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Say Goodbye To Your BIOS: Hello, UEFI!

Say Goodbye To Your BIOS: Hello, UEFI!

The days of the good ol’ BIOS are numbered. The Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) will introduce a more powerful solution able to better cope with the demands of today’s diverse hardware. In a nutshell, UEFI is an interface that takes care of handing over the pre-boot environment to the operating system. We took a quick look at UEFI and found some imminent issues.

You may have already heard about UEFI (or EFI, which was the initial approach). Intel initiated EFI in 2003 with the Itanium’s IA64 architecture under the title Boot Initiative. The concept was handed over to the Unified EFI Forum, which managed and promoted the new standard for the entire industry. AMD, AMI, Apple, Dell, HP, IBM, Insyde, Intel, Lenovo, Microsoft, and Phoenix are the leading members today. A BIOS relies on the x86 architecture’s 16-bit real mode, but UEFI introduces full hardware independence and interfaces split into boot and runtime services. These aim at high standardization while introducing enough flexibility for manufacturers to differentiate their products.

The BIOS: Antique and Still Prevalent

Some 25 years ago, the BIOS was designed to launch operating systems. The first computers used punch cards as a launch target before these were replaced by ROMs with basic interpreters. Today we can chose a plethora of targets, including floppy disks, hard drives, optical drives, and network locations. However, actual component operation is still subject to the particular operating system through device drivers, whereas EFI allows for OS-indepentent driver support through its own driver model.

There have been several attempts to modify the initial BIOS concept. IBM introduced a modified system design, the PS/2, in 1988, partly to fight off BIOS clones. Its 32-bit Multi Channel Architecture (MCA) with ABIOS can be seen as a way around copycat BIOS implementations. Advanced RISC Computing (ARC) aimed at uniting the boot environments of the MIPS and Alpha platforms in the 1990s, but it lacked an evolutionary path, extensibility, and possible system diversity. PowerPC and SPARC have their Open Firmware (OF) and Common Hardware Reference Platform (CHRP), which sort of worked against ACPI by not embracing it.

In the end, the BIOS is still here and still does what it has been doing for the last 25 years: making sure your operating system can boot. It was never designed for today’s massive diversity of hardware. It’s still stuck with 16-bit interfaces and software interrupts, interrupt routing and maximum precision timers, limited ROM execution space (1 MB) and image size, a limited number of initializeable devices (which is critical in the server space), proprietary extensions, and missing modularity—just to name a few issues.

UEFI Support

Operating systems started to support the platform interface design by 2007, but most Windows versions, such as Vista with SP1 and Windows Server 2008, only offered support on the 64-bit editions. Unfortunately, we found that industry support for UEFI is still very weak, and there are some shortcomings on the storage end.

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  • 0 Hide
    tinnerdxp , 30 December 2009 17:25
    an yet another reason to dump the whole x86 architecture and start from scratch...
  • 0 Hide
    hiroki04030 , 30 December 2009 21:36
    typo on page 5, "this drive can reach up to 8GB maximum capacity with its four bays fully populated." should be 8TB
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 30 December 2009 21:50
    Would it not be prudent to at least mention Linux being able to support GPT without the actual need for EFI:
  • 0 Hide
    chronicbint , 31 December 2009 21:31
    Why would you want to boot from a system drive over 2 TB!?
  • 0 Hide
    jovcenaum , 31 December 2009 22:51
    So, this is start of new generation computers. Again I must backup all
    software for old machines. What's about compatibility between BIOS and
    UEFI? Will UEFI make more secure computers? Anyway,I am glad for this change, we will have better computers...
  • 0 Hide
    hohum83 , 1 January 2010 04:51
    Although the recent 2.3 specification is mature, the industry has not yet adopted the new standard. From an end-user’s perspective, this is difficult to understand.

    Not really. Windows XP is still the most widely used operating system after all this time, and it can't work with EFI/UEFI... thus, there hasn't really been a great incentive for hardware vendors to implement it. Besides which, I doubt people have been eagerly anticipating it in droves - not being able to create a bootable partition larger than 2TB is a drawback? The vast majority of users won't need a single bootable partition that large any time soon.

    There's no denying that EFI/UEFI provides benefits, but from my point of view they're mostly future benefits... there's just not enough reason to implement it on a large scale right now. Perhaps a few years from today, when W7 is more widely adopted - sure, why not, as it doesn't hurt anything. At the moment? Can't see much justification for it personally, but hey ho - just my thoughts.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 1 January 2010 21:05
    Wasn't there an article, in this same website (long before the overhaul), like this years ago?
    It got me reading on bios openbios and other stuff but where was it?

    I'll give it a few more years I agree with hohum83
  • 0 Hide
    mofnet , 5 January 2010 01:34
    apple have been using the efi bios since the introduction of the intel based mac line. i guess it was part of the deal they struck with intel at the time (as intel pioneered the efi solution). booting a mac is a very straight forward process when compared to the pc.

    apple are very difficult to work out as they seem to use a lot of "standardised" options such as the linux base underneath os x, the efi boot system, they embraced guid partitions before windows did to name but a few, but then they build "proprietary" system on top of these technologies that they lock down and defend with their lives, so on the one hand they embraced open source ideas and standards, and on the other hand they defend their own i.p. rigorously..

    one can only wonder what microsoft would be capable of if they gave in trying to "invent" everything themselves and embrace more open standards giving their huge programming teams more time to write innovative stuff instead of reinventing the wheel over and over so to speak..
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 17 January 2010 04:28
    MCA = Micro Channel Architecture, surely?