Speaking at UEFI Plugfest, a hardware interoperability testing event held by the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) Forum earlier this month, Intel announced that by 2020 it was going to phase out the last remaining relics of the PC BIOS by 2020, marking the full transition to UEFI firmware.
The BIOS (“Basic Input/Output System”) is a small piece of code embedded into a PC’s motherboard that handles the basic initialization and booting of hardware. It’s the BIOS that first probes your hardware, counts how much RAM you have installed, performs cursory checking of the hardware’s health, and complains if your keyboard is unplugged; when it’s finished doing its thing, it kicks off the process to actually load and run the operating system. When the operating system is running, the BIOS offers some basic system services, such as receiving keyboard input and reading and writing to the screen and the disk.
The BIOS was an essential element of IBM’s first PC, the Personal Computer XT, in 1983. Companies wanting to build systems compatible with the PC XT had to build systems with a compatible BIOS, offering the same range of system services to software. If they could do this, software built for the XT would run seamlessly on their machines. Firmware company Phoenix reverse-engineered IBM’s BIOS and offered it to third parties, enabling companies such as Compaq to build and sell PC clones: computers compatible with the PC XT but not including IBM’s own BIOS.