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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 Everything You Need to Know About Home Networking Everything You Need to Know About Home Networking Setting up a home network is not as hard as you think it is. Read More 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 How To Resolve Windows 8 Boot Issues How To Resolve Windows 8 Boot Issues Windows 8 uses a new "hybrid boot" feature to improve boot times. When you shut down, your computer doesn't actually shut down normally - it performs a sort of limited "hibernate" that stores a state... Read More . 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 The BIOS Explained: Boot Order, Video Memory, Saving, Resets & Optimum Defaults The BIOS Explained: Boot Order, Video Memory, Saving, Resets & Optimum Defaults Your computer’s BIOS (basic input/output system) is the low-level software that starts when you boot your computer. It performs a POST (power-on self test), initializes your computer’s hardware, and passes control over to the boot... Read More . 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 How To Change The Boot Order On Your PC (So You Can Boot From USB) How To Change The Boot Order On Your PC (So You Can Boot From USB) What happens when you start up your PC? In most cases (and putting it very simply), after the power switch has controlled the flow of electricity to the motherboard and the fans have started up,... Read More .

As for accessing the BIOS How to Access the BIOS on a Windows 8 Computer How to Access the BIOS on a Windows 8 Computer Among the many changes coming with Windows 8 and new computers designed for it is a change in the way we access our computers’ BIOS. No longer do we press a certain key during the... Read More , 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 How To Enter The BIOS On Your Computer How To Enter The BIOS On Your Computer Inside the BIOS you can change basic computer settings, like the boot order. The exact key you need to strike depends on your hardware. We have compiled a list of strategies & keys to enter... Read More .

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 What Is UEFI And How Does It Keep You More Secure? What Is UEFI And How Does It Keep You More Secure? Read More . 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 A Universal Guide To PC Security A Universal Guide To PC Security From trojans to worms to phishers to pharmers, the web is full of hazards. Keeping yourself safe requires not only the right software, but an understanding of what kind of threats to look out for. Read More for you (which it should be), then you should consider password protecting your BIOS 4 Creative Ways To Securely Password Protect Your Computer [Windows] 4 Creative Ways To Securely Password Protect Your Computer [Windows] Passwords are a first line defense to your privacy and often they are the only one. If you are concerned about your data, you will want this barrier to be high and strong. As has... Read More . 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 What Is Overclocking, And How It Can Help Your PC, Tablet, & Phone [MakeUseOf Explains] What Is Overclocking, And How It Can Help Your PC, Tablet, & Phone [MakeUseOf Explains] Provided that you have hardware from a manufacturer who understands those principles, you can do plenty to juice up your system, whether it be a computer, tablet, or smartphone. One of the best things you... Read More , 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

  1. Zhong
    April 13, 2015 at 6:02 pm

    So the UEFI has an enhanced graphical display? My BIOS still uses text based display and this is a machine I brought recently. So does it mean I have UEFI or BIOS? I essentially thought that all modern PCs will have UEFI but doesn't look all that different from regular BIOS.

    Does UEFI have its own bootloader?

    • Joel Lee
      April 18, 2015 at 4:36 am

      After doing a bit more research, it seems that in some cases UEFI actually sits on top of a traditional BIOS, so you're probably booting into the BIOS instead. Do you have an option to switch into UEFI?

    • Zhong
      April 18, 2015 at 7:00 pm

      If you run the command msinfo32, it'll show that whether you're running BIOS or UEFI. A stray away question, what linux distribution can be installed with Secure Boot enabled in UEFI mode?

  2. Doc
    April 13, 2015 at 4:12 pm

    "The Secure Boot feature prevents the system from running malicious code in case the UEFI is infected."

    It's unlikely the UEFI will be infected, but Secure Boot *does* check the operating system's loader for a signature (signed code) to prevent rootkits. (A signed bootloader for Linux has been developed that will allow you to load your favorite distro under Secure Boot conditions!)

    "Starting with Windows 8, computers that come with Windows already installed will have UEFI instead of BIOS." Wrong; I'm running Windows 8.1 on a PC (motherboard) that doesn't have UEFI, and it's not required, at least for the retail version. There are rumors, however, that Windows 10 will require *both* UEFI *and* Secure Boot.

    • Joel Lee
      April 18, 2015 at 4:33 am

      Hmm, is that so? Weird. As far as I understand it, certified Windows 8 computers are already required to support UEFI and Secure Boot. Both certification requirements went live in 2012, a few months before Windows 8 was released: https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windows/hardware/jj128256.aspx

    • Doc
      April 23, 2015 at 11:48 am

      I'm running Windows 8 on an Asus M4N78 Pro motherboard with AMI BIOS - no EFI - and had absolutely no problems installing Windows 8.
      Problems upgrading to 8.1 via Automatic Updates - plenty; I'm going to reinstall from a Windows 8.1 disc when I have the time, and avoid the upgrade issues.
      Note that EFI/Secure Boot may be a requirement for OEM installs, but this is a "retail" version I'm using.

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