BIOS - IBM PC-compatible BIOS Chips

IBM PC-compatible BIOS Chips

In principle, a BIOS in ROM is customized to the particular manufacturer's hardware, allowing low-level services (such as reading a keystroke or writing a sector of data to diskette) to be provided in a standardized way to an operating system. For example, an IBM PC might have either a monochrome or a color display adapter (using different display memory addresses and hardware), but a single, standard, BIOS system call may be invoked to display a character at a specified position on the screen in text mode.

Boot Block
DMI Block
Main Block

Prior to the early 1990s, BIOSes were stored in ROM or PROM chips, which could not be altered by users. As its complexity and need for updates grew, and re-programmable parts became more available, BIOS firmware was most commonly stored on EEPROM or flash memory devices. According to Robert Braver, the president of the BIOS manufacturer Micro Firmware, Flash BIOS chips became common around 1995 because the electrically erasable PROM (EEPROM) chips are cheaper and easier to program than standard erasable PROM (EPROM) chips. Flash chips are programmed (and re-programmed) in-circuit, while EPROM chips need the system to be powered-down and the EPROM chips removed from the motherboard, for re-programming. EPROM chips may be erased by prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light, which accessed the chip via the window. Chip manufacturers use EPROM programmers (blasters) to program EPROM chips. Electrically erasable (EEPROM) chips allow BIOS reprogramming using higher-than-normal voltage. BIOS versions are upgraded to take advantage of newer versions of hardware and to correct bugs in previous revisions of BIOSes.

Beginning with the IBM AT, PCs supported a hardware clock settable through BIOS. It had a century bit which allowed for manually changing the century when the year 2000 happened. Most BIOS revisions created in 1995 and nearly all BIOS revisions in 1997 supported the year 2000 by setting the century bit automatically when the clock rolled past midnight, December 31, 1999.

The first flash chips were attached to the ISA bus. Starting in 1997, the BIOS flash moved to the LPC bus, a functional replacement for ISA, following a new standard implementation known as "firmware hub" (FWH). In 2006, the first systems supporting a Serial Peripheral Interface (SPI) appeared, and the BIOS flash moved again.

The size of the BIOS, and the capacities of the ROM, EEPROM and other media it may be stored on, has increased over time as new features have been added to the code; BIOS versions now exist with sizes up to 16 megabytes. Some modern motherboards are including even bigger NAND flash memory ICs on board which are capable of storing whole compact operating systems, such as some Linux distributions. For example, some recent ASUS motherboards included SplashTop Linux embedded into their NAND flash memory ICs.

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