A hybrid hard drive can help a laptop boot faster, operate more effectively and quietly, and run longer on a single battery charge. Flash memory maker SST and firmware/BIOS company Insyde Software announced earlier this week a technology they're calling FlashMate that gives standard hard drives hybridlike functionality. Actually, it does more. Whereas hybrid hard drives use flash memory as a data cache when a system is running, FlashMate will let you access the full contents of your hard drive without needing to power on your laptop. Using a combination of hardware, software, and firmware, FlashMate creates an application subsystem that's separate from Windows so you can, for instance, delve into your MP3 or photo libraries and check e-mail (send e-mail, too?) without waiting for Vista to boot. And with Vista's ReadyDrive feature, FlashMate can bestow hybrid functionality on plain, old hard drives. FlashMate will also work with Vista's SideShow feature, presumably letting you access more data and applications than you can now should your laptop include a small, secondary screen on its lid. SST expects to begin selling FlashMate products in Q2 of next year; it remains to be seen how quickly laptop manufacturers may adopt the technology.