Discover Your BIOS & Learn How to Make the Most of It

Most users will get through life without ever tinkering with the BIOS, but when trouble comes calling and you need to tweak a setting, will you know how to do it? What the heck is the BIOS, anyway? Is it really that important to know? We think so.

Using a computer while ignoring the BIOS is like buying a TV without ever accessing the options menu or installing a new router without ever visiting the settings page. You don’t need them 99% of the time, but there will come a time when you do, so it’s better to be prepared than sorry.

Fortunately, the BIOS is not complicated. It’s actually pretty easy! Here’s what you need to know.

What Is the BIOS?

The BIOS, which stands for Basic Input/Output System, is the very first piece of software that runs when you boot up your computer. It’s stored in a special section of the motherboard, which means that it runs even before any other hardware component is detected — including the hard drive.

You can think of the BIOS as the conductor of the boot-up symphony. It makes sure that all of the connected hardware components are operational and is capable of running diagnostic tests to help troubleshoot certain hardware issues. Once everything looks good, it begins loading the operating system.

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Most BIOSes have a configurable boot order. This order determines the order of devices that the BIOS will check when looking for an operating system. By changing the order around, you can boot from devices other than the usual hard drive — for example, a bootable USB stick.

As for accessing the BIOS, it’s easy though slightly inconvenient. Since it’s the absolute first thing that runs, you’ll need to restart your computer. Then you should repeatedly press the appropriate BIOS hotkey for your system, which should be stated in your motherboard’s user manual.

Can’t find it? The most common BIOS entry keys are F1, F2, F10, and DEL. However, it really depends on the manufacturer and model of your computer, so you may need to do a bit of experimenting to find the right key. Check this page for more common BIOS entry keys.

The Difference: BIOS vs. UEFI

UEFI, which stands for Unified Extensible Firmware Interface, is the successor to BIOS firmware, acting as an interface between hardware components and the operating system. Despite being meant as a replacement, most UEFI configurations provide legacy support for the BIOS.

The most notable difference between UEFI and BIOS is the graphical display. While modern BIOS implementations still rely on an ASCII text-based display, UEFI uses advanced graphics that are more appealing to the eye and more comfortable to use.

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Not only that, you can also use your keyboard and mouse with UEFI.

Other features include advanced tools for diagnostics and repair, detailed boot order configuration, faster boot times, and increased boot security. The Secure Boot feature prevents the system from running malicious code in case the UEFI is infected.

Long story short, you can think of UEFI as a new-and-improved version of BIOS. Starting with Windows 8, computers that come with Windows already installed will have UEFI instead of BIOS.

5 Tips When Using the BIOS

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Finding the BIOS Version

There are several ways to find your BIOS version, some ways more complicated than others. Our preferred method is to open the Run window (Windows key + R) and type in msinfo32. This opens the System Information tool.

In the System Summary, scroll down to BIOS Version/Date and you’ll find what you’re looking for. It will also tell you the SMBIOS version and whether you’re operating in BIOS or UEFI mode. Knowing the BIOS version is important for…

Updating the BIOS

Occasionally, manufacturers will release BIOS firmware updates that can fix bugs, improve performance, or even add new features. Compare your version to the manufacturer’s latest version (which you should be able to find on their website) and make a BIOS upgrade if necessary.

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Important: Whenever you update (or “flash”) your BIOS, make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions without any deviation. Done properly there shouldn’t be any issue, but a mistake could render your system inoperable. Be careful!

Setting Hardware Passwords

If security is a big concern for you (which it should be), then you should consider password protecting your BIOS. This prevents anyone from tampering with your BIOS settings without your knowledge.

You can also set a password on your hard drives through the BIOS. One word of caution: there’s no easy way to recover, reset, or remove a password that’s been set like this, so only proceed if you are absolutely sure that this is what you want.

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Power Management Features

Most modern BIOSes have one or more features that deal with power management, which is typically done through CPU scaling. The terminology differs between manufacturers, but it should be called something like “CPU Frequency Scaling” or “Demand-Based Scaling”.

Regardless of what it’s called, this feature will change the speed of your CPU based on how much processing needs to be done. If you’re playing a game, for example, your CPU will operate at 100%. If you’re idling, it’ll scale down accordingly. It’s a good way to save power, particularly for laptops.

However, if you intend to overclock your CPU, you may want to skip over this feature as it may give undesirable results.

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Reset to Factory Settings

Worst case scenario, you can always reset your BIOS to default values. It’ll be called “Reset to Default” or “Reset to Factory Settings” or something along those lines. Regardless, it’ll be straightforward and hard to miss.

No More Fearing Boot-Up Options

Over the years, Windows users have been conditioned to flinch whenever they see a blue screen. As understandable as that is — I still flinch sometimes myself — there’s absolutely no reason why you should fear the BIOS. It’s a different beast than that other blue screen.

The BIOS is a tool. Once you know what it’s capable of doing and how to make use of it, you’ll be able to maximize your computer’s performance and get it to do things that once seemed confusing or beyond reach.

Do you feel more comfortable with the BIOS now? Is there still something you don’t understand? Got any useful tips for us? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

Image Credits: Motherboard CPU Via Shutterstock

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