CompTIA A+ 220-801 exam - Objective 1.1 - BIOS (basic input/output system) configuration.

Bios configuration
Bios configuration – Image credit Wikipedia

Motherboard BIOS settings are used to configure all of the features available to the board. You can use these settings to enable or disable a connector or port, set security features, set boot order, and much more. On legacy motherboards, there were three different methods to configure the motherboard; jumpers, dip switches & CMOS RAM settings. These older boards took a lot more time to setup than todays motherboards. If you had to configure a motherboard by way of jumpers or dip switches that meant you had to open up the computer case every time you wanted to make a change. Today, motherboards are configured through a program installed in CMOS RAM called the BIOS. CMOS RAM is a small amount of of memory stored on the motherboard designed to store the motherboards settings. The CMOS RAM is hooked up to a small round CMOS battery located on the motherboard. The battery enables CMOS RAM to retain its data even when there is no power connected to the computer.

motherboard model number - Image credit Wikipedia
motherboard model number – Image credit Wikipedia

The first step in making a change to motherboard settings is to locate the user guide that came with the board.  This documentation may be on a CD or in a printed manual. If you don’t have the user guide, you can probably find it available for download on the motherboard manufacturers website. To find the right manual, you will need the model number and manufacturers name. This information is usually printed right onto the motherboard.

System Information Window msinfo32 © apluscomputer.repair
System Information Window msinfo32 © apluscomputer.repair

Another way to find the model number and manufacturer name is to use a program. If the board in question happens to be installed in the computer you are using with windows installed, you can use msinfo32.exe to find the information you are looking for. This program is nice because it is built into Windows and requires no installation.

To check for your motherboards model number, type “msinfo32.exe” into the run box from the start menu and press enter. Or, you can click start and search for system information and hit enter. There are really quite a few ways to accomplish this task from within Windows.

Note: For more detailed information and diagnostic tools, I like to use a program called hwinfo. Hwinfo can be downloaded from www.hwinfo.com. Make sure to get the appropriate version for your installed OS (x32 or x64 bit). To find out what version you need, click the start button->right click computer->click properties. Your OS version is listed under system->startup type.

Once you have the motherboards user guide you will be able to read and learn all about your motherboard and how to configure its settings. This documentation will come in very handy when supporting your motherboard. Some common motherboard manufacturers include:

Configuring a motherboard using the BIOS (basic input/output system).

Beginning boot screen message
Beginning boot screen message © apluscomputer.repair

 

To configure the motherboards settings in CMOS RAM, we need to access the BIOS. To access the BIOS on your computer you will need to use a key or combination of keys during your computers startup procedure. Depending on the BIOS, the key or combination of keys will differ. During the beginning boot screen you may see a message letting you know which key(s) to press for BIOS Setup. Once you know the key or combination of keys needed to enter BIOS, it is sometimes helpful to repeatedly push these key(s) until you enter setup. On a system that boots up quickly, this helps ensure you don’t miss your chance to enter the BIOS. Commonly used BIOS & keys include:

BIOS Key to Press During POST to Access Setup
AMI Del
Award Del
Older Phoenix Ctrl+Alt+Esc or Ctrl+Alt+S
Newer Phoenix F2, F1, or Del
Dell computers using Phoenix Press Ctrl+Alt+Enter or F2
Compaq computers Press the F10 key or for older Compaq computers, press F1, F2, F10, or Del.

 

Read your motherboards user guide to find out what key(s) are needed to access the BIOS on your motherboard. Also, during boot up you may see a message telling you how to enter the BIOS. This message usually flashes up pretty quick by default so be ready when you turn on your computer. Once inside the BIOS, some motherboards let you can change the setting for how long this boot message is displayed.

Award BIOS main menu
Award BIOS main menu © apluscomputer.repair

Once you have pressed the required key(s) for your system, a setup screen will appear with several menus available. These menus will differ depending on the BIOS you have. I have included a few sample screens from an Award BIOS to help you familiarize yourself with what the screens may look like and what they will contain. The starting BIOS screen will be a main menu for setup. Depending on your BIOS, this main menu may include settings for adjusting your system date and time and an overview of your system that includes your processor speed and model, how much total memory is installed, as well as how much is in each RAM slot, system temperature and system fan speeds. Or, it may just be a main menu leading you to the different areas of the BIOS where you can view such information.

Install firmware upgrades – flash BIOS

Award BIOS Q-Flash Utility
Award BIOS Q-Flash Utility © apluscomputer.repair

Sometimes, a BIOS may need updating. This is called flashing the BIOS. A BIOS update ensures you motherboards firmware is fully up to date. A BIOS flash can also solve some problems and add motherboard features. Problems that flashing the BIOS may fix include; system hangs up during the boot process or motherboard features that are not working right or at all. The Award BIOS includes a Q-Flash Utility to assist you in flashing your BIOS. You will need to have the BIOS update downloaded and on a drive ready to choose when flashing. You can download the BIOS update from the motherboard manufacturers website. The BIOS update can be performed from a USB flashdrive or a bootable CD.

WARNING: when flashing the BIOS make sure that you follow the manufacturers instructions exactly. Make sure that you have the correct file for your BIOS. If you are at all unsure, DO NOT GUESS. This could ruin your BIOS and your motherboard. For any questions, call the manufacturers tech support. You will need your motherboards model number.

Once started, it is very important to let the BIOS update finish before doing anything else with the system. If the update is interrupted or you stop a BIOS flash while it is in progress the flash will fail and BIOS may become corrupt. If this happens you will need to try and recover the BIOS. A recovery file can usually be downloaded from the manufacturers website. The recovery file then needs to be put on to a USB flash drive. Depending on your motherboard, you may need to set a jumper on the motherboard to recover from failed flash and reboot the system. From here the BIOS will automatically perform the recovery from the USB flash drive.  After your BIOS has been recovered, reset jumper on the motherboard to its normal operational setting.

BIOS component information

The BIOS includes information for all of the components hooked up to the motherboard:

  • How much RAM is installed and what slots are available.
  • How many and what size hard drives or SSD’s are installed.
  • Optical drive information related to reading disks and boot priority.
  • CPU stats including CPU name, CPUID, how many cores and temperature.

BIOS Configurations

BIOS setup boot priority options © apluscomputer.repair
BIOS setup boot priority options © apluscomputer.repair

Setting the boot sequence order allows you to specify the priority in which your attached devices will boot. Usually, the hard drive containing the operating system is selected as the first boot device but sometimes you may want your PC to boot from a flash drive, CD or DVD first. Also, if you want to boot to a device other than your operating system drive without changing the boot order in BIOS setup, you can usually find that there is a startup key for the boot menu (example: the F12 key gets me to my boot options menu) that will allow you to select your desired boot device during system startup. This enables you to save time by selecting your needed boot device on an as needed basis.

EFI boot option
EFI boot option © apluscomputer.repair

Notice that in the BIOS boot sequence screen pictured, the EFI CD/DVD setting is set to auto. This must be set in order to boot a CD via the EFI interface. EFI is essential if you want to boot a windows install cd to load windows on a 2TB or larger drive. The Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) is a newer standard that is starting to replace the BIOS standard. This is an interface between the motherboards firmware and the operating system that improves the boot process transition from motherboard to OS. This setting must be set in order to boot to a drive larger than 2 TB. For more information, check out www.uefi.org.

BIOS setup enabling and disabling  devices
BIOS setup enabling and disabling devices © apluscomputer.repair
BIOS settings OnChip SATA type selection
BIOS settings OnChip SATA type selection © apluscomputer.repair

Enabling and disabling devices on a motherboard is another feature built into the BIOS. Depending on your BIOS, you will be able to enable or disable the network port, expansion slots, USB ports, audio ports & video ports. On the screen shown here, you can enable or disable the SATA controller, onboard audio, onboard 1394 (firewire), the left or right USB 3.0 controller, the OnChip USB 3.0 controller, USB 2.0 controllers, onboard LAN and the onboard serial port. This menu also allows you to change the motherboard OnChip SATA type from Native IDE to AHCI. This is an important setting to know about because if you are moving an OS drive from one board to another you will want to make sure that this setting is the same as it was on the previous motherboard; otherwise the drive will not boot. On newer boards, AHCI is usually set as the default.

BIOS date & time settings
BIOS date & time settings © apluscomputer.repair

System Date/time is set on this section of the BIOS setup menu. This Award BIOS menu is labeled as “Standard CMOS Features” allows you to configure the IDE channels as master or slave, adjust the date and time, and choose to halt boot on all errors, keyboard only error, or no errors.

BIOS settings CPU clock speed adjustment
BIOS settings CPU clock speed adjustment © apluscomputer.repair

Adjusting your cpu clock speed can slow or speed up your CPU, but BE CAREFUL. Running your CPU at speeds higher than recommended by the manufacturer can damage or destroy your CPU. If you do decide to overclock your system pay attention to the temperature of the processor so that it does not overheat. The BIOS settings menu, pictured in this corresponding image, give you the ability configure the integrated graphicx (IGX), adjust the CPU clock, RAM clock and control system voltage.

virtualization support setting in Advanced BIOS Features on the Award BIOS. © apluscomputer.repair
virtualization support setting in Advanced BIOS Features on the Award BIOS. © apluscomputer.repair

Virtualization means to create a virtual version of something. This virtualized component can be a computer, operating system, network, server and more  A virtual machine (VM) is a virtual computer. A simulation of the hardware used to make up a physical computer. Virtualization software available includes VMware and , Windows Virtual PC &Hyper-V. Virtualization support from the BIOS is essential to being able to host and run virtual machines.

BIOS Security

Your BIOS settings may offer an assortment of security features. One of these features is intrusion-detection/notification. This alert stops the boot up process and informs you when the case has been opened. Reboot the computer to bypass this alert. To be able to use this feature, your case must have a panel switch that is connected by wire to a header on the motherboard. This feature is nice but false alarms can be annoying; sometimes a dead CMOS battery can be the cause of a false alarm.

BIOS supervisor and user password setting © apluscomputer.repair
BIOS supervisor and user password setting © apluscomputer.repair

A power on password can be set to prevent unauthorized access to the computer and the BIOS setup utility. The password settings are usually in the same menu as the boot options. Some BIOS setup programs allow you to setup a supervisor and a standard user password.

A lojack for a laptop is a technology that is embedded in BIOS that protects the computer from theft by allowing a 3rd party company to locate your laptop whenever the system is connected to the Internet. “Lojack for laptops” is a service provided by www.absolute.com. Apple computers have a version called “find my mac”.

The BIOS can also manage hard drive data encryption and drive password protection. When a password is set, the hard drive cannot be accessed without it. The set password is stored on the actual hard drive. Hard drive encryption ensures all data is secure and cannot be access without the key. The TPM (Trusted Platform Module) chip is included on high end motherboards. Encryption programs are designed to work with this chip by using them to store the encryption or startup key needed to boot the system. If the encrypted hard drive was stolen and put into another computer, no data would be accessible because it would all be encrypted. BitLocker is a commonly used encryption method for Windows that works with the TPM chip.

Using built in diagnostics

Built in diagnostics settings are also available from BIOS setup. These built in diagnostic tests that occur at boot are also called POST (Power On Self Test). The settings allow you to configure your system to perform a faster boot speed by bypassing the extensive POST. If you are troubleshooting a motherboard, make sure to set BIOS to perform all tests.

Monitoring your system

BIOS monitoring © apluscomputer.repair
BIOS monitoring © apluscomputer.repair

Monitoring your system allows you to stay up to date on your PC’s health. You can monitor the temperature, fan speeds, voltage, clock, bus speed and intrusion detection/notification. The corresponding BIOS screen shows settings for enabling and disabling an assortment of system health warnings.

Saving your changes and exiting the BIOS

BIOS save and exit setup © apluscomputer.repair
BIOS save and exit setup © apluscomputer.repair

Once you have finished setting up your motherboard for your computer system, you will need to save your settings and exit the BIOS. Often times the f10 key can be used as a shortcut to save and exit. If you are not sure about settings you have changed you can also exit without saving.

BIOS load fail safe or optimized defaults © apluscomputer.repair
BIOS load fail safe or optimized defaults © apluscomputer.repair

Just incase you need to , the BIOS also offers a quick way to load all of the fail safe or optimized defaults. This is great if you have saved your changes but want or need to go back to the default BIOS settings.

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