What Is UEFI And How Does It Keep You More Secure?

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Computers with Windows 8 preinstalled on them no longer have a BIOS — instead, they use what is called a UEFI, or “Unified Extensible Firmware Interface”. A UEFI is far more capable than an old BIOS, plus it helps keep your computer more secure.

What Does UEFI Do?

A UEFI can perform the same functions as a BIOS, but in a much more modern fashion. Instead of a clunky 16-color interface as found in a BIOS, a UEFI has a more advanced user interface which provides you with more options and displays them in a far more appealing manner. It is based on the EFI implementation developed by Intel and used by Apple for the past several years.

uefi_menu

UEFI systems are capable of plenty of additional features that BIOS systems cannot. For example, while configuring a system using UEFI, you are able to use your mouse instead of just your keyboard. UEFI systems can also support remote diagnostics and repair of computers, even when there isn’t an operating system installed.

You also control the voltages to various systems far more easily (provided the manufacturer offers those settings — they most likely do for high-end motherboards meant for overclocking).

In fact, when choosing a boot order, you can finally see the names of installed operating systems rather than just the names of attached hard drives!

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All of these improvements, as well as decreased boot time, are all possible thanks to the advancements to the technical framework of the UEFI system.

Most UEFI systems have a legacy BIOS mode which works with older setups and operating systems. However, to avoid BIOS mode and use UEFI to its full potential, you’ll need to run a 64-bit operating system and have your hard drive partitioned in a GPT style rather than the MS-DOS style. This is really only important if you built your system yourself and will be installing Windows 8 manually.

Why It’s More Secure

samsung-optional-secure-boot

A primary reason why Windows 8-certified computers come with UEFI is because UEFI offers a feature that Microsoft use heavily — Secure Boot. This feature requires the operating system, its kernel, and the kernel’s modules to be signed with a recognized key so that the system knows that the code it is about to run actually originates from the source it claims to come from. This makes your system more secure because then it won’t be loading questionable code that it doesn’t know if it’s safe or not. And yes, this is important even during boot-up because malicious code can infect the BIOS/UEFI.

Since new computers with Windows 8 installed are more locked down, it may be more difficult to access the UEFI settings.

Despite the requirement for Secure Boot to be enabled on new Windows 8-certified computers, Windows 8 can still be installed on computers that only have a BIOS. If it is installed in BIOS-mode, there is also a way to change it in-place to UEFI-mode.

Criticism

There has been a lot of criticism about the Secure Boot feature, as some manufacturers don’t offer an option in the UEFI to disable the feature. This in turn would possibly prevent users from installing an alternative operating system, such as Linux. Since then, common Linux distributions have included their own implementations that make it possible to be booted on a Secure Boot-enabled system, as well as follow the guidelines set out in the GPL license — the most common license used for open source software.

dual_ubuntu_efi_partitions
Installing Linux on a Windows 8 system with UEFI has become much easier, and we have a guide that can walk you through the steps.

Conclusion

Ultimately, UEFI provides many benefits that all PC users can make use of. For those who want to install operating systems besides Windows, the Secure Boot complicate things slightly, but ultimately it will provide for a safer, virus-free computing experience. To get UEFI, just buy a Windows 8-certified computer, or if you’re building your system, get a motherboard with UEFI.

Does your computer have UEFI? Do you have any praises or complaints about it? Let us know in the comments!

Image Credit: Extremetech

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