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What is UEFI?
Linsey Knerl & Michelle Wilson
January 4, 2020
If you are the type of person who wants to learn all there is to know about your computer, you may have seen the term “UEFI” used in technical articles and guides. What does it stand for? How does it affect the way you use your computer? Can just anyone use it? Learn more about this term and how it may be useful in your day-to-day-use of popular computer programs and applications.
BIOS vs UEFI
BIOS is being phased out by Intel in 2020, and you might be curious about what that means for your user experience. Both BIOS and UEFI are forms of software that kickstart the hardware of your computer before your operating system loads.
UEFI is an update to traditional BIOS that supports larger hard drives, quicker boot times, more security features, and more graphics and mouse cursor options. Keep reading to learn more about this unique update and learn about the difference between UEFI and BIOS.
What is UEFI?
UEFI is short for Unified Extensible Firmware Interface that offers users a faster, sleeker experience. But before we get too deep into UEFI, it’s first important to understand what came before it: BIOS.
Note: Newer PCs that already have UEFI might still call it the BIOS to avoid confusing consumers. For example, if you recently purchased a new Windows 8 computer, your PC likely has UEFI rather than a traditional BIOS.
If you’ve done your research, you already know that the most common way for the average consumer to boot up their computer is through the BIOS, or “Basic Input/Output System.” This system does a number of things, including managing data between your peripherals and the operating system. It also stores data so you can quickly access it each time you boot up your computer. Entering the BIOS setup screen lets users make modifications that then let your computer perform troubleshooting tasks or change how it starts up.
Your BIOS lives on a chip on your motherboard. The BIOS is what loads before your operating system kicks in and it wakes up the components of your hardware in your PC. It also checks to make sure all the parts of your hardware are functioning properly.
Your BIOS also enables you to change a range of settings, like the configuration of your hardware and your boot order. To access your BIOS setup screen, you can usually just press Esc, F2, F10, or Delete as you boot. Navigating to your computer’s BIOS setup screen is different from computer to computer, however. You should be able to find this information in your PC’s user manual or online.
Why is BIOS being replaced?
BIOS has been around since the 1980s and it hasn’t undergone much change from those early days. There have been some improvements such as the Advanced Configuration and Power Interface, or ACPI, which allows the BIOS to configure devices more efficiently and execute power management tasks. With that said, BIOS tech hasn’t seen as many improvements. In contrast, PCs have undergone a massive transformation in the last few decades since BIOS was first introduced.
Traditional BIOS has some serious drawbacks that make it almost obsolete. For example, it can only function and boot from drives of 2.1TB or less which means that it can’t boot at all from 3TB drives, which are increasingly common. It also has 1MB of space to execute in, which results in a fairly slow boot process on modern PCs.
What is UEFI boot?
When 2007 came around, Microsoft, AMD, Intel, and PC manufacturers agreed on a new Universal Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) specification. This new standard is applicable to the entire industry and supported by the Unified Extended Firmware Interface Forum.
More recently, newer technology has emerged to replace the BIOS in some computers. UEFI provides higher-powered booting, giving both 32-bit and 64-bit systems ways to manage drives up to 9.4 zettabytes (or 8,754,432,201,381 gigabytes). While we likely won’t see drives that big for some time, even those hoping to maximize 3TB drives will find the BIOS unable to handle boot tasks. UEFI is the future for these larger drives as they become more common in homes and offices.
Importance of the UEFI
The first iteration of UEFI was documented for the public in 2002 by Intel, 5 years before it was standardized, as a promising BIOS replacement or extension but also as its own operating system. It is programmable, so developers that work with the manufacturer can make changes, add applications, and install drivers as needed. It can run in conjunction with your computer’s firmware or existing BIOS to get you on your way to handling tasks with ease and efficiency.
Today, the UEFI Forum, an industry trade group, manages the initiative. The group is made up of various vendors in the hardware, firmware, and operating system industries who have taken an active role in seeing new development in the UEFI tech and hope to see it roll out to more applications in the future.
If UEFI is so great, why isn’t everyone using it? Why wouldn’t it completely replace the BIOS trend? Switching to UEFI isn’t possible for every computer out there. While UEFI is backward and forward compatible, it isn’t embraced by all manufacturers for all applications.
It’s more commonly used with:
- GUID Partition Table (GPT) disk drive partition formats
- 64-bit versions of Windows, such as Vista SP1 and later
- Drives with a size of 2TB or larger
- Some newer tablets and smartbooks
UEFI is a very forward-positioned tech that's made to embrace the larger and faster processing needs consumers and businesses will continue to have over time.
Upgrades to the UEFI
There are many improvements associated with the new UEFI standard. Faster, safer, and more capable, this new standard is helping PCs operate more efficiently. Here are a few of the reasons why it has been an improvement from the drawbacks of traditional BIOS:
Boot from bigger drives
As we mentioned earlier, booting from BIOS has a size limitation. But with the new UEFI, you can boot from hard drives as big as 9.4 zettabytes. If you don’t have a frame of reference for that figure, it’s about three times the size of all the data currently on the internet.
Faster boot up
UEFI also allows for a faster boot-up process so there’s less downtime between when you power your laptop or desktop PC on and when the operating system loads successfully. It’s also a more efficient, standardized boot-up method because it launches a different way that’s much faster than traditional BIOS.
UEFI supports Secure Boot so it provides added protection during the riskiest moment of a computer’s powering-on process. Traditional BIOS is vulnerable to cyber-attacks and malware that strike before firewalls and anti-virus software loads. With Secure Boot, the operating system can be investigated to ensure there are no malicious attacks occurring before they irrevocably damage the computer.
How to access UEFI
Some consumers and most IT professionals will want to make tweaks from time to time. The UEFI is made to accept a password so that your workplace or IT teams can limit who gets into the UEFI. If your computer is for home use, you can access it as easily as getting into the BIOS.
HP computer users can access the UEFI upon startup by repeatedly hitting the escape key as the computer is powering on. You can also access it from within Windows by:
- Clicking on the Start Menu in the lower left-hand side of the screen
- Click Power and hold down the Shift key at the same time you click Restart. Keep holding down the Shift and wait until the Choose an Option screen pops up
- Click Troubleshoot
- Choose Options
- Select UEFI Firmware Settings
- Click Restart. Your computer will power off, then power on and open the UEFI screen upon startup
The things you can change within the UEFI interface include:
- Boot order, such as from the Windows Boot Menu or a USB device
- Date and time
- Devices allowed to access your systems, such as speakers or Bluetooth devices
- Secure Boot Mode, which can be toggled on or off
You can also see the About information for your computer from inside the UEFI screen, which provides the model and serial number data, as well as your hardware and OS details. This is useful if you are working with your computer customer support team or want to check the status of your warranty.
In most cases, you can access or change this information from elsewhere in your programs. Aside from the Boot specifications, the UEFI isn’t something you’d need to access regularly.
Who should use UEFI?
The typical user won’t know or care about their boot type, but those interested in programming, new computer technologies, and having an overall better understanding of how their computer systems function will at least want to be aware of what UEFI offers.
Since compatibility is a key consideration, you probably won’t get to pick UEFI, but would rather choose a product that already has it installed. Over time, more and more computers and tablets should feature UEFI technology, allowing you access to the promised faster boot-up times.
In the competition of BIOS vs UEFI, there’s no clear winner or loser yet. Both UEFI and BIOS are installed when the computer manufacturer puts the computer together. When you turn on your computer, these systems start up right away, kicking everything into gear so you can log on and get to work.
While UEFI is more advanced and offers extras such as graphical menus, advanced diagnostics, and a secure boot function, it’s not on every computer and may not be for some time. If you use a product that relies on the UEFI tech, however, you are enjoying some of the modern perks that this tech can offer.
How to boot with older Windows PCs
If you have an older PC, Windows 7 or earlier, your computer might support UEFI but you will have to navigate to the boot file. From the firmware menus, you’ll want to look for the option: “Boot from file” and then go to \EFI\BOOT\BOOTX64.EFI on Windows PE or Windows Setup media.
Here are instructions to boot either UEFI or BIOS from your firmware settings:
Step 1. Open the firmware menu by doing the following:
a. Boot the PC and press Esc, Delete, F1, F2, F10, F11, or F12. If you’re using a tablet, try the Volume up or Volume down controls. Check your manufacturer’s manual or website if you’re not sure.
b. If Windows is already installed, you can press the Power button while holding Shift and then select Restart. Navigate to Troubleshoot > Advanced options > UEFI Firmware settings.
Step 2. From the firmware menu, boot to network or drive while in UEFI or BIOS mode.
a. Choose the command that identifies the firmware mode and the device you’d like such as BIOS: Network/Lan, for example.
Note: Your device might only support one mode, so make sure to research this through your computer manufacturer’s website.
Although the UEFI is a pretty big change in the computer world, the average user may not take much notice of the upgrade since it largely runs in the background. Instead, they’ll just enjoy the seamless operation of their computer. However, even if you don’t notice it, the UEFI is a huge technological advancement over the traditional BIOS standard.
This new standard is capable of keeping your computer safe at its most vulnerable point: before it’s fully loaded its operating system. It’s also faster and more efficient than the old standard so you can expect an expedient experience from power on to your welcome screen.
About the Authors: Linsey Knerl and Michelle Wilson are contributing writers for HP® Tech Takes. Michelle is a content creation specialist writing for a variety of industries, including tech trends and media news. Linsey is a Midwest-based author, public speaker, and member of the ASJA. She has a passion for helping consumers and small business owners do more with their resources via the latest tech solutions.