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TekSpek Hard Drives
Intel Robson Technology

Intel Robson Technology

Date issued:

This TekSpek explains what Intel's Robson technology is, why it matters and what currently supports it.

The Technology
As 2006 draws to a close and 2007 says hello, you'll start to hear about Intel's Robson technology a lot more. This TekSpek is designed to give you the inside track on Robson so you know what it is and what to look for when it arrives, should you want a system that supports it.

At its core, Robson is just a somewhat 'intelligent' cache on your hard disk, that lets your OS get access to important data during bootup, during access of certain files and while writing to the hard disk, all much quicker and with less power than getting it from the disk platters themselves.

Robson therefore lets your PC boot much much quicker, certain programs and OS functions will launch almost instantly and the OS can appear to be more responsive when writing back to disk, much as it does with current write caching schemes.

Robson works with the OS's current read and write caching schemes for file I/O (if supported), such as the new SuperFetch caching scheme in upcoming Windows Vista, in order to let the OS get even quicker with minimal effort and extra cost. Disks outfitted with a Robson cache really shouldn't cost much more than they do already, which was a significant consideration during its inception.

But I hear you cry that disks already have fairly sizeable caches already, so what's special about Robson? Current disk caches don't persist with power off, which a Robson cache does, allowing the frequently accessed data to persist and be optimised by the supporting OS.

Robson caches are designed, obviously, to be much larger than the current disk caches (currently topping out at 16MiB for consumer drives), and they'll be built from NAND falsh memories (flash designed to be accessed like a hard disk, in blocks).

Technically, the Robson cache can be placed anywhere between the disk and the disk controller, giving some scope for it being on the mainboard of the PC system that's supporting it, but current indications are that the disk drive itself is where you'll see it most, since you largely need one cache per disk.

PC Support for Robson
Microsoft Windows Vista is the obvious consumer OS target for Robson, given the new caching scheme available in that particular OS, but it looks like Windows XP will have support for the technology and you can certainly envisage Linux and Mac OS X gaining support in short order.

Disks that contain the cache are slated for release in 2006, but none are available yet, pending OS support.

As for PC platforms that'll support Robson, look out for Intel's Santa Rosa, the next generation of mobile computing platform from the chip giant that'll support Merom, the mobile version of Intel Core 2 Duo on the desktop.

Designed to make your PC faster and more frugal, Robson is a large, persistant I/O cache designed to make your PC faster to boot, your OS faster to run and certain programs faster to open and use, all for a minimal increase in cost compared to current disk technologies. 2007 is when it'll become prevalent, so keep your eyes open.