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Friday, March 09, 2012
DRAM, NAND Flash Market Trends

DRAMeXchange, a research unit of TrendForce Corp., predicts six upcoming market trends for the industries from 2012-2015.

DDR3 has been the mainstream PC DRAM specification since last year, and DRAMeXchange expects it will remain until 2014. Although JEDEC will officially announce standards for DDR4 this year, DRAMeXchange is conservative as to whether the new specification will follow the historical pattern set by DDR and DDR2 and hit the market in 2014-2015, as the marginal benefit to PC performance provided by DDR4 will be limited. However, Intel will still hold decisive influence over the matter.

Since last year, the mainstream specification for mobile DRAM chips has been LPDDR 2Gb. Shipment volume of 2Gb LPDDR2 is expected to see rapid growth this year, replacing LPDDR as the mainstream. For the current LPDDR2, bandwidth is only enough to fulfill demand this year. LPDDR3 is expected to take over in 2013. However, DRAMeXchange believes the competition between the LPDDR series and Wide I/O will continue in order to meet bandwidth requirements in 2014-2015. The research firm anticipates that the future maturity of TSV and 2.5D/3D IC technology will decide whether or not Wide I/O will rise in popularity.

Last year, the mainstream ultrabook chip specification was DDR3 2Gb, and standard content per box was 4GB. In the future, as Intel's new Ivy Bridge and Haswell platforms hit the market, DRAM choices will include DDR3L and LPDDR3. This is an indication that ultrabooks will be a battleground for PC and mobile DRAM. Mobile DRAM has the advantage of supporting ultrabook features such as Always On, Always Connected (AOAC) and quick recovery while consuming less power than PC DRAM, thereby meeting the ultrabook standby time requirement. DRAMeXchange expects if mobile DRAM is able to successfully break into the ultrabook supply chain, the former's market size may exceed that of the latter to become the largest DRAM application market in 2015.

After SSD manufactured on the latest process technology enters mass production in 2H12, unit cost may fall below $1 - the pricing sweet spot the market has been anticipating. When this occurs, DRAMeXchange expects ultrabook makers will transition from adopting hybrid HDD solutions to pure SSD solutions, and mainstream capacity will increase to 128GB. Ultrabook market share is expected to rise rapidly beginning in 3Q12. SSD NAND flash consumption volume is expected to increase from 5.1 percent last year to 15 percent this year. SSD will become the NAND flash application product with the most explosive growth momentum, noted the market research firm.

In 2011, the standard data transfer interface used by PC-SSD was SATA 2.0. This year, after Ivy Bridge hits the market, SATA 3.0 will gradually become the mainstream interface, pushing bandwidth to the 600MB/s mark. However, once ONFI 3.0 and toggle DDR 2.0 NAND flash enters mass production, the SSD transfer speed bottleneck will move from the NAND flash chip to the IC controller. This development has caused SATA-IO to begin working on SATA Express standards (note: SATA Express integrates SATA software infrastructure and PCle transfer interface). SATA Express' maximum transfer speeds will reach 1000MB/s and 2000MB/s. Intel could introduce new platforms with support for SATA Express or "PCle-like" high-speed interfaces to maximize the potential of ONFI 3.0 or toggle DDR 2.0 in 2014-2015 at the earliest.

While DRAM and NAND flash generally make up for each other's shortcomings, as system products such as ultrabooks and smartphones gradually exhibit high quality, low price trend, the competition between DRAM and NAND flash will only increase. DRAMeXchange believes, restricted by limited budgets, OEM/ODMs will devote their resources to NAND flash as opposed to DRAM. Increased product performance due to NAND flash upgrades is more apparent, making it easier to attract consumers.

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