At the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) 2004 last week in Seattle, Microsoft unveiled a new plan to redefine how hard drives access data. The company has been in discussions with hard disk manufacturers about adding flash memory either built in to or alongside hard drives to minimize drive access time. Although initially targeted at laptop users to help conserve power, the initiative could change the way hard drives are designed.
   The plan is in the early stages of development, and products that take advantage of the new technology aren't expected for several years. Microsoft is suggesting that hard drive manufacturers include a NAND flash chip (inexpensive flash memory whose digital circuits use a particular type of logic gate) to serve as a write buffer and work with the software giant's next-generation OS platform, code-named Longhorn. The plan does have hurdles to overcome, though, including flash memory's lifespan, which is about 100,000 read-write cycles. In a worst-case scenario (writing data every 10 minutes, 24 hours a day), the flash memory could die in less than 2 years. The company is also exploring other options, including adding a dedicated memory bus to hard drives.