage (or other unexpected or ungraceful shutdown). The "Previous State" or "Last
State" option returns the PC to the state in effect at the time the power outage or shutdown
occurred. Assign this option the "On" or "Enabled" value to reboot automatically; assign the
"Off" or "Disabled" value to leave the machine powered down.

10. Monitor PC Health

The BIOS offers information and settings about the operational health of your PC. These tools
let you monitor vital system components in real time, including the CPU, fans, power supply,
and hard disks. For example, CPU temperature alarms or alerts can help you avoid
overheating your system, and perhaps even foil an emergency shutdown.

In the "Health" or "H/W Control" menus you can track variations in input voltages as well as
read actual temperatures inside your PC. Most BIOSes show at least the CPU and case
temperatures, and many provide other temperature readings as well, such as for hard disks
and the motherboard or CPU socket. Likewise, you can obtain fan speed readings (in RPM) for
CPU and system fans.

11. Mitigate Fan Problems

If your PC won't start up, it might be because the CPU fan is spinning too slowly - or not at all.
This is especially true for thermo-regulated high-end coolers that might turn very slowly (or
stop entirely) when temperature readings are very low, tricking the BIOS into thinking
something's wrong with the fan. That's when the following BIOS tweak comes in handy.

Set the value for the option named "CPU Fan Failure Warning" to "Disabled". Once you've
deactivated this function, the computer will start even with a slow fan. Of course, one problem
is that you may not be able to access the BIOS on your first system start if, as is often the
case, the default value for this setting is "Enabled". In that case, you may need to temporarily
switch back to the cheap CPU cooler that came with your motherboard or CPU, which operates
constantly at maximum fan rotation speed. After you disable this setting, switch back to your
high end cooler without worrying about an emergency shutdown blocking access to the BIOS
setup program.

12. Avoiding A System Crash

Modern hard disks can detect problems or symptoms that suggest a drive crash is imminent,
and issue a warning to the BIOS. This function is called "Self Monitoring And Reporting
Technology" (SMART). Activating "HDD SMART Capability" allows the BIOS to send a warning
message to software such as Norton System Works, or the well-known SpeedFan freeware
utility. That software can then in turn alert you to the condition of your storage device,
providing early warning about potential disk problems so you can take corrective or evasive
13. Using Older Scanners And Printers

Parallel port: "ECP + EPP" is the fastest mode of parallel port communications (Screenshot F).

Your PC's parallel interface (aka parallel port) is normally set to allow only unidirectional
communications. This setting works for nearly all devices, but also limits data transfer rates to
a slow 100 kbps. The following trick can deliver data transfer rates of up to 1 Mbps for your
parallel port.

All you need to do is activate either "ECP" (Extended Capability Port) or "EPP" (Enhanced
Parallel Port). In fact, you'll often find both modes identified together as a single setting that
reads "ECP/EPP".

Warning: If a printer and a scanner share a single parallel port, this configuration can cause
device conflicts or problems, as shown in Screenshot F. If you want to maintain a high data
transfer rate, you may need to install an additional PCI expansion card to add a second
parallel port to your machine and then move one of these two devices to the other such port.
Alternately, use a USB-to-parallel-port adapter for one of the two devices instead.

BIOS Tuning

In this section, ambitious users can learn how to speed system boot-up to the max, accelerate
graphics cards, make the fullest use of their CPU power, tune motherboard chipsets, and
squeeze more performance out of their RAM.

14. Display Power-on Self-Test (POST) Results During Boot-up

During PC start-up, many computers simply flash a colorful vendor logo instead of showing
you what's going on. Instead of pretty pictures, you can - and probably should - have the PC
show you the results of the tests it's performing.

Here's how to do it. From within the "Advanced BIOS Features" menu, set the value for the
"Full Screen LOGO Display" option to "Disabled". After that, you can follow along and read the
results of all the tests your PC runs while it's starting itself up.

15. Boot Your PC Twice As Fast

This trick lets your computer skip various component tests during start up. For example,
available RAM space will be tallied just once, rather than the customary three times; your
computer should start nearly twice as fast as a result.

From within the "Advanced" or "Advanced BIOS Features" menus, change the value of the
"Quick Power On Self Test" or "Quick Boot" option to "Enabled".

Warning: If any hardware problems show up after you make this change, you'll want to revisit
BIOS Setup and return this option to "Disabled" - that will let the BIOS help you identify
what's causing the trouble, so you can fix it.

16. Start The Right Graphics Card

The BIOS tries to decide which graphics card to use each time it runs, but this isn't really
necessary - you already know!

Pick the menu option labeled "Init Display First", which may also appear as "Primary VGA
BIOS" or "VGA Boot From" depending on your BIOS version. Set its value to "AGP" if you use
an AGP graphics card in your PC. In brand-new systems with PCI Express, this option is
normally named "PEG Port/Graphic Adapter Priority" instead. In that case, set its value to
"PEG", if your system uses a PCI Express graphics card.

17. Deactivate Outmoded Graphics Functions

BIOS Cacheable: These settings only improve performance in MS-DOS (see Screenshot G.)

The "Video RAM Cachable" and "Video BIOS Cachable" options boost graphics performance on
older machines running DOS - but they do nothing for Windows. So why bother with them at

Set both the "Video RAM Cachable" and "Video BIOS Cachable" options to "Disabled". While
you're at it, deactivate the "VGA Palette Snoop" as well, if this option appears. You can also
safely deactivate the "System BIOS Cacheable" option (see Screenshot G) - it no longer
provides a performance boost, and in some cases, may actually have a negative impact on
system stability.

18. Install Texture Memory

The option for "Graphics Aperture Size" (which may show up as "AGP Aperture Size") was
originally intended to help AGP graphics cards make more efficient use of system RAM when
rendering graphics textures. This function has become outmoded now that many graphics
cards have 128 MB or even 256 MB of video RAM onboard. At the same time, video RAM
typically runs faster than system RAM. The old rule of thumb, often stated as "Set the graphics
aperture size to half the RAM in your system," thus no longer applies. It's better to set texture
memory to an optimal size instead.

Set the value for the "Graphics Aperture Size" which may also show up as "AGP Aperture Size"
to "128" or "64" MB instead.

19. Modify Clock Settings

This trick prevents problems with an AGP card when overclocking the Front Side Bus (FSB).

The menu item "AGPCLK/CPUCLK" (may show up as "AGP Clock") appears on systems with
motherboards for which the manufacturer provides overclocking functions. If present, set its
value to "Fix". This prevents overclocking the FSB from also automatically overclocking the
AGP graphics card. A value of "1/1" causes the AGP card to run at the same clock rate as the
FSB. A value of "2/3" sets the AGP clock to 2/3 of the FSB clock rate, so that 100 MHz for the
FSB translates into 66 MHz for the AGP card.

20. Boosting AGP Clock Rates

Increasing the AGP clock rate boosts performance but can also lead to problems - see Screenshot H.
Some motherboards permit the AGP clock rate to be increased. Ratchet up the tempo in small
steps (see Screenshot H) for the "AGP Frequency" value, and reboot your PC after each
incremental change. Test each setting with something like a 3D shoot-em-up game, to see if
the system remains stable. Keep at it until signs of instability manifest themselves, then back
off to the previous setting.

21. Boost AGP Voltage Levels

Higher clock rates also entail higher power consumption. The following changes provide the
graphics card slot on the motherboard with higher input voltage.

The "AGP Voltage" option permits you to boost input voltage in increments of 0.1 volts. Make
these changes, however, only when higher AGP clock rates lead to system instability and you
feel a need for increased speed.

Warning: In some circumstances, setting voltage levels too high can destroy a graphics card.
When boosting input voltage has no effect, be sure to reset the voltage to a lower value, and
turn the AGP clock rate down, to be sure you restore your system to steady and stable

22. Activate CPU Cache Levels

Activating the CPU cache at any of Levels 1, 2, or 3 delivers definite performance advantages (see Screenshot I.)

The CPU runs markedly faster than the rest of the motherboard, so it must often wait for data.
Speed this process up with help from CPU cache, a form of faster memory that sits between
the CPU and system RAM.

Level 1 (L1) cache is very small but is located on the CPU die itself, providing fast, temporary
storage for data. Level 2 (L2) cache is significantly bigger and can store entire program
elements; when the CPU asks for data that the cache already has, this improves performance
because system RAM can't respond to retrieval requests nearly as quickly. Systems that
include CPUs with an integrated L2 cache typically also have access to external Level 3 cache
memory that speeds the PC still further. Activate all related options that the motherboard (and
BIOS) make available to you, as shown in Screenshot I.

23. Turn On APIC

The motherboard chipsets generally contain two main components usually called the north
bridge and south bridge. These drive data signals between the CPU, system RAM, and
expansion cards and other peripheral devices. The following configuration lets the computer
handle more interrupts and thus, more devices. The total number of usable interrupts climbs
from 16 to 24. In addition, interrupt handling becomes noticeably more flexible, while also
leading to time savings in data management.

All you have to do is go to the "Advanced BIOS Features" menu and make sure the "APIC
Mode" function is set to "Enabled".

24. Turn On Burst Mode

Access to hard disks, PCI cards and RAM all work faster in "Burst Mode". In this mode of
operation, pairs of devices can exchange data especially quickly, because multiple data
transfers can be initiated or acknowledged with a single signal instead of requiring each
individual item to be handled or acknowledged separately.

In your travels through the BIOS setup program, whenever the "Burst Mode" option appears,
make sure it's set to "Enabled". You should also test the system thoroughly for stability after
making such a change.

Warning: Many PCI cards won't work properly if the "PCI Dynamic Bursting" option is set to

25. Activate Bus Mastering

Activate Bus Mastering: This setting speeds hard disk access (see Screenshot J.)
This BIOS setting instructs Windows to use the faster DMA (Direct Memory Access) mode
when reading from or writing to a hard disk. DMA mode permits disk drives to access system
RAM directly without involving the CPU. This speeds access to data on the hard disk, for
example, and saves valuable CPU resources.

When the "Integrated Peripherals" menu includes an option named "PCI IDE BusMaster", set
its value to "Enabled" as shown in screenshot J. Once this setting has been activated, go to
"Start, Control Panel, System" and click on the Device Manager button from its Hardware tab.
Look for a subordinate entry that reads something like "IDE ATA/ATAPI Controller" - the
designation may vary from motherboard to motherboard. Double click the entry that reads
"Primary IDE Channel" and then select the "Advanced Settings" tab. In the device entry
pane(s), you should see an entry labeled "Current Transfer Mode". Inside its data field, make
sure the entry reads something like "Ultra DMA Mode". Hard disks usually offer a value that
reads "Ultra DMA Mode 5 (Ultra 100)", while CD and DVD drives or burners typically operate in
Mode 2 (Ultra 33).

26. Change RAM Timing Settings

Reduce latency times: This only works on high-quality RAM modules, but when it does work, it makes a huge
difference (Screenshot K.)

Every SDRAM and DDR memory module includes a Serial Presence Detect (SPD) chip, which
stores memory timing values settings. RAM vendors specify SPD values designed to guarantee
safe, stable operation. Most of the time, however, it's worthwhile to experiment with tighter
timing values, as this can improve overall performance by as much as 10%.

The relevant option may be named something like "System Performance", "Memory Timings",
or "Configure DRAM Timing". As a rule, the default value for this option is "By SPD". This
instructs the computer to read recommended timing values right from the memory module
itself, and to automatically use those values for memory access. The alternate value "Enabled"
is likewise unlikely to cause problems for your PC.
Those who want to tweak their systems for speed should instead select the values "Disabled"
or "User Defined" if and when they're available (see Screenshot K.) Then set the parameter
values yourself, as described in the tips that follow next.

27. Lower The RAS-to-CAS Delay Value

It's best to think of system memory as a kind of two-dimensional table. Accessing data first
requires identifying a row using a signal called Row Address Strobe (RAS) and then a column
using Column Address Strobe (CAS), to uniquely identify a specific memory location. A pause
is required between the RAS signal and the CAS signal, to be sure that memory is correctly
addressed. This RAS-to-CAS delay normally consumes two or more clock cycles.

The value for the "SDRAM RAS to CAS Delay" lets you specify exactly how many clock cycles
must elapse between sending a RAS signal and then following with a CAS signal. Possible
settings usually fall in a range from 2 to 5, where 2 is fastest. Reduce this value one cycle at a
time, and test your system for stability with each change. The better the RAM, the smaller the
value at which your system will keep working properly.

28. Reduce CAS Latency

When memory access is underway a particular time period must elapse between specifying a
memory address and accessing its contents; this is called latency. This interval for a memory
cell may be set to 2T for two clock cycles, 3T for three clock cycles, and so on. A smaller value
for "SDRAM CAS Latency" means faster performance; higher means slower performance.

The safest and most correct value for "SDRAM CAS Latency" is usually printed on a label or
etched directly onto the memory module itself. Typical values are 3T or 2.5T for lower-cost
memory modules. Change this setting to 2.5T or even 2T, then test your system for stability.
Some memory manufacturers claim that 2T-capable memory can also handle higher memory
clock rates. If tightening CAS latency succeeds, you may also want to try boosting the
memory clock rate by increasing the value for the "Memory Frequency" option.

Warning: Make only one change at a time, then reboot and test its effects by running a
benchmark. This makes it easy to back off only the right value when instability rears its head
and requires a rollback of some kind.

29. Reduce Memory Load Time

With the correct settings, memory cells acquire the electrical charge they need to operate
more quickly. Set a value for the "SDRAM RAS Precharge Delay" option (in clock cycles) for
the interval when the charge level is building and when the RAS signal is sent. Smaller values,
such as "2", set the tempo faster than larger values, but larger values ensure more stable
system operation. Reduce the number of clock cycles one at a time and test your system for
stability after each such change.

30. Shorten The Delay Before The Next Memory Access

The "SDRAM Active Precharge Delay" option is also specified as a number of memory clock
cycles. It indicates the delay between subsequent memory accesses, so reducing it can speed
up overall memory access.

A typical rule of thumb for this value is: Active Precharge Delay = CAS-Latency + RAS
Precharge Delay + 2 (added as a safety margin). As with other experimental value tweaks,
reduce this number by one clock cycle at a time to determine if faster values work, as is often
the case. As soon as stability problems appear, bump this value up by one to ensure trouble-
free operation.

31. Read RAM Timings

RAM Timings: Incremental changes to settings help speed RAM performance (Screenshot L).

The recommended values for the settings in Tips 27 through 30 appear most often on the
memory module itself. A set of values that reads "2.5-4-4-8" is specified in clock cycles, and
means the CAS Latency is 2.5 cycles, the RAS to CAS Delay is 4 cycles, the RAS Precharge
Delay is 4 cycles, and the Active Precharge Delay is 8 cycles. These represent the setting
values that the manufacturer recommends for the memory's specified clock frequency.
Smaller values may very well work, but they also risk system crashes. To improve
performance, reduce these values incrementally one at a time, and test each change for
system stability and performance, as shown in Screenshot L.

32. Increase RAM Input Voltage Levels

When RAM runs faster, it needs more voltage. That's why you must boost input voltage levels
to match clock rate increases.
The "DDR Reference Voltage" option permits voltage levels to be raised in increments of 0.1
volts. Increasing this value makes sense only when you've reduced one or more timing values
or have increased the frequency of the memory clock, and when stability problems begin to

Warning: Setting input voltage levels too high can destroy memory modules in some cases!

33. Turn Off Motherboard Audio

Eliminate deadweight: Turn off unused functions, such as the motherboard's sound chip (Screenshot M).

The motherboard sound chip may never be used. If you install a PCI sound card, or never use
your PC's audio functions, deactivate sound chips on the motherboard. This increases overall
system performance and stability.

In the "Integrated Peripherals" menu, set the value for the "AC97 Audio Select"option to
"Disabled" (as shown in Screenshot M).

34. Turn Off The Game Port

Only those who need an older joystick, or who use the game port as a MIDI interface, really
need to dedicate two I/O ports and an IRQ to their PC's game port. (Even if you use a joystick,
on many newer systems, USB used instead anyway.) All others users can simply deactivate
this port.

Here's how: From the "Integrated Peripherals" menu, set the value for the "Game Port" option
to "Disabled".

35. Deactivate Onboard-LAN Functions

Some motherboards come equipped with two network interfaces, but as a rule, most users
need only one, and can turn the other one off. Even a defective interface should be turned off.
This increases system performance and stability.

From the "Integrated Peripherals" menu, simply set the value for the "Onboard Intel LAN"
option to "Disabled".

36. Deactivate Unneeded Ports

The bottom line: Only old PDAs or serial-attached modems need the old COM1 and COM2
ports. Deactivating them saves two IRQs, and lowers the number of active interrupts the CPU
must check. The parallel LPT interface is often superfluous today, too. If you attach your
printer or scanner to a USB port instead, you won't need this old interface any more.

From the "Integrated Peripherals" menu deactivate the COM1 and COM2 interfaces through
the "IO Devices, Com-Port" option, which may sometimes appear as "Serial Port 1/2". Turn
the LPT interface off by setting the value for the "Parallel Port" option to "Disabled".

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37. Deactivate Firewire

You only need Firewire if you plan to editing video from a camcorder, or use other Firewire
peripherals. Otherwise, turn it off.

From the "Integrated Peripherals" menu, set the value for the "Onboard 1394 device" option
to "Disabled".

BIOS Update

From time to time, motherboard manufacturers release new BIOS versions. An updated BIOS
optimizes existing hardware and may also introduce new functions, such as overclocking
features. We recommend that you update your BIOS whenever a new commercial version is
released (but you can usually skip interim alpha or beta releases).

The BIOS program uses resides in a special kind of flash memory module. It's rewritable,
which enables an old BIOS to be overwritten completely by a new version. Updating the BIOS
requires special software tools, which the motherboard or system manufacturer will supply for
each model. Because of the memory technology used, updating the BIOS is also known as
"flashing the BIOS."

When it comes to performing a BIOS update, users face two alternative methods to complete
this task. First, they may use a Windows tool, which usually comes with the driver CD for the
motherboard, or may be downloaded from the motherboard or system vendor's Web site. At
regular intervals, this tool checks to see if new versions of the BIOS are available, downloads
them automatically when they're detected, and installs them at the user's behest. This method
is easy, but weighs your PC down with yet another program that consumes system resources
running in the background.

The Windows option is by no means bad, as long as your system remains stable. If your
Windows installation gets messed up, however, avoid this method. In that case, you'll want to
employ the following DOS method instead.

Normally, you'll download this tool from your manufacturer's Web site. Next, you'll start your
system from a DOS boot disk, and invoke the flash program from the command line; many
such utilities come in the form of a ZIP file which, when extracted to a floppy disk, copies all
the necessary files - including DOS boot files - to a floppy for you. This approach is more
reliable because it requires no device drivers to load before it goes to work.

Warning: When you flash the BIOS on a notebook computer, it shouldn't be running on battery
- it's essential that it be plugged into a wall socket or you risk a shutdown during the update,
which can wreak havoc on your system.

38. Loading A New BIOS

Select your motherboard (or system): Use only BIOS versions that apply to your motherboard (or system) make
and model (see Screenshot N.)

Visit your motherboard (or system) manufacturer's Web site, and check out their support
pages. Look for the make and model of your motherboard or system; see Screenshot N. Most
of these entries use designations such as "GA-686BX", "A7N8X-E" or "K8T Neo2". If your
search turns up no matches, use only the model name instead. Sometimes this won't help
either, though, perhaps because the motherboard name on the packaging (for example "K8T-
Neo") differs from its technical description (for example "MS-6702 Version 1.0"). Should this
happen, switch to the product listings on the Web site instead, and follow the right path to
select the motherboard (or system) model that you own. Once you find your match, you can
then select "Downloads" or "Support" to find what you need.

39. Archiving BIOS Versions

Some people download BIOS update files from the manufacturer's website regularly, even
when they may not need them: for example, to assess experimental, alpha, or beta releases,
or changes not relevant to specific installations. You can always replace later updates that you
may not like or that cause problems with older BIOS versions. Always read the Readme file
that accompanies any BIOS update through completely before you install it. The file will
describe exactly what changes and enhancements are included in the associated BIOS version.

a BIOS update addresses specific, concrete problems (as shown in Screenshot O), you must
decide if those issues apply to your system. If not, you should probably skip the update unless
it also promises definite performance improvements. A BIOS update often enables the
installation of a faster CPU and may thus provide measurable performance gains.

If you didn't purchase your motherboard yourself, or it came as part of a turnkey PC, it's best
to check the system vendor's site to see if a BIOS update is available for the motherboard. It's
possible that the PC vendor will offer a BIOS update that originated as a BIOS update for the
motherboard it contains. But it's also possible that the PC vendor will offer its own unique
BIOS update that differs from the generic BIOS update for the motherboard. If you're unsure
whether you should apply the update from the PC vendor or the motherboard manufacturer,
ask the manufacturer; if you can't get a straight answer, it may be wise to simply skip the
update altogether.

41. Preparing A Flash Disk

When you download a BIOS update, it normally takes the form of a ZIP archive that contains
numerous files. One file will contain the actual BIOS image itself, which may have a cryptic
name such as "W7176IMS.110" or "AN8D1007.BIN". You'll also normally find some kind of
text file that includes installation instructions.

An executable file of type .EXE is the actual tool for flashing the BIOS. It transfers the
contents of the BIOS file to the flash memory chip where the BIOS resides. For Award BIOSes,
for example, this file is usually named "awdflash.exe". You might also find a helper file that
simplifies invocation and use of the flash tool; as an example it might be named something
like "start.cmd", "flash.bat", or "autoexec.bat". Unpack these files into a directory named
"C:\BIOS\". If the BIOS update is available for download as a self-extracting executable file,
copy that file into the "C:\BIOS\", and extract its contents by executing the file inside that

Important: While the PC is still running (before you reboot, in other words), print the Readme
file that contains additional information about the BIOS update. Keep it with your motherboard
or system manuals. If you don't have a copy of those manuals, visit the vendor's Web site.
There you'll find nearly all manuals available for download as PDF files.

42. Flash Your System From Diskette

You'll need a bootable DOS diskette to start this process rolling. To build one of these, start by
selecting My Computer from the Start menu. Right-click the floppy drive icon that appears
inside that window. Select "Format..." in the pop-up menu that appears, then click the
checkbox next to "Create an MS-DOS startup disk" in the resulting format window. Click
"Start" to begin the formatting process, then close the "Format 3 1/2" Floppy" window when it
finishes. Erase all the files on the newly formatted diskette, and copy the Flash tool and the
BIOS file onto the diskette (for example, this would mean "awdflash.exe" and
"w6330vms.360" for a relatively current Award BIOS version).

To install the new BIOS into the flash memory chip using a startup diskette, reboot the PC and
make sure it boots from the diskette. Next, invoke the BIOS Setup program by striking the
required key during initial startup. Select the "Advanced BIOS Features, Boot Sequence" menu
entries (which may also appear as "Advanced, Advanced BIOS Features" on some machines).
Make sure the value "Floppy" is set for the "1st Boot Device" option. Exit the sub-menu using
the escape [Esc] key. Use the [F10] key to end this Setup session, and be sure to retain your
changes by striking to [Y] to answer "Yes" when asked if you want to save your changes.

43. Flashing The BIOS From DOS

Double-check that your machine has a steady and reliable source of power. As mentioned
earlier, don't flash the BIOS on any notebook computer while it's running on its batteries -
make sure it's plugged into a wall socket.

Reboot your PC and boot from the diskette you created with the Flash tool and BIOS file.
When the prompt to "Enter the name of the command interpreter..." appears, enter the name
of the Flash program, followed by the name of the BIOS file itself (this looks like

A:\>awdflash.exe w6330vms.360

in our Award BIOS example). The program will take over and guide you through the rest of
the process.
Archive the old BIOS: Before flashing in a new BIOS, secure the old one for possible later re-use by striking the
[Y] key to save it to a file (Screenshot P.)

While the names of the Flash tool and the BIOS file may be different on your PC - for example,
"awdfl789.exe" and "w6330vms.250" - the approach remains the same. Follow the
instructions on the monitor and respond to all back-up and archive related queries. For every
update, save a copy of your old BIOS to a file, as shown in Screenshot P. This backup will let
you get back in business should the new BIOS cause problems after it's installed.

Finally, the Flash program will rewrite the BIOS image to the flash memory where it will then
reside. Restart your PC once this action is complete. Make very sure that your PC doesn't lose
power or get turned off during the update process, or you'll gain a new (and probably
unwanted) appreciation for this bit of computer jargon: "the machine is in an indeterminate

44. Loading The New BIOS

Once the update is complete, turn your PC off. Be sure to remove the power cable, then erase
your CMOS as described in Point 5 in the "BIOS Golden Rules" section that follows next.
Reconnect your power supply to the grid by reattaching the power cable, then plugging it into
a wall socket. Turn the PC on, and you should be rewarded with an on-screen message that
refers to the new BIOS you just installed. Hit your magic key to invoke the BIOS Setup
program. Select the "Load Optimized Defaults" option (which may appear as "Exit, Load Setup
Defaults" on some machines). Exit setup and save changes by striking the [F10] and [Y] keys,
then start the PC up again to start enjoying the fruits of your labors.

BIOS Golden Rules

When you change BIOS settings, there's little you can actually break, as long as you don't
elevate any input voltages. Nonetheless, it's a good idea to know about and follow various
rules to help stay out of trouble.

1. Create a backup copy of your current BIOS. Before you install a new or changed BIOS,
save the old version. Every Flash tool includes an option such as "Save current BIOS
as" (see Screenshot D). With the help of a backup, you can always get your system up
and running again if a new version or changes to settings cause problems.
2. Change only one setting at a time. When running the BIOS Setup program, make
changes carefully, one at a time, and in small increments where applicable. Restart
you PC after each change and take it on a test drive under Windows to make sure
things work properly. This is the only safe way to determine what impact individual
settings changes have on your PC.
3. Run stress tests or benchmarks. Running your system under heavy or full load is the
best way to determine whether or not aggressive settings cause problems when the
PC is put to work. For this purpose, parallel use of massively networked applications
such as online games, video editing, or 3D benchmarks such as 3DMark 2005 work
4. If all else fails, try a cold boot. If the PC won't boot after pressing the Reset button,
turn off the computer and wait a minute or two before turning it back on. Use the
switch on the power supply, not the buttons on the front of your PC.
5. Erase the CMOS. When the PC won't boot any more after you make BIOS changes,
you won't be able to access the BIOS Setup program to back those changes out.
Should this happen, you'll need to erase the CMOS memory in which the BIOS settings
reside. Follow the instructions for clearing or resetting CMOS from your motherboard
(or system) manual.
In some cases, this requires moving a jumper to bridge contacts that are designed to
send a "Clear CMOS" instruction to that memory. This may mean actually moving a
physical jumper block on the motherboard, or may require flipping a DIP switch.
Remember to remove that jumper after you've cleared the CMOS.
Another possibility is removing the CMOS battery and unplugging the PC from the wall.
This may take several hours to work reliably, however.