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Some BIOS basics

Also, some DirectX driver issues. Tech advisor hed: Some BIOS basics dek: also, some DirectX driver issues. by Stephen J. Bigelow

Q: Can you give me a plain-English explanation of just what a BIOS is? Some friends tell me that my BIOS needs to be updated. Is this true, and if so, how is it done?

A: The BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) is a set of permanent instructions recorded onto a chip located on your computer’s motherboard. These instructions serve three important purposes in a computer. First, the BIOS instructions allow the computer to boot when you turn it on or press the Reset button (this is known as the power on/self test, or POST, procedure). Second, the instructions provide the setup routine used to configure the computer (a.k.a. the CMOS setup). Third, the BIOS provides the wide variety of services needed for an operating system to communicate with your computer’s hardware. This is very important because it allows one standard operating system to be used on a huge variety of different hardware.

Since BIOS lets the hardware and OS talk to one another, the BIOS is written specifically for each motherboard. Like any software, there are sometimes bugs, incompatibilities, and other errors that go undetected until it’s too late. When problems are discovered in the BIOS, the PC maker will normally release an updated BIOS version. In the old days, this meant buying a new BIOS chip and replacing it on the motherboard. Today, virtually all BIOS chips can be reprogrammed right in the system, so you can simply download a new BIOS file right from the PC maker’s Web site, and update the BIOS simply by running the new BIOS file.

Q: My new PC game is experiencing some odd color flickering problems. I updated my video drivers, but the problem is still there. Did I miss something, or do I need to return this game and get my money back?

A: The type of flickering color distortion that you’re describing is often caused by an incompatibility between the video driver and your version of DirectX. Chances are that you’re playing a brand new computer game that was designed around DirectX 7 or 7a (rather than older versions of DirectX such as DirectX 5 or DirectX 6). If your version of DirectX is too old for the game, video and sound problems can easily result. The first thing you should do is use DXDIAG to check the version of DirectX currently on your system. Click Start, highlight Find, then click Files or Folders. In the Named box, type dxdiag.exe, then click Find Now. In the list of found files, double-click the dxdiag.exe file. Click the Help tab and note the current version of DirectX, then click Exit to leave the DXDIAG applet.

Note: If the dxdiag.exe file is not listed in your found files, that means DirectX version 3.0 or earlier is installed on your computer. In that case, you must install the latest version of DirectX.

Now check the System Requirements of your game. I bet you’ll find that the game requires a version of DirectX that is later than the one installed. You can download and install DirectX 7a or later from Microsoft www.microsoft.com/directx/. Once you’ve updated DirectX, you may need to reinstall your latest video drivers.

Q: I downloaded a ZIP file, but I get errors when I to unzip the file with PKUNZIP. I think the file is damaged. Is there any way to unzip the file without having to go through the entire download process again?

A: If you’re using the PKUNZIP utility from PKWARE, Inc. www.pkware.com, there is a tool called PKZIPFIX which is designed to repair damaged ZIP files. The utility is included with PKZIP for DOS, and incorporated into the PKZIP for Windows package. This feature will attempt to fix the ZIP file-creating a file called PKFIXED.ZIP. You can then try uncompressing the PKFIXED.ZIP file normally. Under DOS, just enter the directory where the damaged ZIP file is stored and type: pkzipfix . Under Windows, the PKZIP applet will automatically detect the damage and give you the opportunity to run the PKZIPFIX tool.

However, don’t just assume that the file is damaged. Remember that the ZIP format is constantly evolving, and an older version of PKUNZIP may not be able to uncompress a folder that had been compressed with a newer ZIP algorithm. Be sure that you’re using the latest version of PKZIP for DOS or PKZIP for Windows. Finally, if you’re unable to recover the ZIP file, you’ll have no alternative but to try downloading it again. If the problem persists with a new download, be sure to report the problem to the site’s webmaster.

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