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  • Unified Extensible Firmware Interface is interface between the pre-boot environment and the starting of the operating system. The UEFI is important because it will eventually lead to changes in BIOS, operating systems and add-in cards.




    BIOS and POST


    To understand UEFI better let us take a quick look at what happens once you press start your PC.




    Once you press the power button, the BIOS also know as firmware stored on your motherboard, checks that a hard drive, video card, keyboard, mouse etc. are all present and accounted for. This first system configuration is called POST (Power on Self Test). It verifies that they are all working and installed properly and then starts bootstrapping to the hard drive. Over the years, bootstrapping was eventually just shortened to booting or boot. Anyway, the BIOS firmware starts the load of the operating system (boot loader) into the memory storage from the OS drive. After this first 10 seconds or so you then see the operating system loading status on the monitor, typically a Windows logo, and less than a minute later you are up and running. BIOS had been doing the same thing since the IBM PC ATs and the settings for the BIOS are stored in nonvolatile memory on the motherboard. It used to be called CMOS BIOS because it needed the battery to store the information. Modern PCs use either EEPROM or flash memory and the battery is only for the clock or to reset the BIOS is some systems.


    So, now we understand BIOS and what happens, were is UEFI and why do I care?


    Master Boot Record – The Current Issue

    Current BIOS with master boot record partitioning use 32-bit values to describe the starting offset and length of a partition. The master boot record is a partition scheme. The MBR is not in a partition itself. It is a data table that contains the primary partition entries for the partitions. As I said, the design dates to the 80’s and can only keep track of four partitions by design. All of the partition data is stored as 32-bit so the math on this value limits the disk space. 232 times the 512 bytes per sector gives us 2,199,023,255,552 bytes for those playing the home game.



    Current Windows 7 PCs (and almost every other PC) boots from the MBR disk through the BIOS.




    These MBR drive partition limits are why we need to be informed on the new technology and how it affects us.


    GUID Partition Table – GPT


    Since the MBR partitioning scheme only allows a maximum drive size limit of 2.2TB and four partitions GPT (among other reasons) was developed. The new GPT supports a default of 128 partitions, has a built-in backup of the data structure and can handle disks up to 9.4 billion TB in size.


    BIOS companies and PC manufacturers are moving towards updates and new hardware that support UEFI and boot to GPT partitions. You see, not only do you need BIOS that supports UEFI, you also need a GPT partitioned drive WITH an operating system that supports GPT booting. You are all probably running systems that have drives and BIOS that are MBR. GPT has been supported by Microsoft since 2002 but will only work on 64-bit Windows systems (except XP 64-bit) and not on 32-bit systems. Your current 64-bit default Windows 7 installations will be MBR.




    GPT Boot


    So how does GPT boot? The GPT incorporatesa protective MBR that tells the BIOS it is a 2TB or smaller disk when you power on and lets the BIOS start the boot loader without issues. It does this so the low-level utilities can see the drive. This of course will only work if both the OS and the boot loader are EFI aware. EFI comes with its own boot loader so you can boot from a GPT.


    Only certain equipment supports UEFI currently. A few current motherboards that support UEFI are HP EliteBooks, higher-end Dell PowerEdge servers and a bunch of DP and DG Intel motherboards. Check first as I do not guarantee this list.


    My Elitebook at work supports UEFI Boot Mode although my IT department uses MBR and 32-bit Windows. Boo.




    Western Digital has a list of supported operating systems.




    Current Options for Large Drives


    AMI (American Megatrends) talks about some options for workarounds to the current MBR/GPT issues.

    1. Install Windows on a drive smaller than 2TB with MBR. Use the 2TB or larger drives internally and have them partitioned as GPT.
    2. Use a BIOS (like AMI Aptio) and an operating system that support UEFI and allows GPT boot. You will need to get a UEFI OS installation disk

    Converting from MBR to GPT


    To change a disk from MBR to GPT you can use DISKPART in the command line or use the Windows interface. You have delete any volumes on the disk so this is not something you want to try until you need to perform the change. Again, this will not work on external attached drives!


    External Disks and MBR


    So, what about external drives? GPT cannot be used on removable media or on disks that are not connected to the buses used by the Cluster service.


    WD Caviar Green Drives – 2.5 and 3 TB


    These new drives are shipping with a Host Bus Adapter (HBA) that connects to a PCI-E slot that allows the drive to work. This is a short-term solution since there are driver issues. This is what WD says, and I quote “If the large capacity drive is attached directly to the native motherboard SATA controller, the 3rd party driver may attach to the drive and the driver will not recognize the drive’s full capacity, resulting in an incompatibility issue. An attempt to uninstall the driver could render the whole system inoperable. However, when the drive is connected to the WD-bundled HBA, a Windows operating system would load native AHCI drivers that would correctly support large capacity drives and allow normal partitioning and use of the drive.” End quote.


    Therefore, as I transition this off to the Michaels I would suggest doing the research ahead of time on your system. I know for me, I will be buying one of these drives soon, but using it as a secondary drive and not an OS drive. In the next few months I will need to buy me a new Intel P55 motherboard that supports UEFI and try this out. Remember you can still benefit from GPT without having a large drive for the OS.




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