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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | Motherboard and System Devices | System BIOS | System BIOS Functions and Operation ]

BIOS Services and Software Interrupts

The BIOS provides various software routines (subprograms) that can be called by higher-level software such as DOS, Windows, or their applications, to perform different tasks. Virtually every task that involves accessing the system hardware has traditionally been controlled using one or more of the BIOS programs (although many newer operating systems now bypass the BIOS for improved performance). This includes actions like reading and writing from the hard disk, processing information received from devices, etc.

BIOS services are accessed using software interrupts, which are similar to the hardware interrupts except that they are generated inside the processor by programs instead of being generated outside the processor by hardware devices. One thing that this use of interrupts does is to allow access to the BIOS without knowing where in memory each routine is located.

Normally, to call a software routine you need to know its address. With interrupts, a table called an interrupt vector table is used that bypasses this problem. When the system is started up, the BIOS puts addresses into this table that represent where its routines are located for each interrupt it responds to. Then, when DOS or an application wants to use a BIOS routine, it generates a software interrupt. The system processes the interrupt, looks up the value in the table, and jumps to the BIOS routine automatically. DOS itself and application programs can also use this interrupt vector table.

Hard disk access and control is, in particular, an important part of the BIOS's role in the PC. For a full discussion of hard disk BIOS issues, see here.

Next: BIOS Feature "Magic Dates"

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