Friday, July 17, 2009

Strengthen Your PC’s Foundation with BIOS Upgrades

At the heart of every PC is a foundation program called the basic input-output system, or BIOS. Like the foundation of your house, it is the base on which all other software - including the operating system – must build. Also, like your house foundation, keeping the BIOS in good repair is an essential step in keeping your PC strong.

Today’s PCs can perform an astounding array of complex tasks, but at the moment you turn them on they are astoundingly stupid. All the central processing unit (CPU - the PC’s “brain”) knows how to do after power-up is go to a specific place in a special memory chip to find instructions on what to do next. The BIOS program is that set of instructions and as one of its many tasks it teaches the CPU how to do basic functions such as read the keyboard and turn on the display.

The BIOS is the first in a series of programs that the PC must execute in order to become ready for your use, a process called “bootstrapping” or simply “booting” - taken from the phrase "pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps." The BIOS initializes the system hardware and tells the CPU how to use it. The BIOS then has the PC test its hardware to ensure it is operating correctly. It also tells the PC where and how to look for a special boot program on the disk drive.

By running the disk drive boot program, the PC learns how to find files on the disk so it can then load and run Windows(r). Only after it is running Windows is the PC ready to take your commands. The boot process is thus like first teaching a child to read, then opening the door to a library and teaching them how to find books in it, at which point there is no limit to what the child can learn to do. The BIOS is the PC’s Primer.

Bootstrapping is not the BIOS’s only role, however. In order to get things started the BIOS must have detailed understanding the PC’s specific hardware and configuration and be able to interact directly with that hardware. Windows, on the other hand, needs to be able to run on any suitable computer regardless of such details, so it does not work directly with the hardware. The BIOS serves as Windows’ local guide, interpreter, and foreman for interacting with PC hardware.

Because it plays these key roles in both the PC’s startup and ongoing operation, the BIOS has a direct impact on the PC’s performance and operational stability as well as the speed of graphics and other signal channels. Ensuring that your PC has the most up-to-date and robust BIOS available, then, is essential to keeping it performing well. It is also essential for giving your PC access to new hardware control features as they become available. Such features include CPU upgrades, updates and error fixes for the advanced graphics port (AGP) and PCI Express Video port, and system power control.

System power control is particularly important for laptops and other battery-operated PCs. In order to give Windows users the ability to tune their PC’s power demands the computer industry has defined the Advanced Control and Power Interface (ACPI). PCs that are ACPI compliant give their users tools that let them control what hardware is running and how fast, so that the PC uses only as much battery power as it needs for the task it is performing.

While you’re using the computer to play music, for instance, you don’t need the display on. Or if you’re watching a DVD you don’t need to power the Internet connection. If your PC’s BIOS is ACPI compliant, you can turn off the things you aren’t using so that your battery lasts longer. To be certain it has the latest version, you need to update your BIOS.

The best source for updates and maintenance of your PC’s BIOS is not the PC manufacturer but a BIOS developer. PC manufacturers merely acquire a BIOS and adapt it to their specific hardware. They may or may not offer any upgrades. A BIOS developer, on the other hand, has a vested interest in keeping their BIOS up to date, robust, and operating at peak efficiency.

Phoenix Technologies is the world leader in BIOS technology, and offers tools like the BIOSAgentPlus to simplify BIOS maintenance for virtually any PC. These tools let you keep your PC’s foundation software strong so that the rest remains standing tall.

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