Booting your BIOS system via UEFI

In my previous post, I wrote about my exploration on running UEFI on BIOS based systems. The original motivation was to find "cure" to long boot time from USB flash drive, when initrd is large (like the case in Fatdog). I reasoned that since in many BIOS systems USB booting is done via hard-disk emulation (and thus it depends on the quality of the emulation), it would be better to run a firmware that recognises and is capable of booting from USB devices directly, without emulation.

I managed to get DUET working on qemu, but it didn't work on some of my target systems. Another alternative that I explored is CloverEFI, which is a fork of DUET. This worked better than DUET and it booted on systems where DUET wouldn't. However, I could not notice improvement on boot times. I haven't looked at DUET disk driver; I was hoping that it would provide a hardware UHCI/EHCI driver but probably doesn't - if it still depends on BIOS to access the USB via hard-disk emulation, then I've gained nothing.

So the initial objective can be considered as a failure.

However, come to think of it, I now have a better reason why you want to run UEFI on your BIOS system. When you run DUET, you are, essentially, "flashing" your BIOS and "upgrading" it with a newer UEFI firmware. While BIOS can do most of what UEFI can, there is one thing that it cannot do: it cannot boot from disk over 2TB in size†. This is not a hardware limitation, it is a consequence of applying a 36-year old design meant for 5 MB harddisk to today's world. With UEFI "update", you can format your disk using GPT and boots successfully from it.

Note†: It is possible to format the disk using GPT and have BIOS boots from it. I even described the process on my own article. That article, however, has a non-obvious limitation: the bootloader you use, must be capable of using the filesystem and booting the OS of your choice. The article was targeted for Linux users, thus syslinux was the chosen example and it would work beautifully. If, however, you want to boot other OS that syslinux doesn't understand, then you have to choose a different boot loader that:
a) can be booted by BIOS
b) understands GPT
c) can boot your OS of choice

In this case, booting GPT disk via DUET doesn't sound very unreasonable, considering that you've got more choice of UEFI bootloaders than non-UEFI ones for some specific OS.

Posted on 30 Apr 2016, 03:49 - Categories: Linux General
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