TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Apple's Transition from Open Firmware to Extensible Firmware Interface

Volume Number: 23 (2007)
Issue Number: 05
Column Tag: System Technologies

Apple's Transition from Open Firmware to Extensible Firmware Interface

By Criss Myers

Preface

In January 2006, Apple introduced Intel Architecture based Macs. They took this hardware move as an opportunity to also upgrade their choice of firmware. Their previous firmware, Open Firmware, was not in itself a bad choice, being far more advanced than the IBM PC BIOS that Windows computers use. There is, however, a better firmware choice that offers improvements on Open Firmware, called Extensible Firmware Interface, EFI, developed by Intel. When Apple looked for a successor to their PowerPC Processors, they found a complete hardware package from Intel. They got the latest CoreDuo and Xeon Processors, as well as advancements in boot firmware and disk partitioning. Since Apple offers an integrated package, this enables them to control all aspects of the computer system from processors to boot firmware to operating system. This also enabled them to make a smooth transition from the PowerPC, Open Firmware, APM and their 32bit OS, to Intel processors, EFI, GPT and 64bit Tiger OS X. Anyone using these 2 systems will not notice any difference apart from their performance. In this article we will take a brief look at Open Firmware and then explain what EFI is, its history, and what this means for Apple's future as well as that of the PC market in general.

Open Firmware

Apple's PowerPC Macs, post-NuBus, used a boot firmware called Open Firmware. Open Firmware, also called OpenBoot, was developed by Sun Microsystems and is used in Sun's Sparc work stations and servers, IBM POWER systems and PegasosPPC systems and is available under a BSD license. It was described by IEEE as IEEE 1275-1994 but since 1998, it has been withdrawn. In 2006 several commercial versions were released to the open source community under the OpenBIOS project, these include, SUN OpenBOOT, Firmworks OpenFirmware and Codegen SmartFirmware. Open Firmware is a hardware independent firmware and fulfils the same tasks as BIOS does in a PC. The advantage of Open Firmware to Apple is that any I/O cards that work, in say SUN machines, could also be used in Mac machines without requiring any specific Mac drivers. Open Firmware also offered BOOTP capabilities for Netbooting machines as well as setting boot devices. On a Macintosh, most user settings can be changed via GUI tools and the Open Firmware can be locked to prevent booting from non-authorized sources.

Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI)

History

EFI was developed by Andrew Fish working for Intel back in the 1990's and was initially called "Intel Boot Initiative (IBI)". It grew up around the need to replace the aging PC BIOS developed by IBM in the 1970's. IBI was intended for their Itanium Architecture (IA) based computers because the existing PC BIOS was far too limiting for future 64 bit operating systems, some of these problems being 16 bit processor mode and PC AT hardware dependencies to name a few. Since then, IBI was developed by Intel into EFI and subsequently released by them to the open source community in 2005. It is now called UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) and is currently at version 2.1.

Due to the failed performance of these IA machines, EFI never took off as a common replacement for the PC BIOS. In 2006, Apple moved to EFI and was then the only vendor to take advantage of this firmware interface. Linux has supported EFI since 2000 using "elilo" as a boot loader and both Windows and HP-UX support EFI, but all of these only support IA-32 and IA-64 platforms. Windows Vista is expected to support EFI but only in a later service pack and Microsoft's stance is that until EFI becomes mainstream they will not support it.

What is EFI?

EFI was designed to abstract the firmware and hardware layers from the operating system layer. This is so that operating system vendors and developers no longer need to battle with cumbersome 16bit BIOS and constant hardware configurations.


Fig 1. Legacy PC BIOS vs. EFI

Figure 1 compares EFI and BIOS showing EFI as a standard interface between the OS and the hardware. EFI is a set of specifications to define interactions and programmatic interfaces between the hardware and the operating systems, it is then up to the specific hardware vendors to make an EFI compliant system. Since EFI is just a set of specifications, it is not an actual firmware; therefore, it is up to each vendor to create their own firmware to initialize their hardware. Intel's firmware, and hence Apple's choice, is called "Intel Platform Innovation Framework for EFI", also called "Framework". It is a legacy free firmware that complies with EFI. It is not available to end-users as a complete firmware package but parts of the code are released under the TianoCore project, (www.tianocore.org). Apple created their own version of "Framework"; we will see later how they implemented EFI and framework.

EFI is very similar to Open Firmware in that it is a boot firmware independent of hardware and operating system. What this means is that it allows the operating system to boot and run in a "sandbox" mode. A "sandbox" mode is a safe protected mode where the operating system does not make direct calls to the hardware. EFI controls the hardware; it takes the calls from the operating system, and then passes them on to the hardware, creating an interface between the OS and the physical firmware, in much the same way that a virtual machine works. This then offers a stable environment from which to run the OS. The advantage of this is that only the firmware controls the hardware (see Fig 2).


Figure 2 - EFI as an interface between the OS and the Firmware

For developers this means they will no longer need to make BIOS/OS dependant drivers, they can create EFI based drivers which will then work in any compatible EFI machine irrelevant of the OS or BIOS loaded. Obviously, for Apple this means a wider range of I/O cards can be supported in the future once more hardware vendors support EFI. EFI is free of any of the memory restrictions that BIOS has and can use all available memory. This speeds up boot time as well, a Mac Pro for instance can boot up and load the OS in just 15 seconds.

The EFI specification is broken down into "boot services" and "runtime services". Boot Services are any services that run during boot only, such as, the loading of drivers and the accessing of graphics during boot. The services use "EFI Drivers" "EFI Applications" and "EFI Boot Code". Runtime Services run while the computer is running accessing such things as date/time etc. EFI Drivers are written in C and conform to the EFI Drivers Model. They can be loaded from any non-volatile memory, either in option ROM, or on the device directly.

Apple's implementation of EFI and Framework

The EFI Boot Process

Firstly, the computer powers up, then Framework, then, via EFI boot services, initializes the hardware such as the Bluetooth, USB, VGA, network IP stack, remote control, etc. These boot services will load all the hardware drivers necessary to detect any OS that resides on either an internal or external hard disk, or a network volume. Apple's Framework does not boot into text mode but directly into graphics mode, just like it did with Open Firmware. There is no direct access to the text mode or EFI shell. Apple has developed their Framework to work in much the same way as Open Firmware did, using the same key strokes: C boots to CD/DVD, N boots into the Netboot disk, V boots verbose and S boots into Safe Mode, etc. This makes a seamless transition from Open Firmware to EFI for the user.

Following this, various EFI Applications can be loaded; one such application is the Boot Manager. The Boot Manager is used to select and load the operating system, removing the need for a dedicated boot-loader mechanism. On an Apple this looks very similar to the Open Firmware boot-loader but with updated graphics. Apple has created their own EFI compliant Boot Manager with their own graphics. Apple's Boot Manager can detect any Mac operating system that is available to the system. According to Apple, their EFI Application can, however, only read boot-code from a GPT formatted drive or an Intel based NetBoot image; only one Netboot image is displayed and is either set via the "Startup Disk" section on the client or is the default image set on the server. Initially the Boot Manager could only detect Mac OS, but Apple used the "compatibility support module" to support legacy PC BIOS such as XP. This will only display a single legacy OS per drive.


Figure 3 - EFI with the CSM Module

Apple's Boot Manager Application will either boot from the default volume or you can enter the graphical selection screen via the option keystroke, just as with Open Firmware. The EFI boot code is then read from the hard disk and the operating system is loaded. Control is then transferred to the OS. Some higher operating system drivers can now be loaded for various devices. The operating system will then pass calls to the firmware, which will pass them to the hardware.


Figure 4 - EFI Boot Process

rEFIt tools

When Apple released BootCamp with their Firmware update, which added the compatibility support module to their firmware, it became possible to load the Linux OS onto a Mac. However, this module only recognizes a single legacy OS per drive and labels them as Windows only. This is not useful in a triple boot system. An open source project was then started called rEFIt tools which offers a boot menu to detect multiple OS per drive and label them as the appropriate OS's. It also offers a maintenance toolkit with direct access to the EFI pre-boot environment and gives access to the EFI Shell Application. The current version is 0.8 and can be loaded via CD, USB or directly off the internal drive. When you boot the Mac with the option key held down, you can then select the rEFIt tools from their installed location.

Conclusion -- Future Benefits of EFI for Apple

EFI is a complete pre-boot environment, that makes life much easier for developers, and since EFI is written in C, it is much easier to program for. With more vendors supporting this specification it means, for Apple users, that more and more devices with be compatible with Macs. This can only be a good thing. Developers find it a much easier environment to develop in due to its pre-boot environment. They can test and develop without the need for a VDU because they can output the tests directly to text. The pre-boot environment can also be used for backup, recovery, and diagnostics, updating firmware by accessing the Internet without the need for an OS. Both American Megatrends Inc (AMI) and Insyde Technology, both members of UEFI, have made Pre-Boot Applications sets.


Figure 5 - AMI Pre-Boot Interface

There are development tools available that allow users to create their own pre-boot applications.


Figure 6 - Pre-Boot Applications

This offers Apple the chance to create their own Pre-Boot Applications which can be stored on the System EFI partition, which is currently empty on Apples GPT drives, but is created by default with a set size of 200mb. Apple could develop pre-boot versions of Time Machine for Leopard so that an OS X system could be recovered via an existing backup, or use a pre-boot Disk Utility to repair a drive. Third party companies such as Norton or Tech Tool could install pre-boot versions of their Applications to this hidden partition also. Apple could also make a pre-boot version of Front Row so that users can access their DVD's, MP3s, AppleTV without needing to boot the OS. This also offers secure network booting, remote provisioning and setup as well as virus scanning etc. For the general user it will offer them a stable environment to run the Mac OS X without as many kernel panics.

Bibliography and References

UEFI. UEFI Extensible Firmware Interface Specifications Version 2.1, Copyright 2006.

Windows Hardware Developer Central, EFI and Windows, April 2006.

Wikipedia, Extensible Firmware Interface, 2007.

Wikipedia, Open Firmware, 2007.

Wikipedia, BIOS, 2007.

OSX86Project, EFI, February 2007.

Intel Software Network, Extensible Firmware Interface, 2006.

Intel Software Network, Enhanced Pre-Boot Environments with EFI Applications, 2007

Michael Kinney - Intel Developer Update Magazine, Solving Boot Issues with EFI, September 2000

Amit Singh - Kernelthread.com, More Power to Firmware, Copyright 2006.

American Megatrends Inc, AMI Pre-Boot Applications, December 2005.


Criss Myers is a Senior Mac IT Technician for the Faculty of Science and Technology, at the University of Central Lancashire, Preston, United Kingdom. He has been a Systems Server Administrator from the very first version of OS X Server. He Works with Macs as well as Linux, Unix and Windows.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

How to get started with Prisma
If there's one thing people like to do more than taking pictures with their smartphones, it's tinkering with those photos in some way. Numerous apps have sprung up over the last several years that allow you to use filters and special effects to... | Read more »
6 Pokemon GO updates you can expect, acc...
Pokemon GO had a scheduled appearance at this year's San Diego Comic-Con for a while, but it was only relatively close to the show that it was upgraded to a spot in Hall H. That's the biggest venue at SDCC, one usually reserved for the largest... | Read more »
How to evolve Eevee in Pokemon GO
By now, almost everyone should be hip to how to evolve Pokemon in Pokemon GO (and if not, there's a guide for that). Just gather enough candy of the appropriate type, feed them all to the Pokemon, and evolution happens. It's a miracle that would... | Read more »
CSR Racing 2: Guide to all game modes
It might not seem like there are all that many ways to go fast in a straight line, but CSR Racing 2 begs to differ. [Read more] | Read more »
Bulb Boy (Games)
Bulb Boy 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Multi-award winning 2D point & click horror adventure about a boy with a glowing head. | Read more »
5 top free emoji keyboard apps
If we're not at peak emoji yet as a society, it feels like we definitely should be. The emoji concept has gone far beyond what anyone in Japan could have envisioned when the people there unleashed it on an unsuspecting world, but the West has... | Read more »
How to unlock more characters in Disney...
One of the big charms of Disney Emoji Blitz is seeing a wide variety of beloved Disney and Pixar characters transformed into smiling emojis. Even someone like the sneaky Randall from Monsters Inc., who probably never cracked a smile on film, is... | Read more »
Cubway (Games)
Cubway 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Cubway is a journey with an abstract story of lifecycle of rebirth, called Samsara. Guide the cube through the long way full of dangers... | Read more »
Colorcube (Games)
Colorcube 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Turn pieces and blend colours in this minimal yet visually stunning puzzler.Over 200 handcrafted and challenging levels. Features... | Read more »
Doodle God Griddlers (Games)
Doodle God Griddlers 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

13-inch 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air on sale for...
Amazon has the 13″ 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air on sale for $200 off MSRP for a limited time. Shipping is free: - 13″ 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air (sku MMGF2LL/A): $799.99 $200 off MSRP Their price is the... Read more
13-inch 1.6GHz/256GB MacBook Air on sale for...
Amazon has the 13″ 1.6GHz/256GB MacBook Air on sale for $200 off MSRP for a limited time. Shipping is free: - 13″ 1.6GHz/256GB MacBook Air (sku MMGG2LL/A): $999.99 $200 off MSRP Their price is the... Read more
Free iOS Business App notably* Helps Service...
PayStudio Inc. has introduced their new business app notably* 1.0, developed for iPhone and iPod touch. notably* was specifically developed to help service and trade professionals go digital and... Read more
27-inch iMacs on sale for $200 off MSRP
Amazon has 27″ iMacs on sale for $200 off MSRP including free shipping: - 27″ 3.3GHz iMac 5K: $2099 $200 off MSRP - 27″ 3.2GHz/1TB Fusion iMac 5K: $1799.99 $200 off MSRP - 27″ 3.2GHz/1TB HD iMac 5K... Read more
Mac Pros on sale for $200 off MSRP
B&H Photo has Mac Pros on sale for $200 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges sales tax in NY only: - 3.7GHz 4-core Mac Pro: $2799, $200 off MSRP - 3.5GHz 6-core Mac Pro: $3799, $200... Read more
Save up to $600 with Apple refurbished Mac Pr...
Apple has Certified Refurbished Mac Pros available for up to $600 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each Mac Pro, and shipping is free. The following... Read more
Apple price trackers, updated continuously
Scan our Apple Price Trackers for the latest information on sales, bundles, and availability on systems from Apple’s authorized internet/catalog resellers. We update the trackers continuously: - 15″... Read more
13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro (Apple refurbished...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pros available for $829, or $270 off the cost of new models. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free: - 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pros... Read more
21-inch iMacs on sale for up to $120 off MSRP
B&H Photo has 21″ iMacs on sale for up to $120 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 21″ 3.1GHz iMac 4K: $1379 $120 off MSRP - 21″ 2.8GHz iMac: $1199.99 $100 off MSRP - 21″ 1... Read more
Charitybuzz Set to Auction Unique Apple-1 Com...
Offering an opportunity to own the computer that sparked a revolution, on Monday, July 25, leading online charity auction platform Charitybuzz will auction what is claimed to be the world’s most... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions, Willow...
Job Description:SalesSpecialist - Retail Customer Service and SalesTransform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* Evangelist - JAMF Software (United S...
The Apple Evangelist is responsible for building and cultivating strategic relationships with Apple 's small and mid-market business development field teams. This Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant - APPLE (United...
Job Summary As an Apple Solutions Consultant, you'll be the link between our future customers and our products. You'll showcase your entrepreneurial spirit as you Read more
*Apple* Professional Learning Specialist - A...
Job Summary The Apple Professional Learning Specialist is a full-time position for one year with Apple in the Phoenix, AZ area. This position requires a high Read more
*Apple* Picker - Apple Hill Orchard (United...
Apple Hill Orchard, Co. Rte. 21,Whitehall, NY 9/7/16-10/228/16. Pick fresh market or processing apples Productivity of 60 boxes and 80 boxes processing fruit per Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.