In the time it takes your computer to boot up, you can probably make some toast or a cup of tea before the thing is ready to use. In the near future, you might only have enough time to take a sip of that tea or check your watch.

Mindful of how frustrating the wait is, makers of PCs’ basic input/output systems (BIOS) are working on bringing instant-on computing closer to reality with promises of significantly faster boot time.

“People want PCs to be like their toaster. Push a button and it is ready,” says Steve Jones, vice-president and chief scientist of core systems at Phoenix Technologies, one of the biggest BIOS makers.

The BIOS is the first piece of code that a computer runs when it is powered on. Before Windows or Linux can start, the BIOS identifies, tests and gets system devices such as the video display card, the hard disk and other hardware up and running. But running the tests every time the machine powers on can be time consuming.

At Intel’s developer conference last week, Phoenix announced that the latest version of its BIOS could boot in just about a second by cutting out redundant checks and creating a smarter version of the firmware . Of course, that still leaves the time that it takes Windows to start up, but Microsoft has been working on that, too, and claims that Windows 7 starts up in about 20 seconds, compared to the 50 seconds or so for Vista.

The faster boot time will help users, says Nathan Brookwood, a research fellow at market research and consulting company Insight 64. But even with Microsoft’s improvements, he says, it is still nearly a minute before the user is completely up and running. “Every software application today wants to go out there and check for the latest version on boot up, which just gets in the way of what you really want to do And that is check e-mail,” he says.

Shrinking this digital annoyance is the new quest for PC makers. For most people, computers today have become as much a consumer electronics product as TVs, cellphones and DVD players. That means, consumers expect the same kind of instant response from their computers are they get from other electronics devices.