As you know, many people buy SSDs to not only speed up their computing experience, but also speed up the boot time of their machines. SSDs will sometimes cut minutes off boot times when compared to hard drives, however, more often than not, many people do not know how to properly configure, or even know that it is possible to configure their system in such a way to speed up their boot time even more. There are some other things you can do than just slapping an SSD in your system and setting the SATA mode to AHCI or RAID to achieve ultra-fast boot times by using the latest hardware. When we say ultra-fast, we mean powered off system to desktop in 6-10 seconds.
Does this sound crazy? Well, it really isn’t. Today, we are going to go over how to optimize your system and do a native UEFI Windows installation to speed up your boot time as fast as possible!
UEFI VS BIOS MOTHERBOARDS
PCs have specialized software called firmware that controls the hardware. On older systems, the motherboard’s firmware is called a Basic Input/Output System or BIOS. You are probably familiar with this term and have gone into a BIOS to tweak settings for your system, whether it be to change the boot order or overclock your system. It handles initialization and testing the system hardware as well as loading a boot loader or operating system.
It also allows the OS a way to interact with the system’s I/O. Over the past few years firmware has been progressing quite a bit. If you have a computer that was built within the last 3-4 years, chances are that it has a different firmware called a Unified Extensible Firmware Interface or UEFI implementation. Without getting to deep into details, UEFI has a lot of benefits over the old BIOS firmware we are used to, including the ability to use the mouse, more security, and much faster POST and boot capabilities.
The latest UEFI motherboards have fast boot options integrated in them under the boot tab menu. Typically there are three options, Disable, Fast, and Ultra Fast (also called hardware boot, Windows feature, or something similar in the UEFI). Disabled means that it will do a normal boot with no speeding up of the POST. Fast means that it will cut some of the checks during POST to speed up the POST process. Ultra Fast is where things might seem to get a bit complicated, but really they aren’t.
The Ultra Fast option allows the motherboard UEFI to initialize all the hardware at once vs sequentially as with a BIOS, thus speeding up the POST process, however, you have to have a UEFI GOP (Graphics Output Protocol) compliant graphics card. Now what the heck does UEFI GOP compliant even mean? It basically means that your graphics card supports native UEFI Ultra Fast booting. We will talk about what cards are compatible later on. Also, one thing to note is that the Ultra Fast mode will boot so fast that you may have to use a UEFI setup utility from your motherboard manufacturer to enter back into the UEFI once it is enabled.
UNDERSTANDING GPT AND MBR
On the software side of things you also need support, the system drive needs to have a GUID Partition Table or GPT when the OS is installed onto it, not the standard Master Boot Record or MBR we are used to and older BIOS’s understand.
GPT and MBR are different partitioning schemes that set the partitioning layout of a storage medium. The MBR allows for you to create partitions on a storage medium and allows a BIOS or UEFI to see the active partition to boot off of it. Like UEFI, the GPT is a bit more advanced and has some benefits to it. It is backwards compatible with MBR as it leaves an MBR in LBA 0. It can boot off of partitions that are greater than 2.2TB in size. There is GPT header and partition table redundancy as they are located in the beginning and ending LBAs of a drive. It also supports up to 128 primary partitions (could actually be more, but limited by OS’s) vs 3 + 1 extended partition that can be expanded into logical partitions. All current SSDs and HDDs can be set to GPT or MBR, so they shouldn’t limit your ability in doing a native UEFI install.
The key point to note here is that, when booting off a legacy MBR installation, the BIOS boot option will be the OS drive’s name. When booting off a UEFI GPT installation, the boot option will no longer be the physical drive’s name, but an option called Windows Boot Manager. Windows 8 and newer supports this type of boot mode by default. Windows Vista, 7, and Server 2008 64-bit versions support it as well, however, it can require a little extra work when installing off a USB. Other Linux OSes support UEFI boot as well, but for today, since Windows 8.1 is the current OS we use and soon Windows 10, we will be focusing on it over the other OSes.
WIN8 FAST STARTUP MODE
Combining Windows 8 and UEFI Ultra Fast boot does not only to allow for faster POST times, but additionally Windows 8 has a special fast startup mode that should be enabled by default. It speeds up Windows load time significantly. When enabled and you do a clean shut down, Windows will save the kernel session in the hibernation file. When you start the system up after this, the windows files and drivers will all be loaded much faster from that single file and thus faster boot speed.
You must have hibernation enabled to take advantage of this feature. The size of the hibernation file by default is 75% of the amount of physical RAM installed. If you have a lot of RAM you may modify the hibernation file size by typing this into command line: powercfg /hibernate /size XX (XX = percentage of physical RAM you want to set from 0-100). Typically it uses up about 15% or so, but just to be safe we wouldn’t recommend setting it to under 30% if you decide to do so. We actually prefer to leave it alone at its default setting.
By this point, we hope to have armed you with a bit of a knowledge to understand the process as we now set things up for that lightning fast startup you are here for. Don’t worry, if you have an older system that does not support fast boot, we will also cover a few other things you can do to speed up your POST and Windows load times that apply to most systems.
On the following pages, our plan of action is as follows:
- Hardware and Physical Connectivity
- Motherboard BIOS/UEFI Settings
- Check Current Installation, Windows Installation, and Optimization