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What You Need to Know About Using UEFI Instead of the BIOS

windows-8-boot-options-menu

New Windows 8 PCs don’t include the traditional BIOS. They use UEFI firmware instead, just as Macs have for years. How you go about doing common system tasks has changed.

If you’re interested in why UEFI is replacing the BIOS, take a look at our overview of UEFI and how it’s different from the traditional BIOS.

You’ll Need to Access These Options From Within Windows

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Rather than have modern PCs wait several seconds for a key press and delay their speedy boot process, you’ll have to access a boot options menu after booting into Windows.

To access this menu, open the Settings charm — either swipe in from the right and tap Settings or press Windows Key + I. Click the Power option under the Settings charm, press and hold the Shift key, and click Restart. Your computer will reboot into the boot options menu.

restart-from-settings-charm

Access Low-Level UEFI Settings

To access the UEFI Firmware Settings, which are the closest thing available to the typical BIOS setup screen, click the Troubleshoot tile, select Advanced Options, and select UEFI Firmware Settings.

access-uefi-firmware-settings

Click the Restart option afterwards and your computer will reboot into its UEFI firmware settings screen.

You’ll find different options here on different computers. For example, only a few options are available on Microsoft’s Surface Pro PC, but many more options will likely be available on traditional desktop PCs.

surface-pro-2-uefi

UEFI applies to new computers. You won’t see the UEFI Firmware Settings option here if you installed Windows 8 on an older computer that came with a BIOS instead of UEFI — you’ll just have to access the BIOS in the same way you always have.

Note that this boot menu option option may not be present on all UEFI PCs. On some UEFI PCs, you may have to access the UEFI settings screen in a different way — check your PC’s documentation for instructions if you don’t see the button here.

Disable Secure Boot

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The UEFI settings screen allows you to disable Secure Boot, a useful security feature that prevents malware from hijacking Windows or another installed operating system. However, it can also prevent other operating systems — including Linux distributions and older versions of Windows like Windows 7 — from booting and installing.

You can disable Secure Boot from the UEFI settings screen on any Windows 8 PC. You’ll be giving up the security advantages Secure Boot offers, but you’ll gain the ability to boot any operating system you like.

secure-boot-violation-invalid-signature-detected

Boot From Removable Media

To boot your computer from removable media — for example, to boot a Linux live USB drive — you’ll need to access the boot options screen. Select the Boot Device option and choose the device you want to boot from. Depending on the hardware your computer has, you’ll see a variety of options like USB drive, CD/DVD drive, SD card, network boot, and so on.

windows-8-uefi-choose-boot-device

Legacy BIOS Mode

Many computers with UEFI firmware will allow you to enable a legacy BIOS compatibility mode. In this mode, the UEFI firmware functions as a standard BIOS instead of UEFI firmware. This can help improve compatibility with older operating systems that weren’t designed with UEFI in mind — Windows 7, for example.

If your PC has this option, you’ll find it in the UEFI settings screen. You should only enable this if necessary.

Change the System Time

The BIOS has generally included a built-in clock that displays the time and allowed users to change it from the BIOS settings screen. PCs with UEFI still contain hardware clocks that work the same way, but may not give you an option to control this in the UEFI settings screen. This doesn’t really matter — change the time in your operating system and it will change the system clock time, too.

change-system-clock

Access Hardware Information

Your UEFI settings screen may or may not offer the ability to view information about the hardware inside your computer and its temperatures. If it doesn’t, this doesn’t really matter — you can always view this information with a system information tool in Windows, such as Speccy.

hardware-information-windows-8

Change Hardware Settings

The BIOS has traditionally offered a variety of settings for tweaking system hardware — overclocking your CPU by changing its multipliers and voltage settings, tweaking your RAM timings, configuring your video memory, and modifying other hardware-related settings. These options may or may not be present in your hardware’s UEFI firmware. For example, on tablets, convertibles, and laptops, you may not find any of these settings. On desktop motherboards designed for tweakers, you should hopefully find these settings in your UEFI settings screen.


While the methods of accessing the UEFI settings screen and booting from removable devices are both different, not much else has changed. Just as the BIOSes included with typical laptops offered fewer options than the BIOSes include with motherboards intended for enthusiasts, the UEFI firmware settings screens on tablets and convertibles offer fewer options than those on UEFI-enabled desktops.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 11/16/13

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