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August 28, 2013

The Evolving Memory Market

Alex Woodie

The market for computer memory is entering a period of punctuated evolution as a result of several forces, including the continued growth of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, as well as growth in the cloud data centers and communication networks that serve data to mobile users. HPC workloads also play a part in the changing memory landscape.

Traditionally, computer makers have used DRAM as the system memory in personal computers. However, as the computing market shifts to mobile devices like smart phones and tablets, DRAM shipments have flat lined, while shipments of NAND-based Flash memory–which is slower than DRAM but cheaper–have increased accordingly, according to a story in Chip Design.

According to Chip Design, NAND Flash sales jumped from $11.8 billion in 2008 to an estimated $18.1 billion in 2010. Going forward, NAND Flash sales are projected to increase to $23.1 billion by 2014, an increase of $11.3 billion over six years, or a compound growth rate of 16.0 percent over six years.

Over the same period, DRAM memory sales jumped from $23.6 billion in 2008 to an estimated $42.3 billion in 2010, according to Chip Design. From there, DRAM memory sales see a steady decline, to a projected $30.4 billion in 2014, a decline of $11.9 billion, or a total decline of 28 percent over four years. 

The industry’s switch from DRAM to NAND Flash memory in personal computing devices is having ramifications in the wider memory market. According to Chip Design, the DRAM industry has reacted by finding growth in other areas, including the HPC market, as well as high-performance networking.

A microcosm of this memory dynamic can be viewed through the lens of ultrabook laptops. Ultrabooks are sleek, compact Mac and Windows laptops that offer long battery life and high performance, but are equipped with less DRAM memory (typically 4 GB) than their bigger notebook brethren. Many ultrabooks are also equipped with large Flash-based solid state disk (SSD) drives in place of traditional hard disks.

Looking forward, DRAM memory will change as users continue to demand high speed and storage densities along with low power consumption. According to Chip Design, after the current DDR4 generation of products, we’ll see new technologies, such as High-Bandwidth Memory (HBM), Hybrid Memory Cube (HMC), and Wide I/O II. These technologies are being developed now to serve tomorrow’s demanding memory requirements.

In the NAND Flash space, continued demand for smart phones, tablets, cameras, and gaming systems will drive the evolution from LPDDR and LPDDR2 to the emerging LPDDR3 technology, according to Chip Design.

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