Sunday, October 03, 2010

UEFI will kill BIOS in 2011, boots in seconds

The computer industry seems to be preserving several big anachronisms. One of them is BIOS, the basic input/output system. It's responsible for the slow booting time that take a minute or so.



Booting Windows 7 with UEFI; amusingly, the new system that will replace the BIOS of IBM PCs is shown on a Chinese laptop, Lenovo, that bought and replaced IBM laptops themselves ;-)

BIOS is connecting various devices in ways that guarantee that the procedure is pretty much identical to what it was in the early 1980s. BIOS comes with some crucial pieces of the chip that remind us of the history of IBM PCs, too. BIOS also forces every gadget connected via a USB drive to greet the motherboard: "Hello, I am a floppy disk or at most a hard disk." But believe me or not, many things have improved a bit during the last 30 years. The old system is qualitatively insufficient and needs a revolution.




In 2011 (hopefully), BIOS is finally going to disappear: reports. It will start to be replaced by UEFI, the unified extensible firmware interface. UEFI has been around for many years - since 2000 or so - but it just hasn't penetrated the system yet. It offers many cute things such as CPU-independent architecture, CPU-independent drivers, flexible pre-OS environment, modular design, ability to boot from large disks (above the 2,000 GB limit of BIOS), and BIOS compatibility.

However, it's typically adding up to an order of magnitude to BIOS speeds. Also, external devices may come in many modern forms and connect through many possible wires.

Aside from obsolete things such as BIOS that badly need to be qualitatively updated, I think that there are many hardware things that should become standard with new computers and that are no longer expensive. For example, I believe that every new computer should have at least some (1-2 GB) built-in Flash memory, to speed up disk caching or implement Windows ReadyBoost as a standard feature.

Computers should also routinely have accelerometers (may be helpful to stop and protect the hard disk when your computer falls etc.), thermometers (and maybe even barometers and compasses), touch-sensitive monitors - and many other things that can be found in other modern gadgets.

By the way, a comment about the BIOS history. It was introduced by IBM but it only became nearly universal for all PCs because other manufacturers had to copy it. How did they do it? Well, the first one who legally stole the BIOS was Compaq. How could this company steal the BIOS legally, without violations of the copyright laws etc.?

Well, it's simple. They had two completely separated BIOS team. One of them reverse-engineered the IBM's BIOS and listed what functions the BIOS contained and what parts could do what operations. This team wouldn't dare to use this abstract scientific information commercially, of course. The other team took the free scientific insights of the first group and constructed a brand new basic input/output system that could have been called BIOS, too. ;-)

Well, Compaq was surely not the only company who managed to financially screw IBM at some point.

5 comments:

  1. Excellent summary of why UEFI is badly needed. As a long-time student of PC architecture (and author/co-author of over twenty books on technology), I'm hoping that the development of UEFI will also lead to more standardization of system setup and, perhaps, an end to the arguments over the best ways to tweak settings. Also appreciate your suggestions of what future PCs (more and more of which will be portable) really need.

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  2. There's a few thermometers in every computer (one on the CPU, one for the case).

    If you have a separate Graphics card there's at least one on that too.

    Hard disks have S.M.A.R.T that checks for signs of near failure.

    Speed Fan tells you the temperatures of things in the PC.
    http://www.almico.com/speedfan.php

    Flash drives have a limited number of re-writes so for disk cacheing it's better to just increase the machines RAM. This is why it's advised not to put the swap file on a Flash HDD as the memory is paged in an out often and will wear out the flash.

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  3. Read the temperature sensors in your machine.

    http://www.almico.com/speedfan.php

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  4. You might want to add Memresitor to the technologies that will boost computer start up times.
    One thing a memresistor can do is...
    " If the flow of charge is stopped by turning off the applied voltage, the component will 'remember' the last resistance that it had, and when the flow of charge starts again the resistance of the circuit will be what it was when it was last active."
    more at:
    http://www.hpl.hp.com/news/2008/apr-jun/memristor_faq.html

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  5. Bios is not the only anachronisms in IT. We could say that almost everything is... meaning that we are restricted to build on top of existing solutions that they are not the most efficient!

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