Intel to Remove Legacy BIOS Support from UEFI by 2020

The PC Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) will turn 39 in three years, and as it turns out, this is when it is going to die on 64-bit Intel platforms. In recent years, Intel has implemented its Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) mechanism with legacy BIOS support as an additional option, however the company intends to remove legacy BIOS support from its UEFI by 2020 in an effort to improve security. For most users, the removal will go unnoticed, but for those who use and rely on legacy hardware on the newest platforms, it means migrating to other platforms.

BIOS functionality has evolved over the years, but its key purposes remained intact – run the POST (power-on self-test) to identify and initialize key system components (CPU, RAM, GPU, storage, DMA controllers, etc.), lead to OS boot and then provide certain I/O functions for older operating systems. Standard PC BIOSes from the early 1980s had numerous limitations (a 16-bit processor mode, 1 MB of addressable memory space), which needed to be hacked around starting in the late 1980s, but by the 2000s the industry started to move on to a new iteration: UEFI. UEFI was designed to not have decades-old constraints and is considerably more sophisticated in general.

In order to guarantee a smooth transition from BIOS to UEFI (by ensuring compatibility with legacy software and hardware that uses 16-bit OpROM), the Unified EFI Forum (which consists of virtually all the important developers/suppliers of hardware) defined several UEFI system classes and introduced an optional Compatibility Support Module (CSM) to UEFI class 2 to help smooth the process.

 

The vast majority of PCs today feature UEFI class 2 and thus can expose either UEFI or BIOS interfaces, which can be selected in the BIOS configuration. There are systems that belong to UEFI class 3/3+ already (e.g., Microsoft Surface Book), but they are rare. In a bid to make capabilities like UEFI Secure Boot ubiquitous, Intel plans to remove CSM support from new client and server platforms by 2020. As a result, all new platforms from that point on will be strictly UEFI class 3.

Once CSM is removed, the new platforms will be unable to run 32-bit operating systems, unable to use related software (at least natively), and unable to use older hardware, such as RAID HBAs (and therefore older hard drives that are connected to those HBAs), network cards, and even graphics cards that lack UEFI-compatible vBIOS (launched before 2012 – 2013). Those who need older programs will still be able to run them in virtualization mode, but outdated hardware will have to be retired or remain on older platforms.

For the remaining years, Intel recommends to its partners to improve the UEFI user experience, promote UEFI features like secure boot, signed capsule and other, and remove DOS/BIOS dependencies from production maintenance tools. Essentially do everything to lower significance of CSM.

An interesting question regarding depreciation of legacy BIOS support on Intel’s new platforms is which of them will be the first to drop CSM in the client space. Intel is preparing a number of client platforms for mainstream desktop and mobile PCs (Cannon Lake, Ice Lake) to be released in the coming years, but at present we have no idea whether the company intends to trim CSM to a point in 2020, or if it will be a hard change over.

It remains to be seen whether AMD has similar plans – we have reached out to determine the state of play. The main reason Intel is performing this change is due to security, and certain OEMs may require specific UEFI features in their future products.

HP Recalls 50,000 Laptop Batteries Due to Fire and Burn Hazards

HP has initiated a voluntarily recall of a number of laptop batteries. These batteries are used inside various Envy, ProBook and ZBook notebooks over the past two years due to fire and burn hazards. The manufacturer claims that it had received eight reports of battery packs overheating, melting, or charring. In total, HP intends to recall 50,000 batteries.

The affected battery packs were made in China and were shipped with select HP ProBook 640/645 and 650/655, HP x360 310 G2, HP Envy m6, HP Pavilion x360, HP 11, HP ZBook 17 and HP ZBook Studio G3 notebooks. The laptops were available worldwide from various sellers from December 2015 through December 2017. During the same period, the batteries were also supplied as accessories.

Some of these laptops come with user removable batteries, whereas the other feature integrated ones. HP does not provide any exact model numbers of laptops or battery packs that are affected but advises customers who own a potentially affected notebook to visit an appropriate website and download a special utility (basic version, full version) that automatically checks whether or not a particular battery is potentially unsafe.

If the HP battery program validation utility finds that the accumulator in use needs to be replaced, it will recommend to update system’s BIOS and enable “Battery Safety Mode” that prevents it from charging. After that, customers should contact HP and order a new battery that will be sent to them free of charge. For laptops with internal batteries, HP will also provide a technician to switch them.

Battery recalls are not uncommon these days. This is the second laptop battery recall by HP in the last 12 months. In January 2017, the company recalled 100,000 units. Since in many cases the batteries that explode or catch fire cause injury and/or property damage, HP is taking the issue with very seriously and is trying to avoid any incidents.

ASUS CES 2018: Republic of Gamers Adds Strix SKT T1 Laptop, GL12 Case, & Bezel-Free Monitor Kit

ASUS Republic of Gamers (ROG) also has some updated wares for CES 2018. There’s a new Strix SKT T1 Hero Edition gaming laptop, ROG G703 update, ROG Strix GL12 gaming desktop, and some accessories.

ROG Strix SKT T1 Hero Edition

ASUS is announcing a limited-edition gaming laptop which is a collaboration between ROG and the eSports team SK Telecom T1. The device will come bundled with ROG-SK Telecom T1 branded collectables, such as a jersey, mouse pad, and posters.

The laptop itself is branded with a custom cover featuring the SK Telecom T1 team logo, and the ROG logo, in a unique design. eSports League of Legends icon Faker has his signature on the palm rest.

It features a Core i7 quad-core CPU, along with GeForce GTX 1060 graphics, to drive the 120 Hz IPS display. It has a full RGB-backlit keyboard with specially marked QWER keys, and the keyboard features N-key rollover. The keyboard has upgraded switches with 20-million-keystroke durability.

The ROG Strix SKT T1 Hero Edition will be available in Q1 for $1699 USD.

ROG G703

ASUS’s G7xx series of gaming laptops has been a very successful design in the 17-inch gaming laptop segment. For CES 2018, they are announcing the G703 model which features a Full HD 144 Hz G-SYNC panel. Powering the device is a factory-overclocked Core i7-7820HK processor which is up to 4.3 GHz from the factory, and GeForce GTX 1080 graphics with a maximum boost clock of 1974 MHz. The laptop also features built-in Xbox Wireless, allowing seamless Xbox controller connection over the faster WiFi Direct protocol that the Xbox itself uses.

ASUS also features other high-refresh devices such as the ROG Strix Scar Edition with the 144 Hz panel, and GTX 1070 graphics, along with the FX503 laptop, which is a 15.6-inch model with a 120 Hz refresh and GTX 1060 GPU.

The ROG G703 is available now for $3499 USD.

ROG Strix GL12

ASUS is also launching a new ROG branded gaming desktop, called the ROG Strix GL12. It features a factory-overclocked Core i7 8th generation CPU, with up to 4.8 GHz on all six cores. It features a GTX 1080 GPU as well, so it should have no issue powering most new games, even at higher resolutions.

The GL12 features an easy-swap SSD tray as well to allow simple upgrades of the built-in storage.

The case design features a transparent side panel, and customizable lighting. The slashes can be set to over 16 million colors, along with several preset designs.

It features water-cooling as well to keep everything cool and quiet.

The lighting can be controlled with ASUS Aura Sync, which allows synchronized lighting on compatible devices such as keyboards, mice, and headphones.

The ROG Strix GL12 will be available in April, at prices to be determined.

ROG Strix Flare

In addition to the new PCs, ASUS is also announcing a new mechanical keyboard as well. The ROG Strix Flare features full RGB lighting and Cheryy MX switches. A USB passthrough lets you connect your mouse to the keyboard, to clean up some cabling, and it offers a detachable wrist rest as well.

The keyboard comes with a ROG themed case, for easy transport, as well as illuminated acrylic inserts, including a blank insert which you can customize with your own logo.

Acer Unveils Nitro 5: 15.6-inch Gaming Laptop with AMD Ryzen Mobile & Radeon RX560

AS VEGAS, NV — Acer this week announced its first modern laptop that uses an AMD processor and an AMD Radeon discrete graphics chip. The Nitro 5 is a multimedia-focused notebook that will be available this April in various configurations targeted at people with different budgets and needs.

AMD’s renaissance in mobile is starting to gain traction. Over the past couple of months, Acer and HP released their mainstream laptops based on AMD’s Ryzen Mobile APUs, whereas ASUS set the stakes high with its ROG Strix GL702ZC gaming machine packing desktop-class Ryzen 7 and a discrete Radeon RX580. Acer’s Nitro 5 will sit between mainstream and high-end gaming machines, offering affordability of the former and providing higher performance levels when equipped with a discrete GPU.

The Acer Nitro 5 (AN515-42) comes in black plastic chassis with multiple red accents and a carbon fiber texture on the back to emphasize its gaming nature. The laptop is outfitted with a 15.6” IPS FHD display, which is the most popular resolution among gamers, based on Steam Hardware Survey as of December 2017. Acer does not talk about dimensions or weight, but the laptop looks rather bulky.

Inside, the Nitro 5 features an AMD Ryzen Mobile processor with up to four x86 cores and AMD Vega iGPU (192 – 640 stream processors) as well as a Radeon RX560 discrete GPU with up to 4 GB of GDDR5 (select SKUs only). The APU and GPU will be accompanied by up to 32 GB of DDR4 RAM and a 512 GB SSD, but the manufacturer does not elaborate on exact data transfer rates and models. In fact, when it comes to details, this is what Acer’s press release is a bit short of because the Nitro 5 is three months away and the manufacturer does not announce all the specs just now. It is noteworthy that to enable monitoring and performance tweaking of processor and graphics, Acer will pre-install its NitroSense software.

As for connectivity, everything looks pretty standard on the Nitro 5: a 2×2 802.11ac Wi-Fi + Bluetooth module, one USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C port, one USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A connector, two USB 2.0 headers, a GbE port, an HDMI output and an SD card reader. The audio sub-system of the Acer Nitro 5 is comprised of a TRRS connector, stereo speakers as well as Acer TrueHarmony and Dolby Audio Premium software enhancements.

Acer Nitro 5 Laptops at a Glance
AN515-42
Display Diagonal 15.6″
Resolution 1920×1080
Type IPS
CPU AMD Ryzen Mobile with up to four cores
Graphics Integrated AMD Vega
Discrete AMD Radeon RX560 (Polaris) (select SKUs only)
RAM Capacity up to 32 GB
Type DDR4 (frequency unknown)
Storage up to 512 GB SSD
Wi-Fi 802.11ac Wi-Fi module (unknown vendor)
Bluetooth 4.x
USB 1 × USB 3.0 Type-A
2 × USB 2.0 Type-A
1 × USB 3.0 Type-C
Other I/O HDMI 2.0a, webcam, TRRS connector for audio, speakers, microphone, SD card reader
Price Starting from $799 in the U.S., €1099 in EMEA

As reported above, the Acer Nitro 5 will be available in Europe and North America in April. In EMEA, prices of the laptop will start at €1099, whereas in the U.S. the cheapest model will retail for $799. Considering such a huge difference between prices in America and Europe, expect a significant difference in configurations as well.