It's possible to read the BIOS version and motherboard information (plus more) from a live Linux system using dmidecode. This utility "reports information about your system's hardware as described in your system BIOS according to the SMBIOS/DMI standard (see a sample output). This information typically includes system manufacturer, model name, serial number, BIOS version, asset tag as well as a lot of other details of varying level of interest and reliability depending on the manufacturer." It can be handy if you want to check the BIOS version of your desktop and you're too lazy to reboot, but it's far more useful when trying to get information about production servers that you simply cannot take down.
dmidecode (as root) to get a dump of all available information. You can specify
--type to filter the results. The dmidecode man page is quite thorough, so I won't rehash it here.
One extremely useful application that may not be immediately obvious is the ability to pull the system serial number. Let's say you need to call support for a particular server that can't be taken down, or that you may not even have physical access to. A vendor like Dell will always want the system serial number, and as long as you can login to the server you can obtain the serial number with
dmidecode -s system-serial-number. This has saved me on a couple of occasions with remotely hosted servers.
A lot more information is available through dmidecode, so I definitely encourage you to check it out. To wrap things up, I'll leave you with this obnoxiously long alias:
alias bios='[ -f /usr/sbin/dmidecode ] && sudo -v && echo -n "Motherboard" && sudo /usr/sbin/dmidecode -t 1 | grep "Manufacturer\|Product Name\|Serial Number" | tr -d "\t" | sed "s/Manufacturer//" && echo -ne "\nBIOS" && sudo /usr/sbin/dmidecode -t 0 | grep "Vendor\|Version\|Release" | tr -d "\t" | sed "s/Vendor//"'
This will spit out a nicely formatted summary of the bios and motherboard information, using sudo so it can be run as a normal user. Example output:
Motherboard: Dell Inc.
Product Name: Latitude D620
Serial Number: XXXXXXXX
BIOS: Dell Inc.
Release Date: 05/16/2008