Intel to make major UEFI announcement

UPDATE | Intel has now made the announcement and demonstrated a PC booting using UEFI firmware (we have the pics to prove it!)

Intel is tipped to unveil a new PC design tomorrow that uses the Universal Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) platform the next-gen replacement for the 22 year old BIOS.

UEFI is already in use in Apple Macs but other PC makers have been slow to adopt it because Microsoft has not yet released a version of Windows Vista that can boot on UEFI.

Intel CTO Justin Rattner will make the announcement tomorrow in his opening keynote speech at the Intel Developer Forum Beijing.

Intel China tech chief Wenn-Hann Wang: BIOS is on the way out

Intel China’s technology chief Wenn-Hann Wang foreshadowed the UEFI announcement in opening remarks to press and analysts this morning.

“Without wanting to steal the thunder from Justin Rattner’s keynote speech tomorrow we are very pleased with progress [on UEFI adoption] we have made with Apple server makers and the PC you will see tomorrow in Justin’s keynote” he said.

Apple is the only desktop PC maker that has been able to introduce UEFI because it was able to modify Mac OS X to boot on UEFI at the same time that it switched to Intel x86 architecture.

Microsoft disappointed Mac users by announcing at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco a year ago that it would delay support for UEFI booting in Vista and that it would ultimately only ever become available on the 64-bit version of Vista.

Apple countered Microsoft’s postponement of support for UEFI by introducing Boot Camp which included a firmware update that added a BIOS emulation layer to the EFI firmware system used by Macs.

Speaking at Intel Developer Forum Beijing today Wenn-Hann Wang said the company had been working with local industry to adopt UEFI and drop BIOS and had been “very successful” to date.

When pressed on what exactly that meant he said that journalists should be patient and wait until tomorrow’s keynote speech officially opening IDF. However he added that Intel had been working with government to encourage the industry to move to UEFI.

Why Intel believes the BIOS is dead

The giant chipmaker today reiterated that although the industry’s move to UEFI had been slow it was not a matter of “if” but “when” BIOS would die off completely.

“It takes a few years to unseat a legacy – it took 22 years to create it and it has taken a few years to unseat. New technology usually happens first in servers – all the server markers are now using UEFI — and Microsoft has been working with us it just takes a few years” he said.

“The BIOS is getting to the point where it is too old and inhibiting innovation. Intel has been working on the Extensible Firmware Interface that is modular and scalable and provides a good framework for innovation” said Wenn-Hann Wang.

“BIOS has been around for 22 years and it’s highly likely that your laptop today has code from 22 years ago.

“The number of people who fully understand the code and are masters of the whole BIOS codebase is very limited. But that’s not the most important part – the original specification and programming is lacking. UEFI has a much better vision of the interface for the essential BIOS functions.

“It allows programming in higher level languages – C++ for example rather than assembly code. It’s so difficult these days to recruit people who are masters of assembly code programming.

“The third thing that UEFI has is modularity – the old code is like a whole pile of noodles; it’s all stacked together very messy. If you want to put some peanut sauce in you have to push really hard to find a place you can squeeze it in.

Tantalising: the single slide Intel showed on EFI today in Beijing

Dan Warne is attending Intel Developer Forum Beijing as a guest of Intel.