Memory Markets

How to Worsen a DRAM Shortage

Fuzhou Intermediate People's CourtIn an interesting twist to today’s ongoing DRAM shortage, the Fuzhou Intermediate People’s Court, Fujian Province, China today granted a preliminary injunction to prevent Micron’s Chinese subsidiaries from manufacturing, selling, or importing certain DRAM modules and solid state drives in China.

This injunction, according to a Micron press release, was filed without allowing Micron to present its defense, a process which Micron finds to be: “inconsistent with providing a fair hearing through appropriate legal processes and procedures.”

Micron’s customers in China will find that the DRAM shortage has just become even worse than it already was.  Before today China’s government was concerned enough about the shortage’s rising DRAM prices to have launched a price fixing investigation only one month ago.  One result of today’s decision will be that there will be less DRAM in China, and that will probably cause prices to rise even more.

What will be the impact to Micron?  I find it unlikely that this injunction is likely to change any DRAM maker’s business much during a shortage.  Any lack of Micron DRAM in China is likely to be serviced by Samsung and SK hynix, but since there’s a shortage, these companies will need to reduce their shipments outside of China to satisfy Continue reading

Storage/Memory Hierarchy 40 Years Ago

1978 Memory/Storage HierarchyLast year I stumbled upon something on the Internet that I thought would be fun to share.  It’s the picture on the left from a 1978 book by Laurence Allman: Memory Design Microcomputers to Mainframes.  The picture’s not too clear, but it is a predecessor to a graphic of the memory/storage hierarchy that The Memory Guy often uses to explain how various elements (HDD, SSD, DRAM) fit together.

On the horizontal axis is Access Time, which the storage community calls latency.  The vertical axis shows cost per bit.  The chart uses a log-log format: both the X and Y axes are in orders of magnitude.  This allows a straight line to be drawn through the points that represent the various technologies, and prevent most of the technologies from being squeezed into the bottom left corner of the chart.

What I find fascinating about this graphic is not only the technologies that it includes but also the way that it’s presented.  First, let’s talk about the technologies.

At the very top we have RAM: “TTL, ECL, and fast MOS static types.”  TTL and ECL, technologies that are seldom Continue reading

Wafer Shortages and DRAM/NAND

Mark Thirsk, Linx ConsultingRecently I have been hearing concerns that an impending wafer shortage might drive today’s DRAM and NAND flash shortages to epic proportions.

The Memory Guy doesn’t pretend to have any understanding of the raw wafer business, so I decided to consult Mark Thirsk, managing partner of Linx Consulting.  Mark has been in this industry for quite a while and has a very good understanding of the ongoing status of the semiconductor materials supply chain.

Mark and I were on a panel together at SEMICON Korea in February, and he presented an interesting chart to compare the costs of different technologies.  I asked him about this chart as well.

Here’s what Mark had to say:

“Our information is that major Continue reading

Micron and Intel to End NAND Flash JV

Jim Handy in the IMFT fabIt came as a surprise to the Memory Guy on Monday to receive a press release from Micron indicating that Intel and Micron had decided to end their NAND flash partnership.

This agreement, which was begun in 2006, helped the two companies to aggressively ramp into the NAND flash market by combining their resources.  NAND flash makers (as well as DRAM makers) need to make very substantial capital investments to participate in the market, and that’s not easy for a new entrant.  Micron at that time was a very small NAND flash maker, and Intel wasn’t involved in the NAND flash market at all, so neither was in a position to succeed.  By combining their resources the companies were able to become important contributors to the market.

The agreement initially appeared to be modeled after the very successful joint venture that Toshiba and SanDisk enjoyed.  Each company would contribute half of the JV’s capital investment, and the same designs would be used to make both companies’ chips.

Over time Intel found itself in a familiar Continue reading

New Report Details NVDIMM Market

Objective Analysis NVDIMM Report 2017 CoverObjective Analysis has just released a new report covering the nonvolatile dual inline memory module (NVDIMM) market in detail.  This report, Profiting from the NVDIMM Market, explains the What, How, Why, & When of today’s and tomorrow’s NVDIMM products.

My readers know that I have been watching this market for some time, and that I am always perplexed as to whether to post about NVDIMMs in The Memory Guy or in The SSD Guy, since these products straddle the boundary between memory and storage.  This time my solution is to publish posts in both!

The Objective Analysis NVDIMM market model reveals that the market for NVDIMMs is poised to grow at a 105% average annual rate to nearly 12 million units by 2021.  This finding is based on a forecast methodology that has provided many of the most consistently-accurate forecasts in the semiconductor business.  This forecast, and the report itself, were compiled through exhaustive research into the technology and the events leading up to its introduction, vendor and user interviews, and briefings from standards bodies.

This 80-page in-depth analysis examines all leading NVDIMM types and forecasts their unit and revenue shipments through 2021.  Its 42 figures and 14 tables help Continue reading

Super-Cooled DRAM for Big Power Savings

Frozen DRAM - Hacker10Recently Rambus announced that it was using cryogenic temperatures to boost computer performance in large datacenters.  This research is being done in a joint project with Microsoft who is developing a processor based on Josephson Junctions.

This is an effort to provide a performance increases greater than can be attained through standard semiconductor scaling.  The research project aims to attain improvements in cycle time, power consumption, and compute density, leading to better energy efficiency and cost of ownership (COO).  The companies hope to gain side benefits of being able to squeeze more bits onto a DRAM chip thus reducing cost per bit, improving performance, and making DRAM chips less costly to produce.

The system these two companies are researching uses a memory system that is cooled to 77 degrees Kelvin (77°K) with a processor that operates at 4°K.  To do this the memory system is bathed in liquid nitrogen while the processor is cooled by liquid helium.  The temperatures are the boiling points of these two liquids.

Surprisingly, the fact that these two subsystems are in different Continue reading

US Plans Response to China’s Chip Plan

Presidential SealOn its way out the door the Obama Administration put together a proposed response to China’s plans to invest $150 billion in the semiconductor market over the next five years.  It seems that US semiconductor industry views China’s investment as a threat to its position in the market.

Last week the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) delivered a 25-page Report to the President entitled: “Ensuring Long-Term U.S. Leadership in Semiconductors.”

You might ask: “Who is PCAST?”  The organization states its mission in this paragraph: “The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) is an advisory group of the Nation’s leading scientists and engineers, appointed by the President to augment the science and technology advice available to him from inside the White House and from cabinet departments and other Federal agencies. PCAST is consulted about, and often makes policy recommendations concerning, the full range of issues where understandings from the domains of science, technology, and innovation bear potentially on the policy choices before the President.”

PCAST has a small Semiconductors Working Group whose elite members include Continue reading

When a Shortage Looms

DRAM Prices 1991-1997The Memory Guy has been getting calls lately asking how to tell that a shortage is developing.  My answer is always the same: It’s hard to tell.

One indicator is that spot prices which were below contract prices rise above contract prices.  This doesn’t happen for all components or densities of DRAM or NAND flash at the same time.  Some of these transitions are temporary as well.  It takes patience to see if it was a momentary change or if it was the onset of a shortage.

DRAM spot prices have generally been below contract prices since August 2014, but this month they raised above contract prices.  NAND flash spot prices also fell below contract prices in mid-2014 but today NAND’s spot price remains lower than contract prices.

Lead times represent another indicator.  If the lead time for a number of components increases then those chips are moving into a shortage.  Lead times have recently been rising for both NAND flash and DRAM.

A third indication occurs when suppliers start to Continue reading

Understanding Samsung’s DRAM CapEx Cut

Historical DRAM Wafer ProductionAccording to a Business Korea article Samsung announced, during a June 14 investor event, plans to reduce its DRAM capital spending and shift its focus to 3D NAND.

The Memory Guy sees this as an unsurprising move.  This post’s chart is an estimate of DRAM wafer production from 1991 through 2014.  There is a definite downtrend over the past few years.  The peak was reached in 2008 at an annual production of slightly below 15 million wafers, with a subsequent dip in 2009 thanks to the global financial collapse at the end of 2008.  After a slight recovery in 2010 the industry entered a period of steady decline.

The industry already has more than enough DRAM wafer capacity for the foreseeable future.

Why is this happening?  The answer is relatively simple: the gigabytes per wafer on a DRAM wafer are growing faster than the market’s demand for gigabytes.

Let’s dive into that in more detail.  The number of gigabytes on a DRAM wafer increases according Continue reading

Putting DRAM Prices in Perspective

DRAM Low Spot Pricing 2011-2016For almost two years there has been a lot of worry about DRAM spot prices.  This post’s graphic plots the lowest weekly spot price per gigabyte for the cheapest DRAM, regardless of density, on a semi-logarithmic scale.  (Remember that on a semi-logarithmic scale constant growth appears as a straight line.)

The downward-sloping red line on right side of the chart shows that DRAM prices have been sliding at a 45% annual rate since October 2014.  This has a lot of people worried for the health of the industry.

What most fail to remember, though, is that DRAM spot prices hit their lowest point twice in 2011, at $2.40 in August, and then $2.20 in November.  Today’s lowest DRAM spot prices have only recently dipped below the $2.52 point hit in October of 2014.

The black dotted line in the chart is intended to focus readers’ attention on DRAM costs, which decrease at a 30% average Continue reading