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 ten minutes or so. Microsoft has produced its own tests which show average notebook users wrote under 100MB of data every ten 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 in flash memory modules into their drives - if they agree to do it in the first place.

Christopher White, technical product manager for Windows Server at Microsoft, explains that Longhorn would "read in the neighbouring blocks" in a file into the flash cache whenever a disk read occurs. "It's the speed thing." Adding flash memory chips to a hard drive would cost about $6 for 128MB. It doesn't sound much but, by the time the drive was sold, it might mean a significant difference to customers buying the drives in thousands of units at a time.

The use of solid state drives is increasing as we noted with the Ferrari-speed Chicago exchange and US government. Processor and memory speeds have increased much faster than disk I/O speeds and this growing bottleneck on overall systems performance is what Microsoft is trying to address before Longhorn comes out and fails to over what performance benchmarks it is preparing to claim.

Is Microsoft helping to push the market the way it needs to go, or is it abusing its position yet again to get other companies to fit in with its plans? Tell us what you think in the discussion forum.