Patience may be a virtue, but when it comes to getting faster startup times for computers, no one will complain. That’s why a new industry alliance is promoting a hybrid technology to speed the startup process for laptops.

Five leading hardware makers, Fujitsu, Hitachi, Samsung Electronics, Seagate Technology and Toshiba have come together to push for a new storage component that incorporates NAND Flash memory onto a computer’s hard drive. In addition to boosting a computer’s ability to access stored data, the so-called hybrid hard drive also would prolong a laptop’s battery life, according to this newly formed Hybrid Storage Alliance.

NAND Flash architecture is one of two flash technologies (the other being NOR) used in memory cards such as the CompactFlash cards. It is a type of memory commonly used in USB Flash drives, MP3 players and provides the image storage for digital cameras. Unlike hard drives, which store data on spinning disks, Flash memory stores the information on a microchip. NAND flash devices offer storage space up to 512-MB and offers faster erase, write, and read capabilities over NOR architecture. NAND flash architecture was first introduced by Toshiba in 1989. This non-volatile form of memory retains data even when the appliance is turned off, allowing more immediate access to such information than with hard drive.

Joni Clark, the chairwoman of the alliance, expects the new hybrid drives to appear on higher end notebook models by the end of the first quarter. Eventually, the technology is expected to become a standard component across all models, she said.

Notebooks will be the first systems to leverage the technology, but its potential is much broader, said Ruston Panabaker, an architect in Microsoft Corp.’s Windows hardware innovation group. “We fully expect to see it show up in desktops and perhaps even in specific server applications,” he said.

The hybrid technology is designed to work hand-in-hand with advances in Microsoft’s new operating system, Windows Vista, which will become available to consumers later this month. Microsoft uses the name “ReadyDrive” to describe the software side of this technology.

The technology helps to shorten a Vista-based machine’s startup time by booting the system straight from the Flash memory chip instead of waiting for the system to turn on and start spinning the platters on the hard drive. It can also reduce the incidence of hard disk crashes due to shocks – the most common hardware failure in notebooks – by decreasing the amount of time the disk needs to be spinning.

If a laptop with a hybrid drive is put in hibernation mode, open applications would resume faster as well. A laptop with a hybrid hard drive could see up to a 20% improvement in the time it takes to boot up and open an application, the alliance said.

Drawing on the Flash memory also consumes less power than a hard drive, thus extending a machine’s battery life. In the high-tech industry, the pairing of the storage technologies is akin to a marriage between two enemies.

As the maximum capacity of Flash increased in recent years, it has competed with hard drives to be the keeper of digital files in portable gadgets such as media players, cell phones or cameras.

What is Hybrid Drive?
Technically, a hybrid drive is a new type of large-buffer computer hard disk drive. It is different from standard hard drives in that it employs a large buffer (up to 1 GB) of non-volatile flash memory to cache data during normal use. By primarily using this large buffer for non-volatile data storage, the platters of the hard drive are at rest almost all of the time, instead of constantly spinning as they are in current hard drives. This offers numerous benefits; chief among them decreased power consumption, improved reliability, and a faster boot process.