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A Brief History of Apple and EFI

This page tries to give a summary of Apple’s use of the EFI firmware.

Pre-Release Rumors

PowerPC Macs used Open Firmware, an industry standard also used by other vendors on other platforms, for example Sun SPARC.

Prototype Intel Macs used a traditional BIOS. At that time Apple dropped some hints that this would not be what they’ll ship, and there was speculation if they were porting Open Firmware, going with EFI, or doing something else entirely.

“Early 2006” Models

When Apple released the first Intel Macs, it turned out they were using EFI. They used Intel Core Duo (note the lack of a “2”) and Core Solo processors, which were 32 bit, and so the firmware was 32 bit as well. Apple used the EFI 1.10 standard, and seemed to be working off of Intel’s reference implementation, now partially open-sourced as “TianoCore”.

The first firmware revisions actually had the generic text-based configuration menus aimed at PCs still in there, and you could access them by setting the boot loader to any EFI binary that would exit and return to the firmware (rather than staying running or loading an OS). Apple quickly removed this, because people were bricking their iMacs.

The first firmware revisions also didn’t have any BIOS compatibility. This spawned a lot of elilo hacking, the development of rEFIt, and a contest for getting Windows XP running. That contest was actually won by the “XoM” hack mere days before Apple released a firmware update with BIOS compatibility. (It is unknown if Apple rushed their schedule because of XoM, or if this was just coincidence.)

Note that the initial “Boot Camp” release actually consisted of three pieces released at the same time:

* Humoristic side note: The chooser would happily present a Linux boot CD or a Linux install on the hard disk as “Windows”, hence the quotes in the text.

“Late 2006” Models

These models started using Intel Core 2 Duo processors, which were 64 bit capable. The EFI firmware was still 32 bit and plain EFI 1.10.

“Santa Rosa” Models

For the models with Intel’s “Santa Rosa” chipset (and Core 2 Duo processors) Apple did something strange. The firmware went 64 bit, but was still EFI 1.10. This combination doesn’t appear in any specification; x86_64 support was only added in the UEFI 2.0 standard. (Luckily the development environments and binaries are compatible, as long as you’re prepared to use only EFI 1.10 protocols and functions.)

Apple also introduced fat EFI binaries, so that the same Mac OS X install could boot on both 32-bit and 64-bit machines without further tricks. Actually, they must have put the code to deal with fat EFI binaries in the firmware of older models for a while before that, since the format is (necessarily) incompatible with plain EFI binaries.

The format of the fat EFI binaries has never been officially published or standardized, meaning that non-Apple EFI systems won’t support it, and cannot directly load the Mac OS X “boot.efi” boot loader. (The format is easily reverse engineered; see the fat EFI binaries page for a description.)

“Late 2008” Models

These models used an NVIDIA chipset with integrated graphics. The firmware was 64 bit like in the Santa Rosa models, and also still identified itself as EFI 1.10.

However, Apple started mixing EFI 1.10 and UEFI 2.x features on these models. Depending on the model and the graphics mode, the graphics driver may expose both the UgaDraw protocol (EFI 1.x) and the GraphicsOutput protocol (UEFI 2.x), while in other modes it exposes only the GraphicsOutput protocol. All earlier models only expose the UgaDraw protocol. It’s best to just be prepared to use whichever one is available.