BIOS for Beginners

BIOS for Beginners
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BIOS for Beginners
Main Options
Let's start with the BIOS Main Options Menu, found by clicking on the "Main" tab in the upper left-hand
corner.
Just below where you set the date and time you can define the specifics of your hard drives and other storage
devices installed in the PC. Each time the PC boots, it most likely has to auto-detect and determine what
storage devices are installed on the system. While this takes only a second or two on most systems, if you
define these specifics rather than use auto-detection, your boot-up will be that much quicker.
To do this, simply select the drive, usually by highlighting it and pressing Enter. Then write down the
numbers currently displayed for the Cylinders, Heads, Sectors, and LBA. On some BIOSes, you'll also have
options for Block Mode as well as 32-Bit Transfer Mode. Change the drive type from AUTO to USER.
Then key those numbers and options in exactly as they were displayed. On most modern computers, you
will want LBA Mode, Block Mode, and 32-bit Transfer Mode all turned ON for your hard disk drive, even if
they weren't before.
If there is no device attached to any one of the four possible drive location combinations, select NONE. For
example, if you have one hard drive configured as a Primary Master and one CD-RW configured as a
Secondary Master, be sure to set both the Primary and Secondary Slave options to NONE. If you leave the
AUTO setting where there is no device, the computer will always look to see if a device is plugged in at that
location each time the computer boots. By changing this setting to NONE, the computer will boot slightly
faster.
Advanced Features
Next, select the Advanced tab on the top of the screen to show advanced options, which are broken into submenus. The first branch is labeled "Advanced BIOS Features."
Is it really necessary to thoroughly test your memory and floppy drive every single time you turn on the
computer? Unless you suspect a problem with either one, I see no reason to continually test them with BIOS
diagnostics. In this part of the BIOS we'll be able to reduce system start up time by enabling or disabling
specific features - such as those just mentioned - to optimize the start-up process. Here are the recommended
settngs:
Boot Virus Detection : Enabled. Sometimes this is located under the Standard or Main section of some
BIOS. While boot sector viruses are no longer the major threat they once were, enabling this feature will
protect your data should you boot from an infected floppy disk or CD-ROM.
CPU Level 1 Cache : Enabled.
CPU Level 2 Cache : Enabled.
Quick Power On Self Test : Enabled. This will skip the repetitive memory count that occurs when you turn
on your PC; chances are that if you really do have bad memory, this basic test won't catch it anyway.
First, Second, or Third Boot Device : Set your boot order, and disable any boot device here that you do not
want to boot from.
Boot Other Device : Disabled, unless you are booting from a network or SCSI card.
Boot Up Floppy Seek : Disabled. It's a waste of time and a noise maker.
Boot Up NumLock Status : Your choice. Some folks like the NumLock on their keyboard activated when
Windows starts, while others want it disabled.
Gate A20 Option : FAST. While this feature is made more or less obsolete by Windows XP, I still
recommend you leave it on. Older versions of Windows and OS/2 perform better with this parameter set to
FAST. The only reason I can imagine someone would set it to normal would be if they are running DOS.
Typematic Rate Setting : Disabled. Your choice, really. This feature determines how long the keyboard
waits when holding down a key until it starts repeating it, and how fast that happens.
APIC Mode : Enabled. This is the Advanced Programmable Interrupt Controller, which is responsible for
multi-processor support, more IRQs, and faster interrupt handling.
OS/2 Onboard Memory > 64M : Disabled. This setting only applies to users running the now defunct OS/2
operating system from IBM.
Full Screen LOGO Show : Your choice. When enabled, the memory count and Power-On Self-Test
(POST) are hidden behind a "curtain" - a graphic logo. For example, when you first turn on a Gateway
computer, you might see GATEWAY in big letters across the screen. When disabled, the "normal" initiation
sequence is displayed on the screen - the way most computers look when you first turn them on before the
operating system begins to load. Some people prefer to hide the POST screen, while others prefer to always
see it.
POST Complete Report : Your choice. This setting, when enabled, will display the results of the POST.
Speech POST Reporter : Your choice. This setting, when enabled on a PC with speakers, will "talk" over
your speakers at boot time to tell you the status of the POST. The voice quality is a far cry from that of the
computers on Star Trek, but some people think it's cool.
How To Overclock Using Advanced Chipset Features
Overclockers are PC enthusiasts who attempt to increase their system's performance by raising bus speeds
and increasing their CPU speed beyond the figure at which it was sold and designed to run. They also quite
frequently need to raise the voltage of these devices, since they are pushing them harder, which also
generates more heat.
Overclocking no longer makes the performance difference it used to. It will also void your CPU warranty,
could cause complete system failure requiring component replacement, and can cause random system
instability. For that reason, many of the frequency and voltage settings offered in this part of the BIOS
should be left alone or set to AUTO. But if you do want to adjust them, click on the ADVANCED tab on the
BIOS screen.
CPU External Freq. (MHz) : Be sure to set this in accordance with the specifications of your processor.
CPU Frequency Multiple Setting : AUTO.
CPU Frequency Multiple : Be sure to set this in accordance with the specifications of your processor.
Asus should have called this the CPU Multiplier. To understand what this means, realize that the CPU
processes data at a different speed than the rest of your system. In this example, an AMD Athlon 2600 CPU
is used, which runs at 2.133 GHz. It talks to the motherboard at 133.33 MHz, which is referred to as the
Front Side Bus (FSB) speed. Therefore, 133.33 MHz (generally referred to as 133 MHz) is the FSB speed,
while the CPU processes data at a multiple of 16 x 133.33 for a total of 2,133, or 2.133 GHz. So the
multiplier is 16.
Through testing, AMD has determined - as have many independent magazines - that their 2.133 GHz CPU
runs as fast as (or faster than) an Intel CPU rated at 2.6 GHz. Knowing that most consumers shop looking
for large numbers to equate to performance, AMD had to come up with a way to convince consumers that
even though their clock speed number was smaller, the processor's performance was the same or better than
an Intel system with larger numbers. This explains why an AMD Athlon 2600 (as used in this example)
actually runs at 2.1333 GHz and not the implied 2.6 GHz.
System Performance : Optimal.
CPU Interface : Optimal.
Memory Frequency : By SPD. Most memory-chip manufacturers include a Serial Presence Detect (SPD)
chip, which reports to the computer's BIOS the size, data width, speed, and voltage of the installed memory.
These settings are determined by the manufacturer to ensure maximum performance and reliability, so "By
SPD" is considered a safe, recommended setting. By adjusting these settings yourself, you may be able to
squeeze more performance out of your system, but if you're not careful, you might cause your system to
constantly crash, not boot properly, or not boot at all.
Memory Timings : Optimal.
FSB Spread Spectrum : Disabled. This feature helps systems pass European electromagnetic interference
(EMI) tests. It accomplishes this by constantly varying, ever so slightly, the frequency of the Front Side Bus
(FSB). Be warned that enabling this feature with large values can result in Internet connection disruption, as
well as stability problems if you overclock your system.
AGP Spread Spectrum : Disabled. The description above applies here as well, except that this is for
modulating the frequency of the Advanced Graphics Port (AGP) interface.
CPU VCore Setting : AUTO.
CPU VCore : Be sure to set this in accordance with the core voltage requirements of your processor.
There are so many processors out there that I don't know if one example would be better than none. Instead,
here is a partial chart, showing the name of the CPU, its actual operating speed, its core voltage requirement,
and how hot it can get before failing.
Athlon Processor Speed (GHz) Core Voltage (V) Max. Temp. (°C)
XP 1700
1.467
1.50
90
XP 1900
1.60
1.50
90
XP 2000
1.667
1.60
90
XP 2100
1.733
1.60
90
XP 2200
1.80
1.60
90
XP 2400
2.0
1.60
85
XP 2600
2.133
1.65
85
XP 2700
2.171
1.65
85
XP 2800
2.250
1.65
85
Graphics Aperture Size : 64 MB or 128 MB. This feature controls the size of the Graphics Address
Relocation Table (GART) and the amount of memory address space used for AGP memory addresses.
Regardless of how much on-board memory a system's video card has, a setting of 64 MB or 128 MB is
recommended. This will allow the video card to remain optimized in the event that an application requires
more memory for texture storage, while simultaneously limiting the GART to a reasonable size.
AGP Frequency : AUTO.
System BIOS Cacheable : Disabled. You might be under the impression that all cache is good, but that's
not true. This feature can cause problems such as system crashes if a program tries to write to the BIOS area
being cached. This is a great feature to enable if you're still using DOS.
Video RAM Cacheable : Disabled. This option allows the Video RAM to be copied directly to your L2
cache, which is considerably faster to access than ROM. However, Windows is so much more advanced
than DOS, Windows rarely ever uses this ROM. Because the L2 cache is quite limited in size, it is
recommended you let Windows use the L2 cache for enhancing the efficiency of other tasks.
DDR Reference Voltage : 2.6V. This setting controls the voltage of the Double-Data Rate (DDR) memory
in your system.
AGP VDDQ Voltage : 1.5V. VDDQ is an engineering term meaning Voltage between Drain and common
for Data Quad-band. In English, this refers to how much voltage should be supplied to the video card.
AGP 8X Support : Enable this if the system's video card supports 8X AGP speeds. You must install the
VIA 4-in-1 drivers to take advantage of this feature on VIA-based motherboards.
AGP Fast Write Capability : Enabled is recommended. This feature, when enabled, allows the AGP device
to bypass main memory when performing write transactions from the chipset to the AGP device, increasing
performance by as much as 10 percent. However, some games and PCI cards may experience problems with
this setting enabled. It is recommended that you experiment with this setting to determine what works best
for your PC.
Integrated Peripherals
This section of the BIOS setup program contains settings for built-in peripherals included with the
motherboard. This includes serial and parallel ports, as well as audio, LAN, and USB ports. Unused ports
that are enabled represent a significant drain on resources and should be disabled.
Primary VGA BIOS : This setting is used only when there are two video cards installed in the PC: One
AGP (accelerated graphics port) and one PCI (peripheral component interconnect). The system wants to
know which card to initialize first and make its "main" card. If you only have one video card, it is most
likely AGP. For most people, the default setting is wrong and should be changed to AGP VGA Card . If
you have two video cards, select the video card that you want to be the "main" or primary card. The primary
video card will show the Windows splash screen and POST results during initial boot-up.
USB Controllers : This feature allows you to limit the functionality of the Universal Serial Bus (USB)
controllers on your system. You may choose to allow only USB 1.1, USB 1.1 & 2.0, or disable USB
altogether. Most people will want to set this to USB 1.1 & 2.0 for maximum versatility.
USB Legacy Support : This setting must be enabled if the PC has a USB keyboard and the user wants to
use this keyboard either in a DOS environment or before the operating system loads (in boot menus, for
example). If this setting is disabled, then booting to a floppy disk or CD-ROM will render the keyboard
useless. Also, ironically, trying to enter the PC's BIOS may be impossible if this setting is disabled and a
USB keyboard is connected. If the PC has a USB keyboard with a rectangular connector, then set this to
Enabled . If it has a PS/2 keyboard (round connector), set this to Disabled . Be aware that enabling this
feature may result in problems with the computer waking up from Standby or Hibernate mode, or cause the
computer to not shut down properly. In other words, enable this only if you must.
USB Mouse Support : Same as above. Disabled is the preferred setting.
Onboard AC97 Audio Controller : If a sound card such as a Soundblaster Audigy has been added to the
PC, or the system does not have speakers, be sure to Disable the motherboard's on-board sound card. This
will free up precious resources and prevent potential conflicts. For most systems, however, this feature
should be set to Enabled .
Onboard AC97 Modem Controller : Some motherboards are sold with built-in or proprietary dial-up
modems. This is rare on white-box systems, but many tier-one manufacturers utilize these devices. If the
system lacks a modem, or if the modem is plugged into a standard PCI slot on the motherboard, then this
setting should be Disabled. Otherwise, it should be Enabled.
Onboard LAN (nVidia) : This lets you enable or disable the built-in network interface card (NIC). The
options are Auto or Disabled. The ASUS motherboard I used for this article has two built-in network
interface cards, which is particularly useful for people who want to use the PC as a router to share their highspeed broadband Internet connection: One NIC plugs into the cable modem, while the other plugs into a
hub, switch, or other PC via a crossover cable. If you use only one NIC, disable the one you are not using, to
free up valuable resources.
Onboard LAN (3Com) : This is the second built-in network interface card (NIC), as mentioned above..
Onboard 1394 Device (Firewire) : This feature enables or disables the built-in IEEE 1394 (Firewire) port
on the PC. If the system does not have any Firewire devices, or if the Firewire connector is not plugged into
the motherboard, disable this device to free up valuable resources.
Floppy Disk Access Controller : Most PCs today do not have floppy drives. If that's the case for your PC,
or if you never use your floppy drive and would rather have resources available for other uses, then disable
this device. Note: If you have a floppy drive and decide to disable it here, the drive will not function unless
you go back in to the BIOS and re-enable it.
Onboard Serial Port 1 : Most people no longer use serial ports for connecting external peripherals, as most
have been replaced by USB equivalents. If you do not use the system's serial ports, disable the ports and free
up the resources. On the other hand, if you do use the serial port, then this option should be set to 3F8/IRQ4
Onboard Serial Port 2 : Same as above, if you do not use this. If you do use it, then set this to 2F8/IRQ3 .
UART2 Use As : A UART (Universal Asynchronous Receiver/Transmitter) is a chip that receives and
transmits data serially; each serial port you have will use one, though it is possible that several may be
integrated onto one chip. Many motherboards offer an infrared device to use in place of Serial Port 2, and
this is where you can make that decision. You will need the infrared adapter installed on your motherboard usually sold separately - to utilize the Infrared feature.
Onboard Parallel Port : This setting lets you decide whether to select parallel port mode resources or
disable the parallel port completely. If you have nothing plugged into the parallel port, disabling it will free
up valuable system resources. But if you use the parallel port, then I recommend you set it to 378/IRQ7 .
Parallel Port Mode : If you have disabled the parallel port, then this setting is irrelevant. However, if the
parallel port is enabled, you should configure it to run in EPP (enhanced parallel port) or ECP (enhanced
capabilities port) mode. EPP mode is recommended if the system has just one device, such as a printer,
plugged into its parallel port. Select ECP if you have daisy-chained more than one device - such as an
external Zip drive, scanner, printer, or tape drive - to the system's parallel port. To take full advantage of
these settings, make sure you're using IEEE-1284-compliant parallel cables.
ECP DMA Select : If you select ECP or EPP plus ECP as your parallel port mode above, then this option is
made available to you. With it, you can select which DMA (Direct Memory Access) channel you want it to
use. I recommend the default setting of 3.
Onboard Game Port : If you have added a sound card to your system, or if you do not use either MIDIdevices or obsolete joysticks, then this feature should be disabled to free up resources. If, however, you do
use the onboard game port, then I recommend the default setting of 201.
Onboard MIDI I/O : The Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) defines the standard that lets
musical instruments, computer hardware, and software communicate. If you do not use your computer for
making or playing MIDI music, you can safely disable this device. Otherwise, I recommend the default
setting of 330.
Onboard MIDI IRQ : Same as above. If enabled, I recommend the default setting of 10.
Power Management Settings
This area of the BIOS seems to be the most misunderstood. When these settings are not properly configured,
the result can be systems that do not shut down correctly, or that enter or awaken from the Standby or
Hibernate modes improperly. Since Windows has built-in power management, you'll want to disable all
power management in the BIOS. Otherwise, the two fight with each other, and neither works properly.
Motherboard manufacturers don't assume that everyone is using Windows, so many of these settings exist
for non-Windows users.
ACPI Suspend to RAM : ACPI stands for Advanced Configuration and Power Interface - not to be
confused with APIC or IPCA, which some people may find as options in their BIOS setup programs. The
Suspend to RAM feature, sometimes referred to as S3/STR, lets the PC save more power when in Standby
mode, but all devices within or attached to the computer must be ACPI-compliant. Some BIOS's offer an
S1/POS option for this scenario. If you enable this feature and experience problems with the standby mode,
simply go back into the BIOS and disable it.
Video Off Method : The DPMS (Display Power Management System) option allows the BIOS to control
the video display card if it supports the DPMS feature. The Blank Screen option simply blanks the screen use this for monitors without either power-management or "green" features. The V/H SYNC Blank option
blanks the screen and turns off vertical and horizontal scanning. If your computer and monitor were built
within the last four years, I recommend setting this to DPMS.
HDD Down In Suspend : This feature determines whether the hard-disk drive is automatically shut down
when the computer enters Suspend mode. While most power settings of this type are controlled within
Windows, if you find the hard drive is not powering down when the computer enters Suspend mode assuming your computer even allows Suspend and Hibernate modes - then enable this option. Otherwise, the
recommended setting is Disabled.
PWR Button < 4 Secs : By default, all ATX computers will power off after the power button is held for
more than four seconds. This setting tells the computer what to do if the power button is held down for less
than four seconds. The options are to power off the system or enter Suspend mode. This setting is up to you.
Power Up On PCI Device : If you use Wake-On-LAN - typically employed in large office environments to
turn on computers for remote administration - you will want this setting Enabled. Otherwise, I recommend
you set it to Disabled.
Wake/Power Up on Ext. Modem : This setting tells the computer to turn itself on when a phone line
plugged into its modem rings. Once again, this is used for remote administration. For other environments in other words, most users - I recommend you set this to Disabled.
Automatic Power Up : This feature, if enabled, lets you designate a specific time each day when the PC
will turn itself on. If that's useful to you, set it to Enabled. Otherwise, I recommend Disabled.
Time (hh:mm:ss) of Alarm : This field sets the time for automatic power-up, based on a military/24-hour
clock. The Automatic Power Up field must be enabled to use this feature.
AC Power Loss Restart : This option lets you tell the PC what to do when power is restored after an
unexpected loss of power. Disabled leaves the system off, while Enabled reboots the system. Previous State
sets the system back to the state it was in before the power interruption. I recommend you set this to
Disabled.
Power On By PS/2 Mouse : When enabled, this feature allows the use of a PS/2 (not USB) mouse to turn
on the system. Disabled is recommended, so you don't accidentally keep turning on your computer.
Power On By PS/2 Keyboard : When enabled, this feature lets specific keys on a PS/2 keyboard be used to
turn on the system. Disabled is recommended, as most people find this of an annoyance when they
accidentally press the wrong key.
PnP/PCI Configurations
This area of the BIOS exists primarily for compatibility with old or unusual hardware. Most people will not
need to make any changes from the factory default settings.
Reset Configuration Data : The Extended System Configuration Data (ESCD) contains information about
non-PnP (plug and play) devices. It also remembers the configuration of the system since the last time it was
booted. Enable this feature if you want the system to clear this data during the Power-On-Self-Test (POST).
This is typically used when diagnosing a piece of hardware that is not working correctly. Once you've
Enabled this and exited the BIOS, the data will be cleared, and the setting will automatically be returned to
Disabled.
Resources Controlled By : This setting tells the computer to either set IRQs automatically or to allow for
all devices to be assigned IRQs manually. Manual IRQ selection can be quite challenging and is usually only
required when working with older, non-PnP compliant peripherals. The recommended setting is:
AUTO(ESCD).
IRQ Resources : This option allows manual IRQ configuration and will only be available as an option if
you selected MANUAL in the previous setting.
PCI/VGA Palette Snoop : This feature is typically used by video add-on cards, such as MPEG encoders.
They do not have their own color palette, so they must borrow or "snoop" the palette from the system's video
card. If, like most people, you do not have a secondary video device plugged into the video card, this setting
should be set to Disabled.
Security Options
The security section of the BIOS is used to keep unauthorized people from making any changes to the BIOS.
Because settings in the BIOS are so critical to proper PC operation, many office IT staff choose to lock out
all non-IT personnel by using a password that only IT personnel know.
Security Option : This feature lets you password-protect the BIOS to prevent unauthorized users from
making changes. It can also be set to require a password for the PC to boot up. The options available are
Setup or System; this setting controls the options for the parameters below.
Set Supervisor Password : If you choose to select a Supervisor Password, a password will be required to
enter the BIOS after you choose setup, as described above. If you choose SYSTEM as described above, then
a password will be required for cold-booting, too.
Set User Password : A different password assigned to users is required to boot the PC, and if a Supervisor
Password has also been selected, permits the user to only adjust the date and time in the BIOS.
Note: If these passwords are forgotten or lost, you will have to reset the BIOS back to factory defaults by
temporarily moving a jumper on the motherboard.
Hardware Monitor Menu
This part of the BIOS displays and sometimes monitors voltages, fan speeds, and temperatures. The ASUS
motherboard used in this article also lets you set the system to automatically control the speeds of its fans
depending on the system's internal temperature. You may also be able set a CPU warning temperature that
will sound an alarm if overheating occurs. Another common option is to tell the machine to power down
once a pre-set temperature has been exceeded, or if the fan is turning too slowly or not at all. This can
prevent the CPU from burning up if a fan fails or other extraordinary condition occurs.
If the BIOS has these options, you will find them all here, and they should be labeled clearly. Because
today's CPUs run extremely hot, enabling features that monitor and prevent permanent damage to the entire
system is just common sense. I recommend you take advantage of them.
Each CPU has its own heat limitations. An example of AMD Athlon CPUs heat thresholds can be found in a
table earlier in this article. Generally speaking, if the option to "issue a warning beep" or to "shut down the
computer if a specific temperature is reached or exceeded" exists in the BIOS, there will be several pre-set
temperatures to choose from. I recommend setting it to the second hottest temperature option offered.
Conclusion
Because there are so many potential different options available in a computer's BIOS, you may have features
and options not covered here. For additional information and answers to many BIOS questions, I
recommend these two Web sites: Wim's BIOS and Adrian's RojakPot .
Good luck with your BIOS optimization!
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