Microsoft solve a burning first world problem

PAT PILCHER
Last updated 05:00 26/05/2012

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OPINION: Here's a problem I never thought I'd have (but I'm terribly glad to have it). Windows 8 boots too darned fast.

So how fast is too darned fast?

After installing Windows 8 Consumer preview on a freshly minted desktop PC with a core i5 CPU, skulltrail motherboard and Intel series 520 solid state drive, boot times were so blisteringly fast that when I needed to access the BIOS by pressing a key during the boot process, there was literally no time to do it as my PC was booting in under 7 seconds.

I never saw this one coming, but what a great predicament to have!

As nice as blindingly fast boot times can be, there are always going to be times when you'll need to access your PC's BIOS to tinker under the hood.

Faced with this issue what did Microsoft do? Thankfully they appear to have applied some smart thinking and avoided the easy but stupid idea of adding artificial slow-downs to boot times, instead choosing to add a whole new way of beating boot up blues.

With my machine able to go from impersonating a boat anchor to being a fully functioning PC In under 7 seconds (which arguably is still a good boat anchor impersonation according to many), it is fair to reason that going forwards, more carefully matched and optimised hardware will only boot faster. This clearly doesn't bode well for those of us wanting to get cosy with our PCs BIOS.

This was borne out in tests done by Microsoft in which a test machine which had an SSD and a UEFI BIOS capable motherboard were tested. After much research, it turned out that the window of opportunity for hitting the right key during the power up self test stage was a staggering 200 miliseconds (even frantically bashing the right key takes on average 250 milliseconds between each key bash). This enfeebled ageing tech writer is clearly never going to experience the joys of fiddling with his PCs BIOS ever again.

Whilst many PC users probably don't know what the BIOS is, let alone care about what it does, consider this; Most of us have at some stage had to press F8 during boot up to place windows into safe mode to resolve a start up glitch, a dud application or a wonky driver. This is of course still going to be possible if you have the fast twitch muscle reflexes of a twenty something super gamer mutant, but for us mere mortals it'll probably just get really annoying real fast.

Microsoft have thankfully anticipated the howls of anguish from frustrated Windows 8 users around the globe and solved this problem so that BIOS or safe mode was accessible without needing to develop superhero-like key tapping reflexes.

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This was achieved by throwing all the start up the options you're ever likely to need into what has been branded the boot options menu which has several boatloads of troubleshooting tools as well ample options for Windows startup and the means for accessing the PCs BIOS or booting from a USB drive. That's a relief. The boot options menu will also handily materialise should your PC experience the digital equivalent of a bad hair day.

On a not-so-positive note, those with older PCs that don't have UEFI BIOS won't have access to the functionality built into the boot options menu. According to Microsoft, "legacy hardware that was made before Windows 9 will not have these new UEFI-provided menu features (booting to firmware settings and booting directly to a device)".

Looks like older PC owners may need to sharpen their fast twitch reflexes. The not-so-bad news however is that older motherboards also won't have the improvements baked in that enable sub-7-second boot times, so there's still hope for us old codgers yet.

Thankfully, older PC hardware will however support different boot up modes via the boot options menu so there are going to be solutions to those frustrating scenarios that require a liberal sprinkling of "disable driver signing" and "debugging mode," (debugging is of course the best means for finding de bugger who created the PC problem in the first place) as well as Safe Mode.

With Windows 8 due to launch at the end of this year, the big question however is will it spur large scale buy ups of newer UEFI capable motherboards and solid state drives? Even more important still, how many frustrated geeks will it leave frantically bashing their keyboard at start up time?

- This story has been ammended. An earlier version incorrectly referred to Windows 9. The error was made during the editing process.

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