Sunday, January 2, 2011

UEFI: The Next-Gen BIOS [A Complete Walkthrough in Plain English]

Have you been hearing about UEFI coming into PCs this year? If yes, you’d probably be excited about it. If you don’t have the faintest idea about UEFI this article should get you started.

UEFI Logo

UEFI is a much-needed update to one the oldest things in our computers – The BIOS.

BIOS is nothing but a bridge between your computer’s hardware and software. Normally when booting up the computer we use keys like F2 or Delete to get into BIOS in order to change the boot device priority, monitoring recent hardware additions and the like. If you had noticed, BIOS isn’t user-friendly and has a conservative-geeky look in it.

Over a period of time, most of us have learnt to be comfortable with BIOS although it isn’t very easy to handle. Now that UEFI comes up, you might feel that BIOS is good enough and is perfect – Well, it isn’t. BIOS has a lot of limitations when it comes to utilizing your computer fully. Here are some of them. (Note: most of you may know this before).

Limitations of BIOS:

  • It uses a 16-bit Mode which is very evident from it’s interface.
  • It just has 1MB usable memory, which means you cannot have a lot of features built into it other than the same old settings you found in a 1995 IBM.
  • It cannot fully make use of the features of a 64-bit Operating System (It you use  a 32-bit OS, BIOS is sufficient).
  • It does not support a hard drive that is larger than 2TB.

UEFI is necessarily built to override these limitations, while most of us haven’t heard of it; UEFI is a pretty old concept. Wikipedia says that the first UEFI based PC was built in 2000 and the history of the concept goes back to the mid-1990s to power servers that can’t afford to survive under the aforesaid limitations of BIOS.

Advantages of UEFI:

This section isn't really going to say a lot. UEFI aims to turn the limitations of BIOS into possibilities.

  • Support for IPv6 – I assume this has something to do with the Network boot which is very useful in a corporate environment.
  • Better chemistry with 64-bit Operating Systems and USB Drives (especially when you use them to boot up the PC).
  • Has a really cool interface which even amateurs will be able to embrace without much difficulty.
  • Has the ability to prevent Rootkit infections (which are known to run before your Operating System).
  • Has no 1MB limit like BIOS – this is an interesting phenomenon and we can expect to see a lot of features built outside the OS.
  • Supports hard drives that are larger than 2TB (this is really cool, if you store a lot videos and space consuming files).
  • Faster Boot up and Hibernate (Yeah, just like the Cr-48).

The Relevance of UEFI:

Wikipedia says that UEFI can be used on top of or instead of BIOS in your PC. A lot of computers are shipped with a BIOS where there is an option to enable UEFI boot. In my opinion, this can definitely improve the start-up speeds of your computer, but it doesn’t make sense if you use a 32-bit Operating System. A lot of DELL, HP, ASUS, Samsung PCs come with UEFI compatibility although you can find UEFI for your custom-built PC when you do a BIOS upgrade.

So, is it really Fast?

If you don’t believe me, you must have a look at the following video (3:20 minutes).

You can expect to see UEFI being natively built into computers from this year. Intel has also announced a new type of processor which I presume will be able to completely handle UEFI. Most of the existing PCs should have support for UEFI and this can used after updating your BIOS as mentioned before.

This technology  like any other(other than faster boot-up) may not make sense for the average consumer, but as years pass by our requirements will get bigger and UEFI will follow suit into all our computers.

To become more closer to this concept, I recommend you visit UEFI’s official website.

Further Reading: Why UEFI?