DRAM Prices Down, But Not So Bad

DRAM Spot Price per GB HistoryFor the past ten months DRAM prices have been undergoing a steady slide.  Is the market in a crisis?  Not really!

Today’s low spot price of $4.30/GB puts us on a par with February 2013, a full two years ago (see chart).  DRAM makers have done a lot to reduce their production costs since that time, so their margins this quarter will be much better than they were in the first quarter of 2013.

But we are still a very long way from the bottom of the last market downturn.  In late 2012 spot prices reached a low of $2.52/GB, a full 41% lower than today’s lowest spot prices.

The Memory Guy models the production costs of leading memory chips, and DRAM manufacturing costs have been decreasing for the past several years at an average annual rate of about 30%.  That means that costs today are about half of what they were two years ago, and one third of their level this time in 2012.

So even though today’s Continue reading

New Algorithm Dramatically Reduces Storage & Power Requirements

April Fool in BinaryA lone inventor has developed a data compression algorithm that defies the theoretical “Shannon Limit“.  The press hasn’t covered this recent news, even though it has dramatic implications.  This is probably because the technique is so very arcane.  The inventor is none other than the great-great-great granddaughter of the inventor of the tabulated punch card, Herman Hollerith.

The algorithm reduces most of the data while converting the remaining information into as many ones as possible.  This not only shrinks storage requirements and costs, but in the case of flash memory, it also has an important impact on total power.  Flash is erased by setting all bits to ones, and bits are written by either leaving them alone (one) or by changing them (zero).  The fewer zeros in the code, the less energy required to change the bits.  Energy is also saved during an erase, since fewer bits need to be brought back to the erased state.

To explain the algorithm in its simplest terms, a byte of data is evaluated.  If it has more zero bits than one bits the byte is inverted and an index bit is set to reflect this fact.  Next, the four bits on either side of the byte are evaluated and if one has more zeros than ones it is inverted and another index bit is set.  This process continues until Continue reading

Four New Players Join 3D NAND Market

Micron & Intel's 3D NAND Die PhotoThe following is excerpted from an Objective Analysis Alert sent to our clients on March 26: On March 25 SanDisk and Toshiba announced sampling of their 3D NAND flash technology, a 128Gb (gigabit) 48-layer second-generation product based on the BiCS technology that the companies pioneered in 2007.  Pilot production will begin in the second half of 2015 with meaningful production targeted for 2016. This release was issued at the same time that Intel and Micron were briefing the press and analysts for their March 26 announcement of their own 3D NAND offering (pictured), which is currently sampling with select customers, and is to enter full production by year-end.  The Micron-Intel chip is a 32-layer 256Gb device, which the companies proudly point out is the densest flash chip in the industry.

Similarities and Differences

These two joint ventures (Intel-Micron and SanDisk-Toshiba) are taking very different Continue reading

NAND Sourcing Changes as Supplies Tighten

A Pile of ChipsLast week Micron and IBM announced that Micron would be IBM’s main supplier of NAND flash chips.  The week before Micron announced a strategic agreement with Seagate to supply NAND flash. Why all this activity?

It comes down to today’s budding NAND flash shortage and the fact that suppliers tend to groom their customer lists when supplies get short.

Neither IBM nor Seagate represent the enormous opportunities that major consumer electronics firms like Apple do.  Since many NAND suppliers are very cost-focused they look for customers that need very little support and purchase in high volumes.

IBM and Seagate look for a lot of support, and, since they both ship mostly enterprise flash systems or SSDs, they consume relatively small unit volumes of NAND flash chips.

These companies need to have an understanding of Continue reading

What’s This Nano-Imprint Litho that Toshiba and SK hynix are Co-Developing?

BackToZero Sealing WaxLast week Toshiba and SK hynix announced an agreement to jointly develop Nano Imprint Lithography (NIL), building on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that two companies signed in December last year.  Development efforts will begin this April and practical adoption is expected to start in 2017.  The collaboration is expected to reduce risk and accelerate commercialization of this technology.

NIL is expected to produce next-generation lithography at high throughput rates more economically than established lithography tools.  It is should compete against Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) lithography, an alternative technology whose use has been delayed by numerous technical challenges.  EUV, a euphemism for X-Rays, cannot use transmissive optics like glass lenses, so a completely new reflective imaging technology has had to be developed to support its use.  The advantage of EUV is that the light wavelength is only 13nm, which is an order of magnitude smaller than the 193nm light currently used to produce leading-edge chips, allowing it to print significantly smaller features.

Unlike today’s lithography, which uses a purely photographic process, NIL mechanically stamps a pattern into the photoresist in a similar manner to the sealing wax stamp shown in the photo (courtesy of BackToZero, a wax stamp maker).  The stamp is produced using Continue reading

Why ST-MRAMs Need Specialized DDR3 Controllers

Everspin ST-MRAM press photoEverspin and Northwest Logic have just announced full interoperability between Northwest Logic’s MRAM Controller Core and Everspin Technologies’ ST-MRAM (Spin-Torque Magnetic RAM) chips. This interoperability is hardware proven on a Xilinx Virtex-7 FPGA and is now available for designs needing low-latency, high memory throughput using MRAM technology.

Since The Memory Guy knew that Everspin’s EMD3D064M ST-MRAM was fully DDR3 compatible, I had to wonder why the part would require a special controller – couldn’t it simply be controlled by any DDR3 controller?

Everspin’s product marketing director, Joe O’Hare, took the time to Continue reading

Semiconductor Market Ends Year on a High Note

SIA LogoThe Semiconductor Industry Association this week announced the year-end World Semiconductor Trade Statistics (WSTS) revenues for 2014.  Worldwide sales grew 9.9% to reach a record total of $335.8 billion, outperforming the WSTS fall forecast.  Annual sales increased in all four regional markets for the first time since 2010. Memory was the fastest growing segment, increasing 18.2%, partly based on DRAM growth of 34.7%.It’s encouraging that all geographical areas experienced growth.  This implies that the world economy is finally on the mend.

The industry’s 9.9% worldwide growth was a good bit lower than Objective Analysis’ December 2013 prediction of growth in excess of 20%.  We admit that we overshot, expecting both higher bit growth and stronger pricing in DRAM and NAND flash than actually materialized.

The $335.8 billion number is really Continue reading

Backing Out DRAM Process Rules

Inotera HQInotera recently announced earnings and posted an impressive 55% gross margin.  Inotera is a pure-play DRAM maker, so it’s not too difficult to estimate the company’s process geometries based on its financials.

The Memory Guy thought it might be interesting to determine what I could from the 55% gross margin number.

First of all we can estimate Inotera’s manufacturing cost/GB based on the gross margin and an assumption about the company’s sales price/GB.  The WSTS price per gigabyte for November was $7.83.   Assuming that Inotera’s ASP was equal to this number, then at a gross margin of 55% the company’s cost/GB would have been $3.52.

Inotera’s acts as a foundry for Micron Technoogy.  If Inotera sold to Micron at some lower price, then Inotera’s production costs would necessarily be proportionally lower to maintain the same gross margin.

Using the WSTS price: At a processed wafer cost of $1,600 (my rule of thumb) a $3.52/GB cost would require 454 8Gb dice to be produced Continue reading

Cypress to Merge with Spansion

NOR flash and SRAM revenues are in decline, but MCUs are growing(Excerpted from an Objective Analysis Alert issued 1 December 2014.)

In a move touted as a merger of equals, Cypress will acquire Spansion in an all-stock transaction slated to close in the second quarter of 2015.  The purchase price is estimated at $1.6 billion.

Cypress points out that it is the leading producer of SRAMs, and that Spansion is the leading NOR flash provider.

One striking feature of this transaction is the Continue reading

Memory Issues in Space & Medical Applications

How an alpha particle disrupts a memory bitThe Memory Guy was recently asked about using memories in a satellite. What would be a good technology to use in a space application?

The problem with space is that there is a lot of radiation.  Radiation on the earth’s surface is lower because it is stopped by the atmosphere, but in space there is an abundance of radiation that interferes with most semiconductors.  Radiation is also a concern in certain medical applications where a memory must maintain its contents while undergoing sterilization through irradiation.  Experiments on conventional flash memories have shown data loss at only 2% of the Continue reading

Contact

Jim Handy Objective Analysis Memory Market Research +1 (408) 356-2549 Jim.Handy (at) Objective-Analysis.com

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