Why the new Windows 8 won’t spur DRAM sales

October 29, 2012 – It’s been a familiar refrain: with every new Windows operating system that comes out, OEMs to end-users upgrade their systems to handle the new capabilities, including more memory. But not this time with Windows 8. In a departure from past iterations, Windows 8 will not cause any significant rise in DRAM unit shipments, predicts IHS iSuppli.

The firm is projecting only an 8% increase in global DRAM bit shipments in 4Q12 vs. 3Q12, which includes DRAM for PCs, smartphones, and tablets. That’s a departure from the double-digit percentage increases seen with every other major MS OS release. Windows 3.1’s release in the second quarter of 1992 sparked a 29% increase in DRAM shipments, up from 12% in the prior quarter. Similarly, Windows 95 caused DRAM shipments to surge 23% in 4Q95, vs. the 11%-14% seen in the previous four quarters. Three successive Windows versions in the late 1990s and early 2000s all pushed DRAM shipments up by 40% or more in their respective release quarters.

Windows version Release date % DRAM bit growth Q/Q
3.1 1Q92 29%
95 4Q95 23%
98 3Q98 40%
2000 1Q00 49%
XP 3Q01 41%
Vista 1Q07 24%
7 4Q09 18%
8 4Q12 8%

Historical DRAM bit shipment percentage growth, sequential quarterly change in unit shipments. (Source: WSTS, IHS iSuppli)

Credit (or blame?) Windows 8’s "lean hardware requirements," the firm says. "Starting with Windows 7 and continuing with Windows 8, Microsoft has taken a leaner approach with its operating systems, maintaining the same DRAM requirements as before,” stated Clifford Leimbach, analyst for memory demand forecasting at IHS.

And Windows 8 won’t really make a dent in the increase of PCs shipped in 4Q12 when it’s released, either. "Consumers are continuing to eschew new PC purchases in the fourth quarter, with Windows 8 not expected to change this situation,” he added. (And it’s not only consumers either; Gartner thinks 90% of businesses will still be keeping Windows 8 at arm’s length by 2015.)

It’s one more sign of the sea change in computing away from desktops and toward mobile devices. PC share in the DRAM space dipped below 50% for the first time in 2Q12 of this year, IHS iSuppli calculates, handing the mantle to other devices increasingly gobbling up memory such as smartphones and media. In this new era of diversified computing and applications, a new OS just doesn’t have the hardware oomph it used to. (And that’s not entirely a bad thing — the highs of unit shipment growth won’t be as high, but the lows also will be more muted because of the diluted impact of a disparate application base, the firm notes.)

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