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"The computer book of the month is The Bios Companion by Phil Croucher. Long-time readers of this column will recall I have recommended his book before. This tells you everything you ought to know about the BIOS in your system. Post codes, options, upgrades, you name it.

Years ago, I called an earlier edition of this invaluable and I see no reason to change my view. Recommended."


Jerry Pournelle
Byte Magazine
"Thank! I really appreciated this. I read it and was able to adjust my BIOS settings so that my machine runs about twice as fast. Pretty impressive. Thanks again."

Tony
"This book is worth far more than is charged for it. Very well written. Probably the most-used reference book in my shop. ....a great value as the feature explainations trigger your thinking and allow you to figure out many related BIOS features in some of the newer versions."

Amazon reader
"For those who need or want to fine tune, or simply understand, the basic and advanced features of their PC's BIOS, this book is an invaluable guide. It has a very broad range and covers both fundamental and more advanced topics as well as issues specific to particular bios types ( AMI, PHOENIX, etc. ) and versions. This is one book you need to have as a PC technician and a valuable resource for trouble shooting and configuring your personal PC even if your not""

Amazon reader
"I found The Bios companion so useful that I "just have" to have all 3 books in the set. The extra copy of Bios Companion is going to a friend who will gain great benefit from it. Yes I definitely want all three books. Thank you very much."

Mike Reinbolt
"I recieved my package today containing the BIOS Companion book and 2 CD set.... I'm really impressed with what I did recieve. I already had about HALF of the information, and to get THAT much, I had to get several books and web pages. GOOD JOB!!

I had more time to go thru the book and think that you should change the word "HALF" to "FOURTH".

I commend you on the great job you did. That's a hell of a lot of work for any major company to do, let alone an individual.

Again, Thank you"


Craig Stubbs
"I thoroughly enjoyed my purchase! The BIOS Companion is worth the cost just for the beep-code section alone. I am new to computers and have found the book and your site to be quite informative."

pcworker
"As far as the "Bios Companion" is concerned, from the little time spent browsing through it's pages, I can definitely give it a thumbs up! For the Tech it is very informative and for the novice, it is written so as to give them at least a general idea of the subject."

g f kelly
"I thought the BIOS Companion was quite good. Just chock full of the kind of info I had been looking for. First book I've gotten that was worth the more than price I paid."

Tony
"While you are appreciative of my order, I am likewise appreciative of your efforts to make such a reference available. BIOS's are the most mysterious things in the computing world to figure out. I realize the BIOS manufactures have made great effort to provide detailed information in the BIOS help (F1) (ok, so that's a bit of sarcasm). Traditionally, I have had to piece bits of information together that I have found at various locations. Once again thanks."

Brian Presson
System Engineer
"IThe Bios companion is an absolute must for anyone who builds or configures PC's! It is by far worth the money you pay for it. Phil Croucher has done a superb job! He explains in great detail all of the settings that even most PC technicians have no idea of what they do or effect, and mostly some very helpful suggestions on system settings as well.

An Absolute Must have!"


Larry Stark
LPG Computers
Memphis, TN
"I must say, the comments on the BIOS Companion were well merited; it's the first time I've come across a book that will stop me doing the stupid things that I usually do just to see what a difference it will make. When I completely screw up my home machine I'll at least have this one at work to tell you what a cock up I've made!"

Richard Pearce
"I purchased the 2000 edition of the complete The BIOS Companion - PDF from DigiBuy today. Any way you look at it, the information contained is well worth the $15 dollar investment. I must personally thank you for publishing such a wonderful resource for techies such as myself. Thank you again for all of the hard work."

Sincerely,
Boyd Stephens
"I spent two hours going through the different sections therein. Everything is there and I can only say, 'AWSOME'."

Robert,
San Francisco
"Hi, Phil

The book is absolutely phenomenal !! - Congratulations ! This is exactly the kind of reference many people (including our instructors) need - everything in one place, beautifully organised, crammed full of essential, UNDERSTANDABLE, info."


Alain Hendrikse
South Africa
"And thank you for the nearly nonprofit online books you have written. Information in which A+ book and BIOS guide contains serves as great reference and teaching tool. Excellent done!"

Best regards,

Jyh-An Chen
"I'm refurbishing old donated PCs for several non-profit organizations and tweaking my old PC skills and your information is invaluable."

Kenneth Holmberg
"The BIOS Companion is a wonderful reference. For quite some years I have been fooling around with computers and had no knowledge of the BIOS and no way to get this information until your book.....it's really a godsend.

In my case it won't be used everyday but when I need to change things around I can at least get a better view of what and why. You are right in your description... 'the book that should have come with your motherboard'. This one is long overdue and worth every penny."


Susan Baldwin
"Your BIOS guide I had from 1994 was one of those 'never throw it away' items that I knew I would need an update for."

Adrian Clint
"I ordered the BIOS manual book from you a few weeks ago and was very happy with the service. No complaints - no hassles. Just good service! Well priced too :) "

Reuben Farelly

The BIOS Companion

Inside your computer are several smaller ones, which must work together for best performance. Getting them to do this, rather than pulling against each other, can make quite a difference to how your machine behaves, but most come out of their boxes inadequately set up because there isn't enough time or incentive for the manufacturers to do it for you - they mostly choose standard CMOS settings to suit the widest circumstances (and keep BIOS problems to a minimum), which are often the slowest. The BIOS Companion explains those secret settings in the CMOS Setup and contains a wealth of data for troubleshooting, including Nasty Noises, Error and POST Codes (for your diagnostic card), and more - there are over 500 pages. It helps you cope with CMOS problems and reduces the need to call for tech support. Download the first 28 pages of BIOS information here (includes Table of Contents). Please note that this is the only official copy of this book currently for sale!

Book $64.95

The BIOS Companion Book ($59.95)

CD $25.00

The BIOS Companion CD ($25.00)

PDF $15

The BIOS Companion PDF ($15)

Digibuy Instead

Digibuy Instead


Subjects Covered

Samples given below are extracted from the book.

There is also much background knowledge about PC performance to help you make the best of what you've got, and to help make sense of it all.


The BIOS

The instructions that turn a PC into a useful machine come in three stages, starting with application programs, which are loaded by an operating system, which in turn is loaded by a bootstrap loader in the BIOS, which stands for Basic Input/Output System. There are several in a PC, a good example being the one on the video card that controls the interface between it and the computer. However, we are concerned with the System BIOS, which is a collection of assembly language routines that allow programs and the components of a PC to communicate with each other at the hardware level. It therefore works in two directions at once and is active all the time your computer is switched on. In this way, software doesn't have to talk to a device directly, but can call a BIOS routine to do the job instead. However, the BIOS is quite an Achilles Heel and can produce many incompatibilities, so these days it is often bypassed by 32-bit software-some functions have migrated to the operating system, starting with Power Management (see ACPI), but NT and W2K have long been replacing BIOS Code with their own Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL) in the Shadowed ROM area traditionally used by the BIOS after the machine has started.

For the moment, though, the BIOS will work in conjunction with the chipset, which is really what manages access to system resources such as memory, cache and the data buses, and actually is the subject of this book, as all those advanced settings relate to the chipset and not the BIOS as such.

On an IBM-compatible, you will find the BIOS embedded into a ROM on the motherboard, together with hard disk utilities and a CMOS setup program, although this will depend on the manufacturer. The ROM will usually occupy a 64K segment of upper memory at F000 if you have an ISA system, and a 128K segment starting at E000 with EISA or similar. It's on a chip so it doesn't get damaged if a disk fails, as sometimes used to happen on the Victor 9000/Sirius, which had both the BIOS and the system on the boot floppy.

Older machines, such as 286s, will have two ROMs, labelled Odd and Even, or High and Low (they must be in the right slots), because of the 16-bit bus, but these days there tends to be only one-look for one with a printed label (older 386s sometimes had 4). You can get away with one because BIOS code is often copied into Shadow RAM (explained later), and not actually executed from ROM, but extended memory. In addition, much of the code is redundant once the machine has started, and it gets replaced by the operating system anyway. Newer machines may actually have two BIOSes - the GigaByte GA-BX2000 motherboard, for example, use dual-BIOS technology, so if one fails, the back-up kicks in. Well, in theory, anyway - there are reports of the BIOSes flashing each other out!

A Flash ROM allows you to change the BIOS code without replacing the chip(s). Flash ROM, or programmable read-only nonvolatile RAM, if you want to be posh, is similar in concept to the EEPROM, being a storage medium that doesn't need a continuous power source, but deals with several blocks of memory at once, rather than single bytes, making it slightly faster, but only just. Older BIOSes used EPROMS, which require ultra violet light to erase them, so were a more permanent solution. As well as ROM space, the BIOS takes 256 bytes of low memory as a BIOS Data Area, which contains details about the Num Lock state, keyboard buffer, etc. DOS loads higher than this, so it's quite safe.

There are several types of BIOS because so many computers need to be IBM-compatible; they're not allowed to copy each other, for obvious reasons. The BIOS worries about all the differences and presents a standard frontage to the operating system, which in turn provides a standard interface for application programs. PC and motherboard manufacturers used to make their own BIOSes, and many still do, but most tend to be based on code supplied by third party companies, the most well-known of which are Phoenix, Award, Microid Research and American Megatrends (AMI). However, all is not what it seems! Award Software owns Unicore (the upgraders), which in turn owns MR, which does the customised stuff. Phoenix also owns Quadtel and has recently merged with Award.


ID Strings

If you want to check how old your BIOS is, the date is on the start-up screen, usually buried in the BIOS ID String, which looks a bit like this (121291 is the date in this AMI sample):

40-0201-BY6379-01101111-121291-UMCAUTO-04
If you don't get one, you can also use debug. The BIOS lives between F000:0000 and F000:FFFF, with copyright messages typically at F000:E000, F000:C000 and F000:0000. Type:
debug
at the DOS prompt. A minus sign will appear. Press D followed by an address in memory to see the 128 bytes' worth of the values stored there, for example:
-d f000:e000
ASCII text information will be displayed on the right hand side of the screen. You can also use the S command to search for the word "version", although some computers, IBM and Compaq, for example, don't use version numbers. In this case, the date will be near F000:FFE0. Quit debug by pressing q at the dash prompt. In the Windows Registry, check the BIOSDate, BIOSName, and BIOSVersion string values in
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Enum\Root\*PNP0C01\0000

assuming you haven't updated or changed the BIOS since you last ran Windows 95/98 Setup. The AMI WinBIOS has a normal date on the startup screen. Otherwise, as you can see, you don't just get the date; many manufacturers include extras that identify the state of the chipset inside. For example, with the AMI Hi-Flex BIOS, there are two more strings, displayed by pressing Ins during bootup, or any other key to create an error condition. In the book, ID strings for Acer, ALR, AMI, Aopen, Award, Gateway, Intel, Packard Bell and Phoenix are given.

Memory Management

The memory contains the instructions that tell the Central Processor what to do, as well as the data created by its activities. Since the computer works with bits that are either on or off, memory chips work by keeping electronic switches in one state or the other for however long they are required. Where these states can be changed at will or, more properly, the operating system is able to reach every part of memory, it is called Random Access Memory, or RAM. The term comes from when magnetic tapes were used for data storage, and information could only be accessed sequentially; that is, not at random. A ROM, on the other hand, has its electronic switches permanently on or off, so they can't be changed, hence Read Only Memory.


Static RAM
Static RAM (SRAM) is the fastest available, with a typical access time of 20 nanoseconds (the lower the number, the faster the chip can be accessed). It is expensive, however, and can only store a quarter of the data that Dynamic RAM (or DRAM) is able to, as it uses two transistors to store a bit against DRAM's one, although it does retain it for as long as the chip is powered (the transistors are connected so that only one is either in or out at any time; whichever one is in stands for a 1 bit). Synchronous SRAM allows a faster data stream to pass through it, which is needed for cacheing on fast Pentiums. Because of its expense, SRAM is used in caches in the CPU and between it and system memory, which is composed of Dynamic RAM.
Dynamic RAM
DRAM uses internal capacitors to store data, with a MOSFET transistor charging or discharging the capacitor to create your 1s and 0s in a write operation, or just to sense the charge, which is a read. The capacitors lose their charge over time, so they need constant refreshing to retain information, otherwise 1s will turn into 0s. The result is that, between every memory access, an electrical charge refreshes the capacitors to keep data in a fit state, which cannot be reached during that time (like changing the batteries millions of times a second). Normal bus operation is a 2-clock cycle external bus access; the first is called T1, and the second T2. Address and control signals are set up in the former, and the operation completed at the end of the latter. Burst bus operation executes 4 consecutive external bus cycles. The first is the same setup and completion done in T1 and T2, and the next three operate without the setup cycle, by defining the sequence of addresses that follow the first. As the first takes the longest, burst timings look like 2-1-1-1 or similar. Memory addresses are found by a combination of row and column inside memory chips, with two strobe signals, Row Address Strobe (RAS) and Column Address Strobe (CAS), normally in that order. Fast Page Mode memory, for example, toggles CAS on and off as addresses change, that is, as columns are accessed within the row (further described under Wait States). FPM makes 60 ns RAM look like 40 ns, allowing you a 25 MHz CPU. At that speed, memory chips need to operate at something like 20 nanoseconds to keep up, assuming the CPU needs only 1 clock cycle per 1 from the memory bus; 1 internal cycle for each external one, in other words. Intel processors mostly use 2 for 1, so the 33 MHz CPU is actually ready to use memory every 60 ns, but you need a little more for overheads, such as data assembly and the like, so there's no point in using anything faster anyway. With Static Column memory, CAS may be left low (or active) with only the addresses changing, assuming the addresses are valid throughout the cycle, so cycle time is shorter. The cycle time is what it takes to read from and write to a memory cell, and it consists of two stages; precharge and access. Precharge is where the capacitor in the memory cell is able to recover from a previous access and stabilise. Access is where a data bit is actually moved between memory and the bus or the CPU. Total access time therefore includes the finding of data, data flow and recharge, and parts of it can be eliminated or overlapped to improve performance, as with SDRAM. The combination of Precharge and Access=Cycle Time, which is what you should use to calculate wait states from (see below). Refresh is performed with the 8253/8254 timer and DMA controller circuit (Ch 0). There are ways of making refreshes happen so that the CPU doesn't notice (i.e. Concurrent or Hidden), which is helped by being able to use its on-board cache and not needing to use memory so often anyway - turn this off first if you get problems. In addition, you can tinker with the Row Access Strobe, or have Column Access Strobe before RAS, as described in Advanced Chipset Setup. The fastest DRAM commonly available is rated at 60 nanoseconds (a nanosecond is a billionth of a second). Although SDRAM is rated at 10ns, it is not used at that speed - typically, between 20-50 ns is more like it, since the smaller figure only refers to reads from sequential locations in bursts - the larger one is for the initial data fetch. With a CPU clock cycle at 500 MHz taking, say, 2ns, you will get at least 5 CPU clock cycles between each SDRAM cycle, hence the need for special tricks. As memory chips need alternate refresh cycles, under normal circumstances data will actually be obtained every 120 ns, giving you an effective speed of around 8 MHz for the whole computer, regardless of CPU speed, assuming no action is taken to compensate, which is a sobering thought when you're streaming audio through an ISA sound card.


Utilities

Many helpful utilities come with the BIOS, particularly diagnostic and low-level format routines for the hard disk. The main menu to the BIOS setup may contain the following heading:


HARD DISK UTILITY

It allows you to low-level format the drive attached to your computer.


DO NOT USE IT TO LOW LEVEL FORMAT AN IDE DISK!



Base I/O Address

I/O addresses (I/O = Input/Output) act as "mailboxes", where messages or data can be passed between programs and components; they are 1-byte wide openings in memory, also expressed in hexadecimal. On a 386, there are 65,536, most of which are never used. The Base I/O Address is the first of a range of addresses rather than a single one; for example, most network adapters use a range of 20h, so 360h really means 360h-37Fh (in which case watch for LPT 1, whose base is 378). Additionally, COM 1 reserves a range of addresses from 3F8h to 3FFh, which are used for various tasks, like setting up speed, parity, etc. The I/O address table is 00- FFFFh. You can still get a conflict even when addresses appear to be different, because the cards may think in hexadecimal, when their drivers don't! They may resolve them in binary format, and from right to left (we read hex from left to right). Sound cards suffer from this in particular. In addition, most I/O cards only decode the lower 10 address lines; few use all 16, which is why some S3 video cards get confused with COM4; as far as the lower 10 address lines are concerned, they're in the same place! For example, 220h (standard Sound Blaster setting) converts to 10 0010 0000 in binary. If you have a card set at 2A20, the first 10 binary digits are the same as 220 (10 1010 0010 0000 right to left, remember), so it won't work. The same goes for the following:

Hex Binary
220 10 0010 0000
0A20 1010 0010 0000
0E20 1110 0010 0000
1A20 1 1010 0010 0000
1E20 1 1110 0010 0000
2A20 10 1010 0010 0000
2E20 10 1110 0010 0000
3A20 11 1010 0010 0000


Fast Gate A20 Option

(or Turbo Switch Function) determines how memory gate A20 is used to access memory above 1 Mb, which is usually handled through the keyboard controller chip (the 8042 or 8742).

The 8088 in the original PC would wrap around to lowest memory when it got to 1 Mb. The 286 would wrap around at 16 Mb, as it had more address lines. To allow older programs to operate, an AND Gate was installed on CPU address line 20 that could switch to allow either wraparound to 1 Mb or access to the 16 Mb address space. A spare pin on the keyboard controller was used to control the gate, either through the BIOS or with software that knew about it (the keyboard controller is a computer in its own right, and it had some spare programming space as well as a spare pin that could be used for stuff that was left out of the 286).Programs such as Windows and OS/2 enter and shut down through the BIOS, so Gate A20 needs to be continually enabled and disabled, at the same time as another command to reset the CPU into the required mode is sent.Enabling this gives you the best Windows performance, as a faster method of switching is used in place of using the (slower) keyboard controller, using I/O ports, to optimise the sending of the two commands required; the Fast Gate A20 sequence is generated by writing D1h to port 64h, and data 02h to port 60h. The fast CPU warm reset is generated when a port 64h write cycle with data FEh is decoded.You will notice very little difference if all your programs operate inside conventional memory (that is, under DOS). However, this may cause Multiuser DOS not to boot. If you get keyboard errors, enable this.One problem can occur with this option in AMI BIOSes dated 2/2/91 and later; it doesn't always work with the DOS 5.00 version of himem.sys. If you get an error message, disable this setting. If the error persists, there is a physical problem with the Gate A20 logic, part of which is contained in the keyboard BIOS chip, in which case try changing this chip.This is nothing to do with the Turbo switch on the front of the computer; The alternative heading could be Turbo Switching Function.


Gate A20 Emulation

As for Fast Gate A20 Option, but you get the choice of Keyboard Controller (if disabled) or Chipset, which is faster. This is for programs that use BIOS calls or I/O ports 60/64H for A20 operations, where the chipset will intercept those commands and emulate the keyboard controller to allow the generation of the relevant signals (see above). The sequence is to write D1h to port 64h, followed by an I/O write to 60h with 00h. A fast reset is an I/O write to 64h with 1111XXX0b. Fast means that the A20 gate is controlled by I/O port 92H where programs use BIOS calls. Both means Gate A20 is controlled by the keyboard controller and chipset where programs use I/O port 60/64H.


Password Checking Option

Allows you to set up a password to be used during the computer's startup sequence. The options are:

  • Always, which means every time the system is started
  • Setup, which only protects the BIOS from being tampered with, or
  • Disabled.
You can still boot from a floppy and alter the settings with a diagnostic program, though. You get three attempts to enter the correct password, after which the system will have to be rebooted. The default is usually the manufacturer's initials (try ami), or biostar or AWARD_SW for Award, but if this doesn't work, or you forget your own password, you must discharge the CMOS RAM. One way to do this is simply to wait for five years until the battery discharges (ten if you've got a Dallas)! Alternatively, you could remove the CMOS chip or the battery and just hang on for twenty minutes or so. Look for the chips mentioned below, under Clearing Chips. Note: When CMOS RAM loses power, a bit is set which indicates this to the BIOS during the POST test. As a result, you will normally get slightly more aggressive default values. If your battery is soldered in, you could discharge it enough so the CMOS loses power, but make sure it is rechargeable so you can get it up to speed again. To do this, connect a small resistor (say 39 ohms) across the battery and leave it for about half an hour. Some motherboards use a jumper for discharging the CMOS; it may be marked CMOS DRAIN. Sometimes (depending on the motherboard), you can connect P15 of the keyboard controller (pin 32, usually) to GND and switch the machine on. This makes the POST run, which deletes the password after one diagnostic test. Then reboot. Very much a last resort is to get a multimeter and set it to a low resistance check (i.e. 4 ohms), place one probe on pin 1 of the chip concerned, and draw the other over the other pins. This will shock out the chip and scramble its brains. This is not for the faint hearted, and only for the desperate - use a paperclip or desolder the battery first! We assume no responsibility for damage!

Clearing Chips
The CMOS can mostly be cleared by shorting together appropriate pins with something like a bent paperclip (do this with the power off!). You could try a debug script if you are able to boot:
DEBUG
- o 70 2E
- o 71 FF
- q
The CMOS RAM is often incorporated into larger chips: P82C206 (Square). Also contains 2 DMA controllers, 2 Interrupt controllers, Timer, and RTC (Real-Time Clock). It is usually marked CHIPS, because it is made by Chips and Technologies. Clear by shorting together pins 12 and 32 on the bottom edge or pins 74 and 75 on the upper left corner. F82C206 (Rectangular). Usually marked OPTi (the manufacturer). Also contains 2 DMA Controllers, 2 Interrupt Controllers, Timer, and Real-time Clock. Clear by shorting together pins 3 and 26 on the bottom edge (third pin in from left and 5th pin from right). Dallas DS1287, DS1287A, Benchmarq bp3287MT, bq3287AMT. The Dallas DS1287 and DS1287A, and the compatible Benchmarq bp3287MT and bq3287AMT chips have a built-in battery, which should last up to 10 years; there should not be another battery on the motherboard. Clear the 1287A and 3287AMT chips by shorting pins 12 and 21. You cannot clear the 1287 (and 3287MT). In this case, replace the chip (but make sure it is a 1287A!). Although these are 24-pin chips, the Dallas chips may be missing 5, which are unused anyway. Motorola MC146818AP or compatible. A rectangular 24-pin DIP chip, usually in a socket, found on older machines. Compatibles are made by several manufacturers including Hitachi (HD146818AP) and Samsung (KS82C6818A), but the number on the chip should end in 6818. Although it is pin-compatible with the Dallas 1287/1287A, there is no built-in battery, which means it can be cleared by just removing it from the socket for a few seconds and replacing it, but shorting pins 12 and 24 is a safer option. Dallas DS12885S or Benchmarq bq3258S. Clear by shorting pins 12 and 20, on diagonally opposite corners; lower right and upper left. (try also pins 12 and 24). One other point, if you have a foreign keyboard (that is, outside the United States) - the computer expects to see a USA keyboard until your keyboard driver is loaded, so DON'T use anything in your password that is not in the USA keyboard!


Memory Parity Check

Tests for errors when data is read into memory. If disabled, only the first Mb is checked. If a parity error occurs, you get an error message:

Parity Error
System Halted
Have A Nice Day

(only joking!) A lot of people find they get many more of these immediately after upgrading from Windows 3.x. They are usually caused by defective memory chips, but they could also be mismatched (in which case change the wait states), or the wrong ones for that motherboard. Parity is a very basic check of information integrity, where each byte of data actually requires nine bits; the ninth is the parity bit, used for error checking (it was introduced in the early 80s because of doubts about the reliability of memory chips, but the problem was actually found to be emissions from the plastic packaging!). In fact, as cache is used for 80-90% of CPU memory accesses, and DRAM only 1-4% of the time, less errors now result (actually a lower Soft Error Rate), so the need for parity checking is reduced, but '95 uses much more 32-bit code. In Windows 3.x, 32-bit code lives at the low end of physical memory, inside the first 4 Mb, hence the increase in detection of parity errors on upgrading-very likely the memory with a problem has never been exercised properly. Some memory checking programs use read/write cycles where Windows would use execute cycles, which are more vulnerable to parity errors, so memory would have to be extremely bad for memory checkers to actually find a problem. As it happens, parity is not checked during reads anyway. Other machines, on the other hand, like the Mac, use only eight-bit RAM, and you can use it in motherboards with this option disabled (they are cheaper, after all). The Intel Triton chipset doesn't use parity.


Video Rom Shadow

This allows you to shadow (or electronically move) the contents of the Video ROM at the specified address, e.g. C000, into extended memory for better performance. The extended memory is then given the same address so the code thinks it's where it should be, and then write-protected (if you're programming or debugging you can sometimes set shadowed areas as Read/Write). ROM instructions are 8-bit, and s-l-o-w-that is, accessed one bit at a time. Shadowing copies the contents of the ROM into 32-bit (or 16-bit on a 286 or 386SX) memory, disables the ROM and makes that memory look as if it's in the original location, so the code is executed faster. However, you will lose a corresponding amount of extended memory. If your video card has 16K of ROM, shadow at C400 only. If it has 32K (most do), you should include C000 as well. If you have more than that, ensure you include C800 or you might get instability when only part of the code is shadowed. Windows NT and (presumably) 95/98 derive no benefit from shadowing, as this area is used by the HAL, so disabling this makes more RAM available. However, if you use a lot of older DOS games, you may well see a difference, though increasing the bus clock speed may be better. On the other hand, today's video cards use Flash ROM, which is faster, and may not need this setting - sometimes, disabling this with such cards can increase graphics performance, because the Video BIOS does not handle acceleration tasks - this is done by the driver, which may well bypass the BIOS anyway. Note that the 3D part of a video card does not require a BIOS, but uses that on the 2D section. Shadowed ROMs can also be cached in their new locations through the Advanced Chipset Setup, although this is not always adviseable (see below). Some video cards can't be shadowed because they use an EEPROM (or flash ROM) to store configuration data, and you won't be able to change the contents if this is enabled. Never mind! If you've got a large cache this setting may not be needed anyway. C000 cacheing has one drawback, in that it's done in the 486 internal cache, which cannot be write-protected. Whenever a diagnostic test is done, the program sees there is a BIOS present, but has no knowledge of the cacheing, so it will treat the code as being a non-write-protected BIOS, which is regarded as an error condition. If you get failures in this area, disable this option. The same applies to later CPUs, which use the L2 cache for this. It's a waste of cache bandwidth, anyway, since modern OSes don't use the System BIOS, and the video signals require much more than the cache can provide.


AGP Aperture Size (64 Mb)

The AGP memory aperture is the range of PCI memory address space used by an AGP card for 3D support, in which host cycles are forwarded to the card without translation, giving extra speed. It is the amount of memory the GART (Graphics Address Remapping Table) can see, which makes the processor on the video card see the card memory and is that specified here as one continuous block. This also determines the maximum amount of system RAM allocated to the graphics card for texture storage, so is a combination of card and system memory used as a total (this was done because video memory is expensive). However, the memory isn't actually in one block, except by coincidence-it is assembled from 4K memory pages scattered around the memory map. There is no universally correct setting, but double your AGP memory size, and add 12 Mb for virtual addressing. Alternatively, half the video memory size and divide it into system memory, to account for modern cards with lots of RAM. The doubled amount is for write combining. If you specify too little here, you will get paging to hard disk. On the other hand, you may get errors if you specify too much. The default of 64 Mb is usually OK for most drivers, and it's only used when needed, if you have such a card, for which check with the manufacturer. This setting is not performance related, and neither does it affect 3DFX cards, as they do not support AGP texturing. However, it does affect a registry setting (AGPSize in HKEY_CURRENT_CONFIG\Display\Settings) that cannot be more than what you specify here. There's more info on AGP at agforum.org.


AGP Fast Write Transaction

This is an optional feature that allows data to be sent directly from the corelogic (i.e. chipset) to the AGP master (graphics chip) instead of keeping a copy in system memory and making the AGP master fetch it. Enabled is best for performance.


AGP Sideband Support

AGP Sideband Addressing is a transfer mechanism allowing the card to send and receive at the same time, by using a second bus for addresses and commands to the graphics processor, so the data can flow as fast as it can over the AGP bus. It may decrease stability, however, and cause crashes on the Savage3D, due to the design of some motherboards resulting in glitches on strobes (in fact, you need support on the motherboard, graphics card and drivers). Try using Pipeline Transfer instead - performance will probably be the same.


S2K I/O Compensation

Concerns the signal strength on the S2K bus, which is a point-to-point bus from the memory controller to the CPU (Athlon), licensed from Alpha. It uses its own protocol to deliver an effective 200 MHz data transfer rate. Increase the voltage for more stability when overclocking.


Memory Termination

This is like terminating the (high speed) memory bus in a similar way to SCSI (it uses things like termination voltage regulators), that is, it stops stray signals bouncing around all over the place. As such, it may be a fix for ghost memory, where the board thinks it has more memory installed than is actually there (2 modules are shown, where you only have one, for example).


DOS Flat Mode

For using the DOS method of memory addressing, where every memory address is a real, for better stability (see the Memory chapter). Windows uses extended memory this way automatically, so a setting like this in the BIOS would be for when you are using software that needs it to run. Using this, therefore, memory addresses consist of one piece, rather than the segment and offset. The result is safer addressing, and the possibility of creating and running larger programs.


ISA 14.318MHz Clock

The 14.31818 MHz crystal was used for all system timing on XTs, then it graduated to the colour frequency of the video controller (6845), and some chipsets (i.e. the BX) now use it as a reference for generating seven others, such as Super I/O (24 MHz), USB (48 MHz), system clock, CPU (66 or 100 MHz), AGP (2/3 CPU), PCI (1/3 CPU), and SDRAM (same as CPU). Some are fixed (Super I/O, USB, and system clock), while others vary with the CPU (FSB) speed. The SDRAM and AGP clocks aren't produced directly by the CK100, but are a copy of the FSB clock sent to the 82443 BX IC. In addition, the SDRAM clock sometimes goes through a clock buffer before being split up and sent to the various DIMM banks. When the ISA bus is accessed, the whole computer slows down to the "usual" speed of 8 MHz for 16-bit cards ("usual", because 8 MHz was never established as a standard - it's 4.77 MHz for 8-bit cards). This settings allows you to overclock the ISA bus (if you have one) to 14.318 MHz (the reference clock speed), but the cards may not like it. In fact, this has been tried from the early days and was never really successful anyway, so use it with caution.


Decoupled Refresh Option

When this is disabled, the CPU (a 486) sends refresh signals to system RAM and the ISA bus; the latter takes longer because it's running slower. Enabling this allows the ISA bus refresh to finish while the CPU gets on with another instruction. The problem is that some expansion cards (particularly video cards) need to have the CPU handle the first bus refresh cycle. Disable this if you get random characters or snowy pictures during high resolution graphics modes (you may need to disable Memory Relocation as well), albeit with the loss of a little performance. This is especially true with S3 801 boards (such as the SPEA V7 Mirage) coupled with Adaptec C cards and Bs fitted with enhanced ROMs for drives greater than 1 Gb.


AT Cycle Wait State

This figure represents the number of wait states inserted before an operation is performed on the AT bus. The effect is to lengthen the I/O cycle for expansion cards that have a tight tolerance on speed, such as high-end graphics cards. Again, for expansion cards with special requirements (you may get separate options for 16- bit and 8-bit transfers). The higher the delay in bus timing, the slower your system will run; you will also need to set a higher DMA wait state. To avoid confusion, a private message is sent along the data bus for 16-bit cards, before data is sent. The high part of the target address is sent out first, so that 16-bit cards are alerted as to where instructions are headed. As these are sent out over the extra 4 address lines on the extended bus (20-23), the only information the cards really get is which of the 16 possible megabytes is the destination, so three of the original 8-bit lines are duplicated (17-19), which narrows it down to the nearest 128K. Once a card decides that the message is for itself, it places a signal on MEMCS16, a line on the extended bus, which triggers a 16-bit signal transfer. Without such a signal, the message is sent as 8-bit. When the CPU sees MEMCS16, it assumes the current access will be to a 16-bit device, and begins to assemble data so any mismatches are transparent to the CPU and adapter card. The trouble is that there's no specification governing the amount of time between the advance notice and the actual transfer, and some cards don't request 16-bit transfers fast enough, so it gets its data as 8-bit, hence confusion, and the need for wait states. VGA cards have the ability to switch into 8-bit mode automatically, but many others don't.


AT Bus Clock Source

The clock is responsible for the speed at which numbers are crunched and instructions executed. It results in an electrical signal that switches constantly between high and low voltage several million times a second. The System Clock, or CLKIN, is the frequency used by the processor; on 286s and 386s, this will be half the speed of the main crystal on the motherboard (the CPU divides it by two). 486 processors run at the same speed as the motherboard. A clock generator chip (82284 or similar) is used to synchronise timing signals around the computer, and the data bus would be run at a slower speed synchronously with the CPU, e.g. CLKIN/4 for an ISA bus with a 33 MHz CPU. ATCLK is a separate clock for the bus, used when the bus is run asynchronously. The AT bus clock is an output clock for the I/O channel. This setting allows you to change the access speed of the (ISA) bus, which should be somewhere between 6-8.33 MHz to be compatible with AT specifications (not that any were officially issued), so if your motherboard is running at 33 MHz, divide this by 4 (CLKIN/4). Similarly, divide 40 MHz by 5. Choosing Autosync sets this item based on the CPU clock speed. Only valid when Auto Config is disabled.


Single ALE Enable

If enabled, single instead of multiple ALEs (see below) will be activated during data bus access cycles. Yes is compatible with AT bus specifications. This option sometimes appears in older BIOSes as Quick Mode. May slow the video if enabled. ALE stands for Address Latch Enable, a signal used by 808x processors while moving data inside the memory map; it is used by DMA controllers to tell the CPU it can move data along the data bus. Conversely, they can stop this signal and make the CPU wait while data is moved by the controller, so set to No for normal use.


E000 ROM Belongs to AT Bus

Officially, the E000 area of upper memory is reserved for System BIOS code, together with F000, but many machines don't use it, so E000 can often be used for other purposes (note, however, that this 64K is needed to run protected mode software, such as OS/2, which loads Advanced BIOS code into E000-EFFF). This determines whether access to the E area of upper memory is directed to the system board, or to the AT bus. Set to Yes if you want to use the E000 area for anything (e.g. a page frame), or if you're using Multiuser DOS and want the maximum TPA to be available. Can also turn up as E000 ROM Addressable.


IDE Multi-Block Mode

Enables suitably configured IDE hard drives to transfer multiple sectors (there may be an option to specify the number of sectors). There are several modes available, often dependent on the size of your hard disk cache:

  • Mode 0, or Standard Mode, conforms to original PC standards and is compatible with all drives. Single sectors at a time are transferred using interrupts.
  • Mode 1 polls the drive to see if it's ready to transfer data (no interrupts used).
  • Mode 2 groups of sectors are transferred in a single burst.
  • Mode 3 uses 32-bit instructions, up to 11.1 Mb/sec.
  • Mode 4 Up to 16.7 Mb/sec.
  • Mode 5 Up to 20 Mb/sec, but now abandoned.

Wrongly set, this one can mess up comms software when up or downloading, because multi block transfers cannot be interrupted, and you may lose characters. For example, you need to run Telix with the D option (e.g. drop DTR when writing to disk), or make sure you use buffered UARTS for terminals with Multiuser DOS. Consider also disabling Smartdrive.


Cache Read Hit Burst

Burst Mode is a 486 function for optimising memory fetches if you need to go off-chip, which works by reading groups of four double-words in quick succession, hence burst. The first cycle has to cope with the start address as well as its data, so it takes the longest (the other three addresses are deduced). 4 32-bit words therefore move in only 5 cycles, as opposed to 8 (or maybe 9). For this, you need fast RAM capable of Page Mode. This setting determines the number of cycle times to be inserted when the CPU reads data from the external (level 2) cache, when it can't catch up with the CPU. The Secondary Cache Read Hit can be set to 2-1-1-1, 3-1-1-1, 2-2-2-2 or 3-2-2-2 (3-1-1-1 means the first 32-bit word (leadoff) needs three clock cycles and the remainder need one). Performance is affected most by the first value; the lower the better; 2-1-1-1 is fastest. You can alter it with the Cache Read Hit 1st Cycle WS setting. The fastest burst timing is 3-1-1-1, for some 33 MHz systems, but this can depend on the size of the cache available. For example, the setting for 33 MHz may need to be changed to 3-2-2-2 if you only have 128K. Pentiums can perform Burst Writes as well as Burst Reads, so you might have a separate selection for these. 4-1-1-1 is usually recommended.


MA Drive Capacity

Or Memory Address Drive Strength. Sets current draw of multiplexed DRAM chips. The smaller the number, the less power consumption, and therefore heat, but if set too low you need an extra wait state-too high and you get ringing and reflections, and errors (in PCs, the DRAM voltage can be nearly 6 volts because ringing and reflections can drive the +5 up, making the memory run hotter). If your SIMMs have a high loading, (that is, you have over 64 memory chips), select 16ma/16ma. The more chips, the higher the figure.


Spread Spectrum Modulated

There are techniques (developed by the US government, amongst others) for collecting intelligence from PC transmissions, as microprocessors (and screens) can radiate for some distance-you can expect to receive a PC's signals for up to half a mile, and a mainframe's for anywhere between 3-4 (scan the area between 2-12 MHz). This setting is for Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC) purposes, based on the idea that harmonic waves generated by bus activity may interfere with the signals that generated them in the first place. Otherwise, as mentioned above, electrical components running at very high frequencies will interfere with others nearby, hence the FCC rules. This setting gets around the FCC by reducing EMI radiations with slightly staggered normally synchronous clocks, the idea being to lower the peak levels at multiples of the clock frequency by sending a wider, weaker pulse - in other words, the pulse spikes are reduced to flatter curves. It may also stop the sending of clock signals to unused memory sockets (see Auto Detect DIMM/PCI Clk, below). However, some high performance peripheral devices might stop working reliably because of timing problems. This means that, although the energy is the same, the FCC detection instruments only see about a quarter of what they should, since the energy is spread over a wider bandwidth than they can cope with. It is therefore possible that your PC is emitting much more EMI than you expect. Older boards either centered around the nominal value or were set with the nominal frequency as the maximum (low modulation). Most current ones use the centered method. The settings could be 1.5% Down, 0.6% Down, 1.5% Center or Disabled (the percentage is the amount of jitter, or variation performed on the clock frequency). Center means centered on the nominal frequency. Shuttle recommends 1.5% Down for the HOT631, but others allow enabling or disabling. The latter may be worth trying if your PC crashes intermittently, as there may be interference with clock multiplying CPUs that phase lock the multiplied CPU clock to the bus clock-if the frequency spread exceeds the lock range, the CPU could malfunction - even a .5% modulation up or down with today's frequencies can vary the bus speed by as much as 10 MHz inside one modulation cycle. In other words, disable when overclocking, because this setting may change the bus speed. In addition, the FSB setting could be cancelled out due to a pin address overlap on the clock generator chip. You may get a Smart Clock option, which turns off the AGP, PCI and SDRAM clock signals when not in use instead of modulating the frequency of the pulses over time, so EMI can be reduced without compromising stability. It also helps reduce power consumption.


Speculative Leadoff

The T II chipset (430HX) can allow a DRAM read request to be generated slightly before the destination address has been fully decoded, which can reduce latencies, including the cache, DRAM and PCI. Disabled is the default. The "speculative" bit arises from the chipset's ability to process what might be needed in the future, or speculate on a DRAM read address, so as to keep the pipeline full.


Cyrix A20M Pin

Cyrix chips need special BIOS handling, if only because their 386 version has a cache (Intel's doesn't), and it may have trouble keeping the cache contents up to date if any part of the PC is allowed to operate by itself, in this case, the keyboard controller toggling the A20 gate. The A20M signal can be raised separately by the BIOS to tell the CPU the current state of the A20 gate. This also allows the CPU's internal cache to cache the first 64K of each Mb in real mode (the gate is always open in protected mode), and is fastest.

About The Author

Phil Croucher's books are the result of several years' experience of freelance network management, system building and repairs, being A+, N+ and Netware certified. He has been involved with computing since 1986, starting off with a variation of Acorn's BBC computer, the Torch, using its own version of CP/M, called CP/N. From there he has fond memories of the Sirius and the Macintosh, but has mostly been involved with IBM compatibles of all shapes and sizes.

He has been a regular guest on AM1290's Saturday morning computer chat show, Experts On Call, and has written several columns for UK's Computer Shopper, PC Plus and Pilot magazines.

Phil is also involved in Aviation, and holds JAR, UK, US and Canadian licences for helicopters and aeroplanes. He has at various times been a Chief Pilot and Operations Manager of several companies, including a third level airline in the UK.

He is the author of The Professional Pilot's Manual (Airlife), and its update, Operational Flying, and The Helicopter Pilot's Handbook, as well as writing the safety column for Vertical Magazine.

 




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