Merom notebooks to launch operating system from Flash memory

Chicago (IL) - Intel may get one step closer to an instant-on computer with the introduction of its next-generation microprocessors that will be aligned around the Merom mobile processor. A new mobile platform, codenamed Santa Rosa, will be first to integrate Intel's "Robson" cache technology, which will take advantage of NAND Flash to accelerate the startup of a computer.

Santa Rosa is currently developed by Intel as successor of the current "Napa" platform. Napa will receive a 64-bit refresh in September of this year ("Napa64") to support the launch of the Merom processor. Napa64 will be replaced by Santa Rosa in the first or second quarter of 2007. Compared to Napa and its Calistoga chipset, Santa Rosa and the Crestline chipset will not be just an evolutionary update, but bring several new features to the user.

We recently reported that Crestline's FSB speed support is likely to climb from currently 667 MHz to 800 MHz and that the chipset will include the Wi-Fi chipset "Kedron," which will support 802.11n and integrate WWAN (HSDPA/EVDO) capability in its mobile version. Sources also indicated that Intel's "Robson" technology may make its debut in Santa Rosa.

Robson is the codename for a technology that employs NAND Flash memory to boot a computer or launch frequently used applications. The advantage of using Flash to startup software does not only result in substantial acceleration, but will extend battery time as well: Today's hard drives can be responsible for up to 20% of the power consumption of a average computer system. If Flash can store all those small files that are permanently accesses on a computer, a hard drive would have to be activated less often - which, according to industry observers, could result in an additional 15-30 minutes of battery time in an average notebook.

Intel is not the only company experimenting with Flash memory to increase performance and decrease power consumption. For example, Samsung unveiled concept hybrid hard drives last year that combine up to 1 GB Flash memory with a traditional hard drive. While Samsung envisions the Flash memory only to store temporary and often accessed data, but the company confirmed that a large enough Flash cache could be also be used for starting up a computer.

Microsoft is playing with Flash memory to improve performance features of a computer as well. At last year's PDC, the company outlined its "SuperFetch" feature in Windows Vista, which preloads library system codes of most used applications during the normal start of the operating system (OS). Peripheral storage - such as Flash memory sticks can be used to extend a computer's virtual memory space. According to Microsoft, users who are connecting such a Flash memory stick to their system, will immediately see an increase in application start up performance.

Intel's Merom processor will launch, as sources indicate, in concert with Microsoft's Windows Vista in September of this year. According to a recent report of the Inquirer, the processor will be initially available in four versions. The entry-level chip will be the single-core T5600 (1.83 GHz) with the T7200 (2 GHz) and T7400 (2.16 GHz) positioned above. The flagship version T7600 will be clocked at 2.33 GHz.

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