RUMOR: Apple to employ Intel’s ‘Robson’ NAND flash tech to create ‘instant-on’ Macs

“I think Apple’s going to be offering instant-on computers in the very near future. Make that near-instant. Faster than normal, anyway. And some of these may just be the integrated music and video home-media boxes people have been predicting ever since the iPod redefined Apple’s game,” Seth Jayson writes for The Motley Fool. “Robson is the name… that Intel has given its upcoming technology to integrate NAND flash into computers. It will load important chunks of the operating system into flash memory, where it remains even when the machine is powered down. On restart, a computer won’t need to go through so much of the usual laborious process of grabbing data from the hard drive, loading it into RAM, reporting it to the Men In Black, and so on. Intel has so far been showing off this technology in laptops, where it promises to provide longer battery life. But there’s another related benefit.”

Jayson writes, “It might be possible to get these things to start up instantly — or nearly so… So Intel’s got simple, desirable, potentially market-shaking technology that could make computers turn on as quickly as our toasters. It uses flash memory. Apple’s already working with Intel for Macintosh processing chips. And Apple also just happens to have paid Intel’s joint venture a $500 million advance to start making flash chips… It’s my bet that Apple will not only move in this direction but also get there before the rest of the crowd.”

Full article here.

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Now, as any PowerBook, iBook or really any Mac OS X user will tell you, Mac OS X machines are kind of “instant-on” already. Just “Sleep” by closing the lid or by choosing “Sleep” from the Apple Menu instead of shutting down and when you want the Mac “on”, just open up your PowerBook’s or iBook’s lid or jiggle your desktop Mac’s mouse (or hit any key on the keyboard). With insanely great uptimes, Macs are just “on” or “off” (asleep) these days.

That said, what Jayson describes would be true “instant-on” for Macs and it would pave the way for reliable, quick-to-power-up Macs and Apple appliances. Like a stereo receiver or a kitchen appliance, your Mac or any Apple appliance or component (DVR – flash for the instant-on OS, hard drive for the storage – perhaps?) would just be “on” with a press of the power button and “off” with another press. Just think about all of the possibilities beyond the Mac that exist in the living room and elsewhere for Apple to use this technology. And it would be just like Apple to do it first.


  1. And it would be just like Apple to do it first.

    I think you’ll find the real importance to the Intel/Micron/Apple deal here. Apple has to be the shrewedest investor in complementary technologies in the world.

    iPod. Apple bought Toshiba’s entire production run of the HD used in the original iPod. Competitors were unable to develop competing products because there weren’t any HDs available to them.
    iPod nano. Apple bought all of Samsung’s remaining production capacity (40% of total) for the nano. Competitors were/are unable to develop competing products because there aren’t any NAND chips available to them.
    Instant on. What if the deal involving Micron, Intel and Apple is part of a grander plan to lock up the supply of Robson chips for the next two years.

    Even if MSFT tweaks its OS to partially load onto Robson chips, Dell et al couldn’t develop a CPU that used the technology, because Apple had cornered the supply.

    Intel has been chaffing at the bit for several years, wanting to introduce the technologies it has developed. Doing so meant MSFT tweaking its OS to avail it of those technologies. MSFT has consistently refused to do it, because adoption of the new technologies meant such radical changes in Windows that legacy programs couldn’t run on the new version of OS.

    I don’t think Intel is afraid of losing Dell and other box makers to AMD. Not in the short term anyway. Long term, I think Intel believes Apple is going to be a major force in desktop computing, and is going to do what it can to help. After all, Apple is going to become that major force using Intel technology. Dell at el, will have to come back to Intel just to keep pace with Apple.

  2. Jeez, most of you who say “blah blah”, “big deal”, etc sound like our Windows friends. Potentially doing away with the hard drive is a huge step. Hard drives are the slowest part of a computer, so besides “instant on”, the overall performance of a system will be truly as fast as the CPU and buses. Not to mention that computers, as we know them, are evolving and putting your computer to sleep may be fine for how we know computers to be nowadays, but this is a mark of true progress (which is far overdue in my estimation). As I always tell my clients: “It’s not a question of if your hard drive will fail, but when“.

  3. I wouldn’t be all surprised if Apple pulls out a new appliance in the near future, however…

    It should be remembered that Apple need to solve the issue of slow processors in their laptops. That’s why the intel deal is so important. Hopefully by January we’ll be hearing an official announcement of the first retail Mac using Intel processors.

    Flash and other stuff may be included or they may just want to get a basic machine out now and deal with the fancy new features later.

  4. i’m sorry for the spelling/grammer mistakes… too much wine.. too little sleeep…

    If I could make one investment advice…. believe in what you invest in… only invest in what you purchase at home or at work… only invest in what you are comfortable with…. keep the faith. Always remember….don’t drink ANY cool-aid. the returns are…. ummm… well. ….ummm … too great to ignore.


  5. If the flash memory were large enough (several GB’s or more) it would be possible to have all (most) of the recent OS files and data cached there so the hard disk would not be accessed as much … would be a cool way to have “almost instant on” (just like my Palm, lowly but handy, Zire 31) and would be energy saving as well … possibly saving to hard disk could be done in some buffered way every so often.

    Sounds cool … MW is various as I like “various” kinds of memory (especially since my long term and short term memory is failing … We’ll hello … just call me Dory!) …

  6. I think MDN and Sol is right. This NAND agreement is to supply the iPod, Mac, and most importantly, additional consumer electronics products.

    I think Apple is working on a video variation of the Airport Express/set-top box that will use 4 to 8GB of NAND memory, in the near term, to provide instant-on access to Front Row on the TV display and local content storage. A smart system could actually cache the first 2 to 3 minutes of all your locally networked audio/video content in this box so that it can start to play immediately upon user selection. While it starts to play, the rest of the media file begins to stream from your main storage location.

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