Microsoft calls for disk redesign

Not content with telling hardware manufacturers what they must do, now Microsoft is informing disk makers that they have to make read and write speeds faster. It even tells them how to do it -- add flash memory cache.

The problem is processors wait for disk data reading/writing to end before embarking on their next task. The main delay is waiting for the disk head to be moved to the right part of the disk. By trying to anticipate which data is going to be needed next and pre-fetching that into cache memory in the drive unit the disk wait can be radically reduced.

Microprocessors use the same technique to pre-fetch instructions likely to be needed next; it makes them run applications faster.

Microsoft wants the cache in the disk drive -- effectively a small, solid-state disk alongside the spinning hard drive -- so that, if the computer crashes, no write data will be lost. At present any write data in a computer's memory is lost if the system crashes or loses power.

An added benefit for notebook users, the software giant adds, is that writes to disk could be batched up and done every 10 minutes or so. Microsoft has produced its own tests that show average notebook users wrote less than 100MB of data every 10 minutes. So by doing what it says, it could possibly reduces notebook power needs, and so increases the life of a drive.

Flash memory has a limited lifespan of around 100,000 read/write cycles. Heavy users would exhaust that in a couple of years but light users' notebooks would have up to 40 years before the flash memory wore out, we are told.

Of course what this is all about is the next version of Windows, Longhorn. It may not have an official release date yet, and may spend more time being delayed than being promoted, but what is becoming clear is the software giant has failed yet again to reel in its hunger for high specs. Except this time around, Microsoft is insisting everyone else change their products to fit in with its operating system. It will take a year or more for disk drive vendors to design flash memory modules into their drives -- if they agree to do it in the first place.

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