Are you in a hurry when you turn on your PC? Waiting for Windows to boot up can seem like a long time (or a good time to make a cup of coffee). But manufacturers are starting to show off quick-start “pre-boot environments” for everything from applications like Web browsers, Skype, and productivity suites to hardware activities like DVD players–all ready to go in seconds rather than the typical minutes it takes to boot up a machine. These manufacturers tout the benefits of saving you battery life on your laptop by not spinning up the hard drive or powering all the components. But what’s the trade off? These pre-boot environments are much more limited than a real operating system. We weigh the pros and cons: Just how fast are these “instant-on” environments? Can they really give you more battery life? Will they ever replace Windows or are they marking time until Windows improves?
We looked at a range of quick-start systems including Asus’ Express Gate (like many of these environments, it’s actually a Linux system called Splashtop, which is also used on the consumer version of the Lenovo S10), Voodoo IOS, the Hybrid, Dual versions of HyperSpace (from BIOS manufacturer Phoenix), the xcross Media Bar on the new Sony VAIO P Series, and QuickLook software on the HP EliteBook 2730p.