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Understanding POST and ROM-BIOS service functions. Numerous low-level services are available to real-mode programs (include boot-loaders). Power-On Self-Test (POST). When computer is first turned on, the CPU starts executing instructions in ROM-BIOS Reset-address: CS=0xF000, EIP=0xFFF0

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Understanding post and rom bios service functions l.jpg

Understanding POST and ROM-BIOS service functions

Numerous low-level services are available to real-mode programs (include boot-loaders)

Power on self test post l.jpg
Power-On Self-Test (POST)

  • When computer is first turned on, the CPU starts executing instructions in ROM-BIOS

  • Reset-address: CS=0xF000, EIP=0xFFF0

  • Initial routines perform vital functions:

    • Verify amount of installed read/write memory

    • Setup the table of real-mode interrupt-vectors

    • Detect and initialize the peripheral equipment

    • Setup parameters in the BIOS DATA AREA

  • Read in, and transfer to, the ‘boot-loader’

Memory layout during post l.jpg
Memory Layout during POST

The POST creates the

Interrupt Vector Table

and fills in parameters

of the Bios Data area










POST finishes up

by reading in the

boot-loader from

a storage device




Two demo programs l.jpg
Two demo-programs

  • The program ‘showivt.cpp’ lets you look at the table of (real-mode) interrupt vectors (addresses 0x00000000 to 0x00000400)

  • The program ‘showrbda.cpp’ lets you see the parameter-values that the ROM-BIOS has stored in its ROM-BIOS DATA-AREA (addresses 0x00000400 to 0x00000500)

  • A special device-driver (named ‘dos.o’) is needed for accessing these memory areas

Rom bios service functions l.jpg
ROM-BIOS service-functions

  • During POST, the startup routines need to use various low-level system-services:

    • To show diagnostic messages on the display

    • To accept keystroke-commands from a user

    • To query the real-time clock/calendar device

    • To optionally send important data to a printer

    • To read in a data-sector from the boot device

  • The actions are performed as subroutines

Space in rom is tight l.jpg
Space in ROM is ‘tight’

  • Size of a typical ROM-BIOS chip is 64KB

  • Needs to store the instructions and data for several hundred different functions

  • So cannot afford to waste precious space

  • Routines are written in assembly language

  • Clever coding is used to optimize storage usage (e.g., ROM functions get invoked by software-interrupt instructions (2-bytes) as an alternative to subroutine-calls (3-bytes)

Services remain available l.jpg
Services remain available

  • All of the low-level ROM-BIOS services remain available to Real-Mode programs

  • This includes ‘boot-loader’ programs

  • If we’re going to write our own boot-loader, we will benefit by knowing what low-level services are already available in ROM (as we will face tight space limitations, too: namely, the 512-byte disk sector-size)

Catalog of rom bios services l.jpg
Catalog of ROM-BIOS services

  • int 0x10: video display services

  • int 0x11: equipment-list service

  • int 0x12: memory-size service

  • int 0x13: disk input/output services

  • int 0x14: serial communications services

  • int 0x15: system software services

Rom bios services continued l.jpg
ROM-BIOS services (continued)

  • int 0x16: keyboard input/control services

  • int 0x17: parallel-port printer services

  • int 0x18: diskless bootstrap service

  • int 0x19: system reboot service

  • int 0x1A: real-time clock services

Example get memory size l.jpg
Example: Get Memory Size

  • When it’s time to load an operating system the ‘OS-loader’ will need to know where it can place the OS code and data so as to efficiently fit within the system’s memory

  • So the question will be: How much actual ram is available?

  • One of the simplest ROM-BIOS services can be invoked to get the answer.

Calling get memory size l.jpg
Calling ‘Get Memory Size’

  • No service-parameters are required

  • Just execute an ‘int 0x12’ instruction

  • Size of the available ram is returned in AX

    (expressed in kilobytes: 1KB=1024 bytes)

  • Program-code looks like this: int 0x12 ; call BIOS service mov kb_ram, ax ; save return-value

How does it work l.jpg
How does it work?

  • Executing ‘int 0x12’ transfers control to an Interrupt Service Routine within the ROM

  • The CPU gets the entry-point for this ISR from the Interrupt Vector Table (IVT)

  • The IVT has enough room for 256 ‘vectors’ (all vectors use a doubleword of storage)

  • The number 0x12 is an array-index for IVT

  • Example: vector 0x12 equals 0xF000F841

Here s the isr s code l.jpg
Here’s the ISR’s code


push ds ; preseve DS

mov ax, #0x40 ; address BD area

mov ds, ax ; using DS register

mov ax, [0x0013] ; get POST param

pop ds ; restore DS

iret ; return from ISR

Demo program memsize s l.jpg
Demo Program: ‘memsize.s’

  • We wrote a simple boot-sector program to illustrate the ‘Get Memory Size’ service

  • It executes ‘int 0x12’ to obtain the amount of usable real-mode memory (in kilobytes)

  • It converts the binary value obtained in AX to its decimal representation as a string of ascii characters, and ‘int 0x10’ functions to display the information in readable form

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In-Class Exercise #1

  • Write a similar boot-sector demo program that will display the Equipment-Check List (a bitmap showing some installed devices that’s returned in AX if ‘int 0x11’ executes)

  • You can look at our ‘showmsw.s’ demo as a guide to writing your assembler code

Equipment list bitmap l.jpg
Equipment List Bitmap

  • 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0

Internal modem

(1=yes, 0=no)

Number of printer-ports

Number of serial-ports

Number of diskette drives (if bit 0 is set)

(00=1 drive, 01=2 drives, etc)

Initial video-display mode (11=80x25 monochrome,

10=80x25 color, 01=40x25 color, 00=EGA/VGA/SVGA)

PS/2-type pointing-device is installed (1=yes, 0=no)

External math-coprocessor installed (1=yes, 0=no)

Diskette available for booting (1=yes, 0=no)

In class exercice 2 l.jpg
In-Class Exercice #2

  • Enhance the ‘showmem.s’ demo-program by showing additional information about the amount of physical memory installed: use ROM-BIOS system-services int 0x15 function 0xE8, subfunction 0x01 (see Ralf Brown’s online Interrupt-List for details)

Extended memory areas l.jpg
Extended Memory Areas

mov ax, #0xE801

int 0x15




Number of 64KB blocks

Is reported by ROM-BIOS

(in register BX)

80286 memory-area


Number of 1KB blocks

Is reported by ROM-BIOS

(in register AX)

8086 memory-area (1MB)