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A Very good question.
The Basic Input-Output System (sometiems referred to as Built-In Operating System)} is a small firmware (firmware is a program that resides in permanent or semi-permanent memory on an electronic device) that coordinates the basic operation of the computer.
Since each motherboard is manufactured differently, the BIOS is unique to its motherboard... it is designed to make the board appear identical to the standard that the Operating System is written to interact with.
The BIOS typically consists of a few microchips. One chip will be where the firmware resides. On most modern computers, this is a type of Electrically Erasable, Electrically Programmable Read Only Memory (EEEPROM) or "Flash" Memory. This means one can update the BIOS program ("flashing the BIOS") on their computer through the use of a special program designed for that purpose. One must take extreme care when flashing the BIOS because an error in performing the procedure could result in damaging the motherboard and/or making it unusable.
Another component of the BIOS system is the so-called CMOS. This is a Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor memory chip that may be separate from the BIOS firmware chip. It is a volatile memory (meaning it will forget its contents when power is removed) that contains variable program elements for the BIOS-- the System settings. The CMOS memory is maintained by a small (typically 3v) battery that resides on the motherboard. The battery also maintains the system clock so that it is accurate whenever the system is turned on.
The CMOS battery is only used when the computer is turned off and unplugged, so it typically lasts for several years if the computer is constantly plugged in.
When there are errors in the BIOS settings, the computer may not work correctly or at all. In this event, there is generally a switch or set of pins on the board that allow the user to reset the BIOS settings to the default settings. If not, then unplugging the computer power cord and removing the CMOS battery for several minutes will reset the BIOS to default settings.
As a last resort, one can attempt to reflash the BIOS with a fresh firmware.
The BIOS program itself has evolved over the years to take advantage of features built into motherboards and processors. Some of those features include Voltage and temperature monitoring and the ability to manipulate voltages and timings for overclocking. Whether your motherboard BIOS does this is entirely dependant upon the manufacturer-- some do more than others.
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