This article delves into the new UEFI architecture and why it is much more important to the computer world than you think.
Computer hardware has evolved a great deal in the past few decades. Graphics cards and sound cards are providing life-like graphics and theater quality sound, terabyte size spindle hard drives are being paired with blazing fast SSD drives for limitless storage for the common user, while huge quantities of RAM and CPUs are providing six- (soon eight-) cores for incredible multi-tasking capabilities. Rounding out all that hardware is the motherboard, the backbone of your system.
Motherboard hardware has reached new levels of quality, with higher grade components (even reaching special certifications) that provide longevity and stability. You also have all sorts of future-proof connectivity available too, such as USB 3.0, SATA-600, and now PCI Express 3.0.
However, there is one part of the motherboard that has been a long-term staple and only recently has started to see any updates. The BIOS – a three decade old architecture that acts as a starting point for your whole PC system. As you’ve seen in many motherboard reviews, some manufacturers have adopted a new “UEFI” BIOS (Universal Extensible Firmware Interface) to replace the existing one, but what seems to be overlooked by many is just how important of a feature it truly is and how it benefits the computing field as a whole.
[nextpage title=”BIOS – A Quick Recap”]
The BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) is the first software to run when the PC is powered on. The function of the BIOS is primarily focused on setting up your initializing hardware and identifying peripherals.
More recently, BIOS updates have allowed updated code to be written onto the hardware chips to support new processors and peripherals that previously were undetectable. This benefits users by keeping their existing hardware up-to-date and supporting newer coding standards or detection methods.
The biggest feature of the BIOS is the ability to manipulate and change key system settings to cater to your individual needs. This is also where overclocking saw its inception. By adjusting to higher clock rates than factory presets, users were able to push their system to new heights and gain significant performance boosts.
Enthusiasts began to flock to the motherboard manufacturers who enabled as many advanced features as possible for overclockability, e.g., voltage adjustments (which could compromise system stability). This led to the BIOS being a very marketable tool and a key differentiator between what higher end boards could do from their lower priced counterparts. However, the BIOS is now reaching 30 years old and the age is starting to show.
For starters, it only has 1,024 KB of execution space. This is extremely limited in a world where gigabits of data are being transferred simultaneously and will only continue to get faster with next generation devices and connectivity.
There is also an issue with device initialization. The abundance of onboard peripherals and controllers makes the boot up process take more time because of limited instruction space and lack of optimization.
On a larger scale, security has been a bigger issue in the computing world, and the BIOS is a major culprit in terms of managing and securing systems. Prior to booting to the OS, there is no built-in troubleshooting or in-depth security measures. The BIOS only provides basic password functionality which requires additional software installations in order to remotely monitor and secure PCs.
These key issues have long been overlooked in favor of other technologies, and it is time that they are addressed.
[nextpage title=”What UEFI Brings to the Table”]
Supporting larger than 2.2 TB hard drives and finally being able to use the mouse with a GUI (graphical user interface) are the most advertised benefits that you will see for UEFI because any user can understand it. Here are some other major benefits you gain from going with UEFI:
- UEFI has OS-Like Functionality. For almost 30 years, you would have to look at a very ugly and archaic menu system which intimidated anyone other than power users. UEFI brings a more refreshing and aesthetically pleasing menu that provides a more organized approach to setting up your system. You can even access the web and email through UEFI, update the BIOS, and soon will see plenty of utilities that help better troubleshoot your system without going into an OS.
- App Integration. Currently, UEFI has the expanded ROM size to accommodate simple memory tests, hard drive backups, and BIOS flashing support. As time proceeds, you will also see more integration through web-based services and applications that can provide a general computing experience. Pre-OS integration is nothing new, but UEFI aims to deliver it with a more aesthetic look and provide all sorts of additional administrative features.
- UEFI Paves the Way for Instant Boot Capabilities. Isn’t it about time we were able to hit power on and be at our desktop in less than 10 seconds? That will soon be possible with UEFI and SSD drives. Because the BIOS must go through such an arduous initialization process, UEFI has been designed to support a much larger number of peripherals and devices and can therefore load them much quicker as well.
- Windows 8 Is Built for UEFI. Microsoft recently held their BUILD conference where they explained in detail the benefits of their upcoming operating system with UEFI. Some rumors have also spread that Windows 8 may not even run on non-UEFI systems! While it is still too early to tell, it is ultimately going to be the direction of future operating systems and will be on the forefront for other future iterations.
We’ve mentioned before that the industry needs to focus on removing any barrier of entry for novice users getting into next-gen technology. This is another major step to getting components up to the design standards set by their mobile counterparts. Functionality and form must also be enhanced with a sleeker and more intuitive interface as a means to stay relevant, and the UEFI architecture helps significantly.
Looking at all the shortcomings of the BIOS, it is only natural that UEFI was built to address the major issues. More importantly, UEFI will help PCs usher in a new era of computing, even in the “post-PC” era.