UEFI firmware moves beyond PCs and into mobile devices

UEFI expanding from PCs into mobile devices, even heavy equipment

Back in October we reported that the old BIOS boot program, used since the dawn of computers, was being eliminated in favor of the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI). This was all part of the rollout of Microsoft Windows 8, which can work fine with BIOS, but which requires UEFI to make the most of its security features.

UEFI has performed well enough that the UEFI Forum, the nonprofit industry standards body that manages the firmware-based technology, says it will soon expand beyond PCs and into mobile devices, heavy equipment and other non-PC platforms.

“The UEFI specification supports a boot loader that is able to launch a wide variety of operating systems,” said Andrew Sloss, senior principal engineer for ARM and UEFI ARM Bindings Sub-Team leader. “This technology has clear advantages for equipment manufacturers, who need cost-effective, standardized solutions to create compelling new products that are compatible with the exponential growth of mobile and non-PC applications.”

Sloss says that ARM, which is a series of RISC-based processors designed by ARM Holdings, recommends UEFI as the preferred boot loader for 64-bit processors, based on the ARMv8 AArch64 architecture. The architecture optimizes applications from smart phones to servers by introducing a new set of features, including a larger register file, enhanced addressing range and cryptography instructions.

Where BIOS is stored inside the firmware of a computer’s motherboard, UEFI is a program that can reside in non-volatile memory on a motherboard, on a hard drive or even on a shared network drive. That flexibility enables it to be embedded into almost any computer platform, from cars to forklifts, tablets to tanks.

And although both UEFI and BIOS work to prepare a computer system to run, only UEFI is also its own operating system, with a graphical interface that is easy to control. By manipulating what programs run at boot up, and in what order, very tight security can be maintained on any system. Only after all the security protocols are met is control of a system actually transferred over to the OS.

“UEFI Secure Boot isn’t just for Windows; as more people use mobile devices, the need to protect those devices increases,” said Mark Doran, president, UEFI Forum. “Along with that, we are seeing an increased reliance on firmware innovation across non-traditional market segments. The expansion of UEFI technologies addresses the growing demand for security across the mobile and non-PC application continuum.”

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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