October 1, 2010

BIOS To Get Modern Update By 2011

Updating one of the oldest parts of a desktop computer could help shorten start-up times to mere seconds.

The upgrade will do away with the 25-year-old PC start-up software known as BIOS that helps the operating system get going.

The code was not intended to last this long, which is the reason modern PCs still take so long to start up.

BIOS' replacement, UEFI, will replace the ancient software in new PCs by 2011.

The acronym stands for Unified Extensible Firmware Interface and is designed to be more flexible than its venerable predecessor.

"Conventional BIOS is up there with some of the physical pieces of the chip set that have been kicking around the PC since 1979," Mark Doran, head of the UEFI Forum, which is overseeing development of the technology, told BBC News.

Doran said the creators of the original BIOS only expected it to be placed on about 250,000 PCs.

"They are as amazed as anyone else that now it is still alive and well in a lot of systems," he told BBC. "It was never really designed to be extensible over time."

Brian Richardson, of the firm's marketing team that develops BIOS, said the age of the software was starting to hamper development as 64-bit computing became more common and machines mutate beyond basic desktops and laptops.

"Drive size limits that were inherent to the original PC design - two terabytes - are going to become an issue pretty soon for those that use their PC a lot for pictures and video," he told BBC.

He said that as tablet computers and other smaller devices became more popular, not having them working with a PC control system was going to cause problems.

He said the problem occurs because BIOS expects the machine it is starting up to have the same basic internal set-up as the first PCs.

Adding extra peripherals like keyboards that connect through USB has been technically far from straightforward.

The software forces USB drives to be identified to a PC as either a hard drive or a floppy drive.

Richardson said this could cause problems when those thumb drives are used to get a system working while installing or re-installing an operating system.

UEFI frees computers from being based around the specifications of the original PCs.  For example, it does not specify that a keyboard will only connect through a specific port.

"All it says is that somewhere in the machine there's a device that can produce keyboard-type information," Doran told BBC.

According to BBC, "Under UEFI, it will be much easier for that input to come a soft keyboard, gestures on a touchscreen or any future input device."

"The extensible part of the name is important because we are going to have to live with this for a long time," Doran told the news agency.

He said that UEFI started life as an Intel-only specification known as EFI.  It morphed into a general standard once the need to replace BIOS became a popular opinion.

System administrators have been the first to see the benefits of swapping old fashion BIOS for UEFI.

Doran believes that getting those machines working has been "pretty painful" because of limited capabilities of BIOS.

However, he said UEFI has much better support for basic net protocols, which should mean that remote management is easier from the "bare metal" upwards.

Doran said the biggest obvious benefit of a machine running UEFI will be the speed at which it starts up.

"At the moment it can be 25-30 seconds of boot time before you see the first bit of OS sign-on," he told BBC. "With UEFI we're getting it under a handful of seconds."

"In terms of boot speed, we're not at instant-on yet but it is already a lot better than conventional BIOS can manage," he said "and we're getting closer to that every day."

Apple has been using UEFI since 2006 on its Intel-based Macintosh computers.

He said that 2011 would be the year that sales of UEFI machines start dominating.

"I would say we are at the edge of the tipping point right now," he told BBC.


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