Electronic Design

Riding The Memory Rollercoaster For 2003

The DRAM market will continue its long, strange trip in 2003. Climbing out from under the 2001 market tumble, 2002 revenues are expected to reach $15.7 billion, a 40.2% increase from 2001. Semico forecasts revenues to continue growing 27.8% in 2003 to $20 billion. Double-data-rate (DDR) DRAM inventory will become the main growth driver for the market in 2003, accounting for over 60% of all DRAMs manufactured. In particular, DDRI-400 (400-MHz speed grade) will be more apparent in the market as Intel's Springdale motherboard chip sets will officially support this memory type. Rambus shall continue its presence in niche applications such as high-end personal computers, networking, and next-generation gaming consoles.

Flash is poised for strong growth in 2003, after expanding a mere 9% to $8 billion in 2002. This technology, used in nearly every sort of application out there, has historically experienced an average annual growth of 36%. Semico sees every reason to expect that growth to continue. Next year, over $14 billion worth of flash chips will ship, up more than 80% from 2002. One key question is whether or not NAND will outstrip NOR over the near term. Not yet! Cell phones are flash's largest single market, consuming about 35% of all flash. Plus, even though cell-phone designers are looking hard at NAND's low price per megabyte, design challenges keep this technology out of the mainstream. We expect far less than 10% of 2002 flash shipments to be NAND, with NOR of all densities making up the balance.

We expect 2003 to bring a small contraction of the SRAM market, as densities continue to shift to 4 Mbits and greater. The aggregate average selling price and revenues will rise accordingly after a dismal 2002. Over the long term, the SRAM unit shipments will slowly shrink due to the market being continually squeezed by the increasing use of other memories, or by embedded SRAM. This holds true particularly in the cell-phone market, where low-power DRAM is being introduced to take the place of asynchronous SRAM.

Product development in the SRAM market continues to occur primarily on the networking side, where SRAM's speed is required. The quad-data-rate (QDR) group keeps steadily moving to higher densities, such as Samsung's recently announced prototype 36-Mbit, 256-MHz QDRII SRAM. Micron is shipping 333-MHz, 18-Mbit QDRII and DDRII SRAMs. Product development continues to advance in the competitor group, SigmaRAM, which also targets networking equipment with similar devices.

However, there's considerable product development taking place to find new devices that will replace SRAM. Based on DRAM, MRAM, FRAM, or FCRAM, these new devices, along with an increase in the use of embedded SRAM, explain the decline that we foresee in the SRAM market. Some of these devices, though, won't be on the market in full production for another six to 24 months.

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