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In a particularly nerdy Facebook status update I mentioned that I had flashed my BIOS. One of my friends asked what the BIOS is.

My question is: How do you explain what the BIOS is and does to a layperson? (Hint: "The BIOS is the basic input/output system" is not going to be accepted as the answer.)

(Of course, the real question is "does she like me?", but I'm not sure there's a site for this :-p )

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She really wants to know what body part the BIOS is. She must like you. –  simplr Mar 27 '10 at 20:05

8 Answers 8

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Usually when I try to explain a technical concept to a non-techie, I revert to Simple English Wikipedia.

"BIOS, in computing, stands for Basic Input/Output System. The BIOS is a computer program embedded on a chip on a computer's motherboard that recognizes and controls various devices that make up the computer. The purpose of the BIOS is to make sure all the things plugged into the computer can work properly"

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-1 My grandma wouldn’t understand your definition. She does not understand such things as „embedded”, „chip” and „motherboard”. –  kinokijuf Feb 29 '12 at 14:34
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@kinokijuf: define:embedded, define:chip, define:motherboard –  Tom Wijsman Feb 29 '12 at 22:39
    
@TomWijsman Rephrase your question. –  kinokijuf Mar 1 '12 at 12:32
    
BTW, I upvoted the starter motor analogy. –  kinokijuf Mar 1 '12 at 12:32
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@kinokijuf: Rephrase what question? The starter motor analogy is highly inaccurate; everyone knows that the BIOS starts the computer, however what is being asked here is explaining what the BIOS is which takes a stup further than saying starter motor... –  Tom Wijsman Mar 1 '12 at 13:14

It's the Starter motor for your computer.

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excellent analogy. not very precise, but it's apt. –  quack quixote Mar 27 '10 at 11:25
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"What's a starter motor?" –  hyperslug Mar 27 '10 at 16:03
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@hyperslug - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starter_motor –  Nifle Mar 27 '10 at 17:18
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@hyperslug: a starter motor is to a car what coffee is to you in the morning. :P –  Phoshi Mar 27 '10 at 20:04
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+1 ROFL, i wish I could vote twice on this answer. –  Moab Feb 4 '11 at 0:01

Okay, the best way to explain it to her is to buy a new upgrade part for your computer, then invite her over to help you install it. Then you'll be able to show her all of the parts inside a PC, show her how to access the BIOS, explain what it does, and maybe order some Chinese food. If you do this right, she'll spend a couple of hours with you, and you should be able to upgrade to a second date without too much effort.

Of course, if she says she's not interested in helping you, you'll at least be able to console yourself with your new PC upgrade.

It's a win-win situation. :-)

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a creative answer! +1 :) –  studiohack Mar 27 '10 at 21:46

For short definitions, I usually use the first sentence or two on Whatis:

BIOS (basic input/output system) is the program a personal computer's microprocessor uses to get the computer system started after you turn it on.

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BIOS is the cup of coffee that kicks you out of bed in the morning and gets you dressed up for office!!! :P

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That's more like the whole operating system.The BIOS would only go as far as kicking you out of bed. –  simplr Mar 27 '10 at 20:02
    
Going to office is a herculean task in itself! ;) If i were a computer, i'd need more than a BIOS for that! –  Adeel Hasan Akbari Mar 28 '10 at 5:46

It's a sort-of brainstem or reptilian brain of a computer

(If she's pretending to be interested by your computer's stuff, there's good chances that she likes you ;) )

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I think the brainstem is actually a pretty good metaphor. At least thats what it was meant to be in the olden days. –  bastibe Mar 28 '10 at 1:39

Here's the explanation - I would just say what it does in simple terms - Substitute your operating system of choice for Windows here:

The BIOS has control of the computer when it is first turned on before Windows is loaded. It's job is to initialize the motherboard (i.e. DRAM), perform a few system checks, and then load Windows off of something. It also tells Windows some things about the computer its running on, and is also involved when the system goes to sleep or is powered off.

Sorry, @Kevin Y, but I disagree with you. "...recognizes and controls various devices that make up the computer," to me anyway, describes more of what the operating system is supposed to do - the BIOS, for example, won't really control PCI addon hardware other than possibly the ability to make it invisible to the operating system.

Don't think it's really necessary to explain it's historical relationship to DOS or anything to a layperson.

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BIOS is the program that allows the computer to perform its most basic operations, thus permitting the computer to load other programs, and most importantly the operating system, from it's connected devices, such as the hard disk, a USB key, the CDROM...etc

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