Mobile DRAM on the rise with growth in tablets, smartphones, and ultrathin laptops

August 7, 2012 — The biggest change in the DRAM industry in 2012 has been Micron Technology Inc.’s (MU) acquisition of Elpida Memory Inc. One key asset for Micron is mobile DRAM, which is growing in adoption thanks to integration into smartphones and media tablets.

Mobile DRAM is a low-power dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) variant currently preferred for use in mobile applications. Mobile DRAM is set to hit a record $6.56 billion in revenue this year, up 10% from $5.98 billion in 2011, according to an IHS iSuppli Mobile & Embedded Memory Market Brief. This compares to 3% revenue growth for standard DRAM.

Figure. Average mobile DRAM density in cellphones and tablets (Gigabits). SOURCE: Results of teardowns conducted by IHS iSuppli Teardown Analysis Service.

 

Q2 ’10

Q3 ’11

Q2 ’12

Smartphones

2.28

5.09

5.85

Tablets

2.00

7.44

8.33

“Mobile operating systems, streaming apps and games require more memory to handle sophisticated tasks,” said Ryan Chien, analyst for memory & storage at IHS. “Crucial features like multitasking, media decoding and decompression, data synchronization and background operations are all driving DRAM needs.”

Dissections conducted by the IHS iSuppli Teardown Analysis Service also confirm a stunning rise in average densities of mobile DRAM in wireless devices. Mobile DRAM density in smartphones, for instance, jumped from 2.28Gb in Q2 2010 to 5.85Gb in Q2 2012. The expansion is even greater in tablets, with the mobile DRAM average density soaring fourfold during the same period from 2.00Gb to 8.33Gb.

PC sales are lagging behind handsets and tablets, which has caused standard DRAM to fall to weak revenue growth and average selling prices (ASPs). While mobile DRAM ASPs have been falling over time in line with the overall memory space, prices remain relatively firm for mobile DRAM chips because of high demand, a smaller supply base, and healthy density growth.

IHS comments that both Micron and Elpida earned similar DRAM revenue in Q1 2012: $759 million for Micron and $780 for Elpida. However, mobile DRAM revenues at Elpida nearly doubled those at Micron, $218 million compared to $106 million. Analysts widely agreed that mobile DRAM fabrication assets were some of the most valuable acquisitions for Micron in the deal. Chien calls it “the most important factor” in Micron’s purchase, giving it an edge against Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix.

 “Despite its financial ruin, Elpida in the first quarter had an outsized portion — nearly 20% market share — of the total mobile DRAM industry revenue of $1.8 billion,” Chien said.

Mobile DRAM will continue to grow, given its power efficiency and increasing affordability. Devices will also become more efficient, enabling higher system-level performance. Ultrathin computers will be another major market for mobile DRAM.

IHS (NYSE: IHS) is the leading source of information and insight in critical areas that shape today’s business landscape, including energy and power; design and supply chain; defense, risk and security; environmental, health and safety (EHS) and sustainability; country and industry forecasting; and commodities, pricing and cost. For more information, visit www.ihs.com.

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