If you bought a pre-built desktop PC, it’s a safe bet that the manufacturer optimized the basic input/output system (BIOS) settings for the hardware in the box—though it never hurts to check them out and “trust but verify.” But if you’ve built your own desktop PC (whether it's your first, or the latest in your life), or upgraded a key component, you'll want to get at least a little down and dirty with your BIOS. Indeed, you may have no choice.
Maybe the acronym “BIOS” is new to you, or you know what a BIOS is, but the many menus of a typical one intimidate you. Fear not—there are only a few places in the BIOS that most PC users ever need to tread. The BIOS chip is a hunk of silicon on your PC’s motherboard that stores the low-level settings for starting up and operating the hardware attached to your PC, code commonly referred to as “firmware.” New firmware versions can be overwritten to the chip, and BIOS contents are retained when the PC is powered off or unplugged with the help of a coin-cell battery on the motherboard. The firmware operates outside the operating system; at the simplest level, it's what tells your PC, as it boots, where to look for the drive with the OS to load, exactly how fast to run your RAM and CPU, and much more.
We should start with a bit more about the term "BIOS." These days, modern boards actually run an evolution of what many users think of the classic BIOS firmware, called Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI). UEFI is an update of recent years that removes some of the limitations of classic BIOSes, such as the ability to boot from multi-terabyte drives, and allows for graphical, clickable menus. We'll use the terms "BIOS" and "UEFI" interchangeably here, as BIOS is the generic, legacy term that most PC users know. But know that your system, if it's of the last few years, is probably running a form of UEFI. Indeed, some motherboard makers still call their UEFI-based firmware a BIOS, like MSI with its Click BIOS or Asus with its UEFI BIOS Utility.
A BIOS can contain dozens of sub-settings, often on an “Advanced mode” menu, with an “EZ mode” menu showing summaries of basic system info and giving you access to the most common BIOS chores. Overclockers and system tweakers are the folks who will dig into the esoteric BIOS submenus, and even then, they tend to mess with just a spoonful of the smorgasbord of options.
If you just built your own PC, or upgraded a key part such as the CPU or memory, it pays to revisit your BIOS to check on a few key settings, even if you’re indifferent to squeezing every last iota of performance out of your PC. Indeed, you may have to go BIOS-diving simply to make your PC recognize your Windows-installation flash USB or disc to install an OS.
Ready to gain some basic BIOS savvy? Let’s go through the four key items you should know how to handle in your PC’s BIOS, and how they might differ among board vendors. It’s impossible to factor in every BIOS variation from board to board and maker to maker. But our guide will get you ready to recognize the key stuff on any board BIOS.
1. How to Check Out and Change the Boot Order in Your BIOS/UEFI
Let’s say you have a new PC build, replete with a new, clean M.2 or 2.5-inch SSD, or a hard drive. And let’s say you have an empty drive and bootable installation media for the OS (say, a Windows 11 thumb drive). In that scenario, modern motherboard firmware should automatically detect that your drive is empty and attempt to boot from the installation media. But for various reasons, some of those things might not apply to your build, and you may have to do it the manual way.
Motherboards are, fortunately, programmed to use function keys to enter a boot drive selection menu: On modern boards, Asus uses F8, ASRock and MSI F11, and Gigabyte F12, any of which can be activated by a timely tap of that F-key on the firmware (BIOS) splash screen that appears at system startup before you can actually load the BIOS utility. Of course, you might want to designate your selection of boot drive to “stick,” and for that, you’ll want to instead use the keyboard’s Delete key to enter the BIOS itself and its graphical user interface (GUI).
First, a note on getting into your PC's BIOS in the first place. It can take a bit of practice, depending on the board. Shortly after powering on, and just as the first logo screen or RAM-enumeration countdown appears, you’ll want to tap Delete at measured intervals to launch into the system BIOS. (Some boards, especially older ones, may use other keys to launch into the BIOS, such as F8. The initial system splash screen may tell you which key or keys to whack to “enter setup.” That's what you want.)
We’ve picked three motherboards to represent the breadth of what most users will experience in a modern BIOS. Two support AMD processors, and one supports Intel.
Our first two screenshots below show that in the default EZ mode BIOS interface, to change the boot order, Asus and ASRock have simple click-and-drag arrangements at the right side of the menu. Easy peasy.
MSI’s click-and-drag boot-priority menu, meanwhile, appears above the EZ Menu’s main section as little icons, and shows the two detected drives (highlighted in pink) along with several undetected boot devices. MSI’s strategy is both forward-looking and traditional, allowing users to boot from a portable drive if it’s connected later, or an installed drive when the portable drive isn’t connected.
Many other manufacturers have eliminated non-detected drives from the BIOS boot selection menu to make it easier to navigate. We just point that out to illustrate that different board makers’ BIOSes take different approaches to the angle of undetected drives.
As noted earlier, most manufacturers also offer an Advanced mode GUI with additional features, in addition to the EZ or EZ mode GUI. A keyboard hotkey toggles between these two interface styles, with Asus and MSI typically using the F7 function key and ASRock the F6. Asus’ and ASRock’s Advanced GUI boot menus are found under the Boot tab, and again are simplified to show only detected devices...
Meanwhile, MSI’s Advanced-style user interface requires a user to go through the Settings selection to Boot (the center item of the Settings menu), and bring up a list that can be rearranged using the keyboard’s plus and minus keys. You can see that sequence in the series of screens below...
The firmware interfaces of most other motherboards now follow a format similar to that of Asus or ASRock. In short, though, if you’re in the build stage of your PC, you can use these menus to find the boot device (these days, often a flash drive with the Windows 10/11, or other OS, installer on it) and have the BIOS detect that first to start the Windows install process. Or, if you’re after that point in your PC build or upgrade, you can yank the install key and use this menu to point to your intended final boot drive, if the system isn’t auto-detecting it for whatever reason.
Once you have selected which drive the BIOS should look to first for your boot environment, make sure to “Save and Exit” to lock in the selection. In many BIOSes, this function is reached by the shortcut key F10.
2. How to Tweak Boot Disk Transfer Modes in Your BIOS/UEFI
The BIOS defaults of most motherboards are optimized to automatically detect the operating system of most recent drives, even if they’re classic Serial ATA (SATA) drives. But older operating systems used older transfer modes such as IDE (remember IDE?), and some users will want to use the built-in RAID capability of their boards. Thus, they need to know where to access disk transfer modes in the BIOS.
While we won’t delve into the complexities of creating a RAID array here, instructions for entering and using the RAID configuration menu are provided with the user manuals of RAID-capable motherboards. But if you have an older system that requires a tweak to the Disk Transfer Mode in the course of the build, or when you’ve installed a different kind of drive, you’ll want to know where to change modes.
Getting to the drive interface settings usually requires the firmware’s Advanced interface, and that can be found under the Advanced tab’s SATA submenu (for Asus), the Advanced tab’s Storage Configuration submenu (for ASRock), and the Settings tab’s Integrated Peripherals submenu (for MSI motherboards). You can see these examples in the screen series below...
Under these "SATA mode" selections, modes may include AHCI to enable modern SATA features, IDE to support legacy modes without AHCI, and RAID.
The correct mode for most SATA system drives is AHCI, particularly if they’re hosting a modern operating system. If you’re running an ancient internal optical drive, ATAPI was an IDE standard for optical drives.
3. How to Update the BIOS/UEFI Firmware
While some high-end motherboards include an application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) to enable BIOS updates without the installation of compatible hardware, most require a system to be booted before the reprogramming of its firmware ROM(s). While completing this task formerly required placing the new firmware on bootable media, all major manufacturers now include an integrated firmware flashing tool that’s selectable from a bootable PC.
Why would you want to update the firmware on a functioning PC? Reasons include (but are not limited to) expanding support for high-performance memory that was, perhaps, not yet available when the motherboard was manufactured. You also might need to update the firmware prior to a CPU upgrade, if the existing version of the firmware predates the new chip you intend to install.
Rather than using the Delete key to enter your BIOS, ASRock users can tap the F6 function key to enter its Instant Flash interface, and MSI users can try to reach the Ctrl-F5 key combo at the appropriate moment. Both of these shortcuts you’d engage during system startup, when you’d ordinarily try to get into the BIOS.
You can, of course, also execute a BIOS upgrade from within many BIOSes. ASRock and MSI also provide Instant Flash and M-Flash buttons within their firmware’s EZ user interface, as seen in the screenshots of our Boot Order section at the top of this article. For those who are driven enough to use Advanced mode, Asus and ASRock place this function within their “Tool” menus, and MSI provides an M-Flash key directly on its left side buttons. You can see examples of all three here...
ASRock’s firmware automatically scans connected drives and finds the new firmware ROM without requiring any additional menu. Asus and MSI, meanwhile, exit the firmware GUI and take you to a custom BIOS-flashing GUI that requires you to key down to select a drive, and over-then-down to select a specific BIOS update file you’ve downloaded. In these utilities, you'll see menus like the ones below to navigate to the update file you have downloaded...
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However you execute your BIOS update, take a methodical approach and back up any critical data on your PC in advance. BIOS updates are generally safe, but you want to take precautions; things can go wrong if there’s a power outage or other glitch during the update process. As always, never interrupt your PC while it’s performing a BIOS update; be patient.
4. How to Set Up an XMP Profile in Your BIOS/UEFI
Extreme Memory Profile (XMP) settings aren’t just easy things to configure, but they are necessary to reach the advertised performance levels of all but the most basic memory kits. Little more than an extended configuration table embedded on a memory module’s tiny flash ROM, XMP enables custom data rates and latency (timing) settings to improve response time, along with any extra voltage needed to make the memory stable at these higher frequency and lower latency values. (See more in our primer on how to pick the right memory for your PC.)
DDR4 memory (or older DDR3, for that matter) pegged to an XMP profile in the BIOS will operate at a speed higher than its base frequencies. (Also, see more about spanking-new DDR5 vs. DDR4 here.) Think of XMP as a quick overclocking method for memory, without the need for tweaking and test-driving individual memory specs and characteristics to see if they work stably.
If your system is already up and running, and you’re bopping around in Windows, you can call up Task Manager (hit Ctrl-Alt-Del, click Task Manager) and check for the current RAM speed at which the system is running. In the Task Manager window, go to More Details > Performance tab > Memory and consult the Speed field.
Important to note: XMP is an Intel technology, and most AMD motherboards use XMP as a baseline while applying slight timing modifications to enhance stability when an AMD processor is in play. As such, on AMD-based boards, Asus changes the setting’s name from XMP to D.O.C.P., while MSI changes it to A-XMP. It’s the same idea—amping up your RAM to ideal performance levels agreed upon by your memory modules and the motherboard.
Regardless of whether it’s renamed on certain AMD motherboards, the XMP setting is available from the motherboard firmware’s EZ interface, as seen on the center left of the Asus and ASRock screens, and the top left of MSI’s GUI, as shown in the screenshot sequence below...
Using the firmware’s Advanced interface is also an option, and there, XMP is found within the overclocking menus of most manufacturers’ BIOSes. Asus makes users who choose to set XMP modes here use it as an overclocking baseline under the Ai Tweaker tab at the Ai Overclock Tuner option.
ASRock’s Advanced GUI, meanwhile, hides it behind the DRAM Configuration submenu of its OC Tweaker tab...
And MSI places it within the OC menu of Advanced mode, but also leaves the top bar A-XMP setting of its EZ mode exposed while you are in Advanced mode...
All this to illustrate: You’ll want to keep all these names in mind as you hunt, in the event you have a different board/platform mixture than the three we cited here.
Once you get to the setting, you should see the option to disable XMP, or the choice of one profile (most probable) or a few profiles (possible, with higher-speed modules). Choose the profile, or one of the profiles, and leave the BIOS to return to Windows. On the main page of the BIOS, depending on the BIOS design, you may already see the new memory setting applied in a memory speed readout. Either way, choose to “Save and Exit” the BIOS, and see how things fare in Windows. You can also recheck the memory speed in Task Manager to see if the XMP setting held.
In short, whatever the actual overarching memory mode is called, you’ll want to look for an XMP speed setting in common between your memory (according to what modes the memory maker says its modules support) and your motherboard (which will be outlined in its specs or manual). There may be only one or two profiles in common. And if so, that’s fine, and much better than settling for stock speed. Setting the system on one XMP level supported by both, then working your way up the scale, if you have multiple options, until system operations are no longer stable, is a quick-and-dirty way to optimize your memory performance in the BIOS.
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What are the steps to configure BIOS? ›
Method #2: Use Windows 10's start menu
- Access your Windows settings. ...
- Select “Update & security” ...
- Select “Recovery"
- Click “Restart now” ...
- Select “Troubleshoot” ...
- Confirm your restart.
Common keys to enter the BIOS are F1, F2, F10, Delete, Esc, as well as key combinations like Ctrl + Alt + Esc or Ctrl + Alt + Delete, although those are more common on older machines. Also note that a key like F10 might actually launch something else, like the boot menu.How do I change my BIOS firmware settings? ›
- Navigate to Settings. You can get there by clicking the gear icon on the Start menu. ...
- Select Update & Security. ...
- Select Recovery from the left menu. ...
- Click Restart Now under Advanced startup. ...
- Click Troubleshoot.
- Click Advanced options.
- Select UEFI Firmware Settings. ...
- Click Restart.
- Power on system.
- Press F2 when prompted to enter BIOS menu.
- Navigate to Boot Maintenance Manager -> Advanced Boot Options -> Boot Mode.
- Select the desired mode: UEFI or Legacy.
- If UEFI option was selected, a new option named Video BIOS appears, select UEFI.
- Power-on self-test (POST). This tests the hardware of the computer before loading the OS.
- Bootstrap loader. This locates the OS.
- Software/drivers. This locates the software and drivers that interface with the OS once running.
- Complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) setup.
It is what the device's microprocessor uses to get the system started once a device is turned on. The BIOS is critical in the device's booting process. In fact, if BIOS malfunctions or is absent, the device will fail to start-up.What is UEFI firmware settings? ›
Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) is a specification for a software program that connects a computer's firmware to its operating system (OS). UEFI is expected to eventually replace basic input/output system (BIOS) but is compatible with it.What is firmware BIOS? ›
BIOS, or Basic Input/Output System, is software stored on a small memory chip, also known as firmware. BIOS is found on the motherboard, and it is the very first software to run after a computer starts.How to configure BIOS Windows 10? ›
- Turn the computer on.
- If you see an invitation to press the F12 key, do so.
- Boot options will appear along with the ability to enter Setup.
- Using the arrow key, scroll down and select <Enter Setup>.
- Press Enter.
- The Setup (BIOS) screen will appear.
- If this method does not work, repeat it, but hold F12.
BIOS updates don't usually introduce new features or huge speed boosts, so you probably won't see a huge benefit. Unless the latest BIOS comes with security patches, support for new hardware you plan to use, or fixes a bug that's been plaguing your daily usage, you're best off leaving it alone.
Is it OK to update your BIOS? ›
Because a BIOS is critical to making your PC run, updating it carries a bit more risk than other software updates. If a BIOS update goes wrong, it could stop your motherboard from working correctly and potentially stop your computer from starting as expected.How do I change firmware settings? ›
- Select Start > Settings > Update & security > Recovery.
- Under Advanced startup, select Restart Now.
- Under Choose an option, select Troubleshoot > Advanced Options > UEFI Firmware Settings, and then select Restart.
In general, install Windows using the newer UEFI mode, as it includes more security features than the legacy BIOS mode. If you're booting from a network that only supports BIOS, you'll need to boot to legacy BIOS mode. After Windows is installed, the device boots automatically using the same mode it was installed with.What happens if I enable UEFI? ›
Enabled—When set to UEFI Mode, configures the system BIOS to boot using native UEFI graphic drivers. Disabled—Configures the system BIOS to boot using INT10 legacy video expansion ROM. This setting is required if you are using Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2008 R2, or Windows 7 as your operating system.Should I change UEFI firmware settings? ›
Warning: Changing the wrong firmware settings can prevent your computer from starting correctly. You should only access the motherboard firmware when you have an excellent reason. It's assumed that you know what you're doing.What is the most important role in BIOS? ›
BIOS software has several roles to do, but its most important role is to load the OS for you and to manage the data flow between the OS and attached hardware devices. To access and configure BIOS you need to go to BIOS Setup Utility after performing a set of instructions.What are the two types of BIOS? ›
- Legacy BIOS: Legacy BIOS is used in older motherboards to turn on the computer, and it controls how the CPU and different computer components talk to each other. Unfortunately, the Legacy BIOS has limitations. ...
- UEFI: The acronym stands for Unified Extensible Firmware Interface.
The benefits of a custom BIOS are many, but mainly, a custom BIOS can tweak or tune an existing solution, dramatically overhaul the bootup process to enhance security, increase system manageability, support high-end co-processing hardware, and optimize system performance.What are examples of firmware used in computer devices? ›
A personal computer's basic input/output system (BIOS) is an example of a firmware component. The BIOS lets the PC's operating system (OS) talk to keyboards and other connected devices.What settings should I use in BIOS? ›
- Spread Spectrum - The availability of these settings is variably dependent on your motherboard brand. ...
- Overclock mode - This setting essentially enables overclocking. ...
- DRAM Frequency - This option can be used to increase or decrease your memory timing.
Can a computer run without a BIOS? ›
NO, without BIOS computer does not run. Bios is verify your device using POST(Power on self test) method. Also for install any OS on your system you must change it first boot device option which is programmed on BIOS.Should UEFI be enabled or disabled? ›
UEFI mode is a required setting for new motherboards since it supports a GPT disk partitioning scheme. Typically you should not disable this mode and change it into legacy mode. If you have set up your computer to boot from UEFI, you should not change it.What is UEFI bootloader? ›
Windows 10 utilizes the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) to support the handoff of system control from the SoC firmware boot loader to the OS. The UEFI environment is a minimal boot OS upon which devices are booted and the Windows 10 OS runs.Is UEFI mode safe? ›
Despite some controversies related to its use in Windows 8, UEFI is a more useful and more secure alternative to BIOS. Through the Secure Boot function you can ensure that only approved operating systems can run on your machine. However, there are some security vulnerabilities which can still affect UEFI.What is firmware on a PC? ›
In computing, firmware is a specific class of computer software that provides the low-level control for a device's specific hardware.How do I know my BIOS firmware? ›
You can also locate your current BIOS while in Windows. Press Window Key+R to access the "RUN" command window. Then type "msinfo32" to bring up your computer's System Information log. Your current BIOS version will be listed under "BIOS Version/Date".What are 3 things you are able to do inside the BIOS of a PC? ›
- Change the Boot Order.
- Load BIOS Setup Defaults.
- Flash (Update) BIOS.
- Remove a BIOS Password.
- Create a BIOS Password.
- Change the Date and Time.
- Change Floppy Drive Settings.
- Change Hard Drive Settings.
- Power on or restart the workstation.
- Enter the BIOS by tapping either the right or left bottom of the screen.
- Tap Advanced, and then tap Special Configuration.
- Tap Factory Recovery.
- Select Enabled from drop-down menu.
- Tap Home.
- Tap Save and Exit.
Go to the M-Flash tab and select one file to update the BIOS option. In case you are using a GIGABYTE motherboard, you will have a Q-Flash option. Or if you have an ASUS motherboard, you have the EZ-Flash option available instead of M-Flash. After this, you have to select the Pendrive in which you have the BIOS file.Is a firmware necessary? ›
Why do we need firmware updates? As firmware carries out the integral functions of hardware, firmware updates bring some alterations in the program, which are necessary to enable the corresponding devices to operate proficiently as well as to fix the bugs for better security.
Does BIOS update erase data? ›
This happens because your computer reboots after the update for the new settings to take effect; if something goes wrong during the reboot, you could lose all your data.How do I check firmware settings? ›
- Click on the Start menu.
- Open Control panel> System> Hardware.
- Select Device Manager.
- Expand Disk drives.
- Right-click on the drive and select Properties.
- Select the Details tab and select Hardware lds from the drop down menu.
UEFI stands for Unified Extensible Firmware Interface. It does the same job as a BIOS, but with one basic difference: it stores all data about initialization and startup in an . efi file, instead of storing it on the firmware.Does firmware affect Internet speed? ›
Slow internet speeds may be a sign that your router's firmware needs to be updated. Here's how to do that: 1. Download the latest firmware from your router's manufacturer.
The primary purpose of creating UEFI was to overcome the limitations of BIOS and shorten system boot time. UEFI uses the GPT partitioning scheme and supports much greater drive sizes. In addition, UEFI provides better security with the Secure Boot feature, preventing unauthorized apps from booting.Is it OK to boot in legacy mode? ›
It won't cause any damage. Legacy mode (a.k.a. BIOS mode, CSM boot) matters only when the operating system boots. Once it boots, it doesn't matter anymore. If everything works as expected and you're happy with it, legacy mode is fine.What is the difference between legacy mode and UEFI mode? ›
The difference is the process that the firmware uses to find the boot target, Legacy Boot is the boot process used by BIOS firmware and UEFI boot is used by UEFI firmware. UEFI is the newer standard and is more secure. In regards to imaging the major difference is the partition structure used.Can UEFI get a virus? ›
The danger of UEFI malware
Since UEFI firmware is embedded in a chip on the motherboard and not written to the hard drive, it is immune to any hard drive manipulations. Therefore, it is very difficult to get rid of UEFI-based malware: even wiping the drive and reinstalling the operating system will not touch UEFI.
For security reasons, UEFI, which is enabled by default, only runs signed bootloaders. Therefore, it is not possible to start the computer from a CD or USB drive, unless the option is disabled. Due to the fact that the existing GPT partitions require mandatory UEFI, Windows x64 may not boot after disabling secure boot.Can UEFI be infected with virus? ›
The danger of UEFI malware
Simply put, once malware has made its way into the firmware, it is there to stay. Of course, infecting UEFI is no simple task: this requires either physical access to the device, or some sophisticated mechanism for remote infection of the firmware.
Does UEFI increase performance? ›
GUI performance on UEFI is typically better than legacy boot mode because UEFI uses fewer resources. This can be seen in how UEFI loads GUI applications faster and uses less memory. GUI performance on legacy boot mode can vary depending on the specific device and configuration but is typically poorer than on UEFI.Should UEFI boot mode Secure Boot be on or off? ›
On some devices, you must first reboot once after enabling UEFI and return to the settings menu in order to enable Secure Boot. It is recommended, but not required, to enable the TPM and virtualization support options as well, in order to enable other security features used by Windows.How to configure BIOS CMOS setup? ›
Invoking CMOS Setup
To invoke CMOS Setup on most computers, press 'F1' (AMI), 'Del' (Award), or 'F2' (Phoenix). Some BIOS manufacturers use different keys. The key that invokes your system's CMOS Setup nearly always appears on the BIOS boot screen.
The standard method for entering the BIOS Setup Utility is to tap a specific function key while the computer is booting. The required key is either F1 or F2, depending on the model of machine. Certain systems also require holding down the Fn key while tapping the F1 or F2 key.What is a BIOS in a computer? ›
BIOS, or Basic Input/Output System, is software stored on a small memory chip, also known as firmware. BIOS is found on the motherboard, and it is the very first software to run after a computer starts.Which three features can be configured in the BIOS? ›
Drive encryption - A hard drive can be encrypted to prevent data theft. Trusted Platform Module - The TPM chip contains security items, such as encryption keys and passwords. Lojack - This is a two-part system for protecting computers from Absolute Software.
In the BIOS settings, find the configuration items related to the CPU. These can be in under the headings Processor, Chipset, or Northbridge.How do I reset my CMOS to factory settings? ›
- Turn off all peripheral devices connected to the computer.
- Disconnect the power cord from the AC power source.
- Remove the computer cover.
- Find the battery on the board. ...
- Remove the battery: ...
- Wait 1–5 minutes, then reconnect the battery.
- Put the computer cover back on.
Your motherboard and computer will be able to boot just fine even without a CMOS battery present. The only issue is all your BIOS settings will be reset and the time and date will be inaccurate. You will also be unable to save BIOS settings.What happens when you reset BIOS? ›
Resetting your BIOS restores it to the last saved configuration, so the procedure can also be used to revert your system after making other changes. Whatever situation you may be dealing with, remember that resetting your BIOS is a simple procedure for new and experienced users alike.
What is UEFI BIOS utility? ›
Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) is a specification for a software program that connects a computer's firmware to its operating system (OS). UEFI is expected to eventually replace basic input/output system (BIOS) but is compatible with it.What is UEFI setup utility? ›
The BIOS Setup Utility allows you to configure system functions such as viewing the boot list, and selecting Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) Boot Mode or Legacy BIOS Boot Mode.