Flash memory could slash boot time of Intel Merom computers by 50%

San Francisco (CA) - In one of the more elaborate technology demonstrations of this year's Spring IDF, Intel devoted part of one of its Tuesday afternoon keynotes to premiere its "Robson" Flash cache technology, which will be used to accelerate boot time of operating systems as well as applications. According to Intel, the technology may also bring some power saving benefits to Merom- and Conroe-based systems.

According to Intel, the systems demonstrated used a 256 MB cache unit on the motherboard for frequently accessed files. Rather than reading those files from the hard drive, Flash memory provides faster access to data by making them available through a separate, faster channel.

Intel chose to demonstrate Robson by booting up a notebook as well as a complex game. In both cases, it was clear that the Flash cache brought a significant performance increase to the boot time of applications - it was a difference you could see without measuring it with a stopwatch. The company claims that Windows will start up in about half the time of a system without Robson.

The company said that future systems could integrate much greater amounts of Flash memory, which could potentially be used to integrate portions of the operating system and other applications. The fact that Flash consumes less power than hard drives could also result in some power savings. While Intel did not provide specifics on how much additional battery time Robson will be able to recover for an average notebook, the power savings for just the Windows boot example were estimated at about 25%.

Though Intel did not disclose when Robson will be available, as we reported in early February, it's likely to surface as part of its upcoming Santa Rosa platform. Santa Rosa is being developed as successor of Napa64, the debut platform for Merom. We were told that Santa Rosa will be introduced in the second quarter of next year.

Robson is also the first example how Intel will be taking advantage of its NAND Flash joint-venture with Micron Technology. We expect Robson to be introduced on the higher end of mobile and desktop computers in Q2 of next year, and to have migrated to mainstream territory by the end of 2007. For the future, Intel's motherboards will not only integrate NAND Flash to accelerate applications, but also to provide more flexibility for other components - such as the BIOS, and potentially for new Conroe- and Merom-based platforms using Intel's just-completed LaGrande Technology specification for trusted computing. In such systems, the so-called virtual machine monitor (VMM), the new principal control program of the computer, could be booted completely from Flash memory.  Sources indicated that an announcement of Intel relocating BIOS to NAND Flash, may be coming soon.