Even before the first personal computer appeared in 1984, BIOS technologies, which are needed to initialize hardware, test hardware functionalities and start the operating system, were already in use for more than 30 years. However, as various IT technologies continue to advance at a rapid pace, BIOS technologies have gradually become unable to satisfy the current usage environment and are being replaced by the new Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI), which offers a faster booting time than legacy BIOS and a broader range of support.
With Microsoft's soon-to-be-released next-generation operating system featuring significant and revolutionary changes within the software's architecture and application methods, an advanced UEFI technology will be needed to fully execute its advanced functions. At Microsoft's developer-focused BUILD conference in September earlier this year, American Megatrends Incorporated (AMI) launched the industry's first development platform that is compatible with the next-generation operating system. In addition to demonstrating support for UEFI 2.3.1, AMI also provided demonstrations of standards and technologies for this development platform at BUILD including such as SecureBoot, FastBoot, SeamlessBoot, USB 3.0, OA 3.0, TPM, eDrive, IPv6, GPT and CSM Opt-Out. The worldwide IT industry is eagerly preparing to welcome the new operating system, hoping its impressive new user interface will spark a demand explosion among consumers to revitalize a consumer market that has been gloomy for a long time.
As a leader in BIOS technologies, American Megatrends - provider of the fast and user-friendly cross-platform UEFI firmware development platform Aptio® - hosted a UEFI technology seminar on October 21 at the Taipei International Convention Center to allow related players and firmware designers to understand the technologies related to the latest version of its Aptio firmware, and the connection between UEFI and next-generation operating systems. AMI (USA) Vice President Stefano Righi and Principal Engineer Alex Podgorsky were invited to the seminar to provide in-depth analyses of the current development status of UEFI, showing that American Megatrends, as the leader in the BIOS industry, is able and determined to always maintain its technologies at the highest level.
American Megatrends, founded in 1985, has over 900 employees worldwide with a large proportion of the market share in BIOS and UEFI firmware. Considering Taiwan's status as an important base of the global IT industry, the company established its Taiwan branch in 1996 to provide Taiwan's IT players with more direct and efficient support services. With UEFI set to become the future standard of BIOS firmware, American Megatrends started developing EFI-based solutions in 1998 and launched the Aptio development platform in alignment with EFI/UEFI standards in 2004. The basic structure of Aptio is built within UEFI's open software framework and is fully compatible with the latest UEFI 2.3.1 specification, to shorten the time that program designers will need to develop a new system.
Around-the-clock technical support to satisfy clients' development needs
According to Kenny Tseng, Executive Vice President of American Megatrends (Greater China), "Starting in 2010, the consumer market worldwide has experienced great changes and with impacts from the rise of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet PCs, vendors are now faced with the tough challenge that they must shorten the time of their product development." In response to these challenges, American Megatrends has designed the Aptio platform in such a way as to ease its adoption into a wide variety of computing environments, including mobile devices, embedded systems, notebooks, personal computers and servers. In addition to reducing the time required to train R&D personnel, Aptio also allows clients' internally developed program modules to be re-used to help shorten the time for developing new products.
Although the UEFI specifications are firmly set to be the firmware standards of the future, most system developers still face challenges with their implementation. Apart from having to quickly get familiar with the development methods of new platforms, they also have come to terms with the shortage of qualified firmware design engineers. However, American Megatrends' Aptio, which uses the standard C programming language, allows engineers to quickly familiarize themselves the development environment, and its cross-platform features can also help resolve problems arising from insufficient manpower. With these features, the Aptio platform can be considered the best UEFI development solution currently available on the market.
"AMI puts a strong focus on the design interface, hoping to reduce the threshold for firmware engineers to dive into the EFI/UEFI structure," said Pailin Huang, Marketing Division Director of American Megatrends Taiwan. "We provide a complete graphical interface to give program developers the best development environment possible." American Megatrends also has a full-featured program debugging tool, AMI Debug™ for UEFI, to help engineers quickly identify problems within the source code, enabling more stable product quality.
Furthermore, American Megatrends also provides a full range of technical support specifically for Taiwan's IT players. In addition to AMI's technical support hotline, various technical documents are available for download from the company website and developer portals for reference during product development. American Megatrends also offers complete training programs; depending on clients' needs, the company can provide introductory, intermediate and advanced classes to enable clients' long-term training of their firmware engineers.
Aptio's cross-platform features simplify product development procedures
Whenever there is a UEFI specification update, American Megatrends will immediately update its Aptio platform. As a case in point, the latest edition of Aptio, version 18.104.22.168, already features support for industry standards such as UEFI 2.3.1 and PI 1.2, in addition to several key platform security standards. For firmware engineers, upgrading modules through AMI's Visual eBIOS™ (VeB) graphical development platform provides them with support for the latest specifications and functions without any concerns about compatibility of the program modules. As such, engineers can simply concentrate on what they do best - writing the source code.
"The UEFI structure is not only intended to accelerate boot speeds, but also to make complete corrections to lingering problems with the x86 platform structure - with the aim to create a safer usage environment," said Stefano Righi, Vice President of AMI (USA). For example, most current PCs are still unable to support hard drives with storage capacity over 2.2TB, or recent improved power management protocols. By leveraging the UEFI structure, however, these problems plaguing x86 systems can all be resolved.
In fact, the Aptio platform is not only the best solution for developing within the UEFI framework; American Megatrends has also designed AMI VirtualRoom™ pre-boot applications to allow system developers to offer more value-added functions in their products through customized design services. With AMI VirtualRoom apps from American Megatrends, developers will be able to stand out from the fierce competition. Take the most popular AMI VR-pulse™ application, for example: this app allows consumers to quickly activate their frequently-used functions, such as the e-mail client or web browser, without waiting for a full OS initialization – thanks to UEFI.
"Targeting dual-operating-system notebooks that are becoming more and more popular, we also provide the AMI VirtualRoom module," noted Vincent Hsiao, Project Manager of American Megatrends Taiwan. "This module not only features a fast boot-up time, but also allows switching between operating systems in only six seconds, which perfectly fits consumers' expectations." Another example of a value-add app from AMI that is extremely attractive is AMI VR-tune™, which is designed specifically for smart TVs and can quickly switch the TV from displaying digital TV programming to the Windows™ operating system - without adding significant added development time or overhead.
With smartphones and tablet PCs fast penetrating the consumer market, the ARM architecture, which benefits from extremely efficient power consumption, has already become a leading choice for developing mobile devices. However, since the ARM architecture has a completely different development environment than that of x86-based devices, firmware engineers face a steep learning curve in developing for these new platforms. This learning curve will not only incur a very high cost in terms of time and resources, but also prevent developers from quickly launching suitable products for the consumer market.
"Fortunately, all the above issues in developing for ARM can be resolved in the UEFI structure," said Tony Lo, Senior Manager of American Megatrends Taiwan. "With the help of the Aptio platform, firmware engineers can develop all kinds of Windows application software under the ARM platform without the need to change any usage or development habits." Thanks to the integrated development environment for Aptio, application software designed for x86 platforms can also be quickly adapted for ARM platforms, so that source code can be re-used and product development time can be shortened dramatically.
In addition to reducing the time required to train R&D personnel, Aptio also allows clients' internally developed program modules to be re-used to help shorten the time for developing new products, according to Kenny Tseng, Executive Vice President of American Megatrends (Greater China).
The UEFI structure is not only intended to accelerate boot speeds, but also to make complete corrections to lingering problems with the x86 platform structure - with the aim to create a safer usage environment, according to Stefano Righi, Vice President of AMI (USA).
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