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Tech Trends, Capacity Challenges to Create New Opportunities in Memory Markets

Jan. 10, 2023
Changes to the storage market due to new technologies, such as the move to DDR5, and availability are taxing developers.

This article is part of the 2023 Electronic Design Technology Forecast issue.

What you'll learn:

  • Despite the current overcapacity, what will drive future demand for DRAM and NAND/NOR flash?
  • The outlook on SDRAM and pseudoSRAM using HYPERRAM.
  • Anticipated rise of Security Flash adoption.

The aftermath of the pandemic continues to dominate economies and daily lives worldwide. Like many markets now, those for commodity memories, like DRAM and NAND/NOR flash, are seeing turbulent conditions. On the other hand, we expect strong emerging trends to drive significant new demands for specialist memories such as Secure Flash. At the same time, the momentum behind automotive electrification—striving for sustainability—should push demand even further.

During the pandemic, sales of home electronics, as well as smartphones and PCs, increased significantly. As people were obliged to live and work within the confines of their homes, there was a surge in investment in PCs, office technology, and televisions to consume streaming services. These trends have already subsided, consequently driving down demand for commodity memories.

Conversely, demand for memory in servers, data-center equipment, automotive electrification, industrial digital transformation, and infrastructure-related networking have remained strong in 2022.

The chip shortage induced by the short-term demands connected with the pandemic, including longer transportation times and system makers’ double bookings, has been considerably eased. Today, only a few niche power-related components continue to struggle with excessively long lead times. In contrast, the availability and delivery times of most memory ICs have essentially returned to normal.

Overall, the memory market is currently experiencing oversupply due to the impact of high inflation in major economies, which has suppressed consumer and business demand. The market for DRAM (per bit) had been predicted to grow at more than 15% CAGR in 2022, although figures from TrendForce, a respected analyst, now suggest growth will be 8.3%. The reduction in global demand has translated into drastically reduced DRAM prices.

Influential Memory Technologies

From a technical standpoint, next-generation technologies like DDR5 are moving into the mainstream, while today’s market trends are demanding greater density across the board. Whereas typical PCs have shipped with between 4 to 8 Gb of DDR4 per machine on board, this is now increasing to either 8 or 16 Gb while at the same time advancing to DDR5.

The most prominent DRAM vendors focused on the high-volume markets for PCs, servers, and smartphones are moving with this trend and dropping earlier DRAM generations and 4-Gb DDR4 modules. Their moves could compromise supply for makers of other products, who may now need to consider 8-Gb DDR4 modules for future designs. Winbond has invested in a new fab for 2- and 4-Gb DDR3, which is currently in production and enables us to offer a dependable supply to designers who need them.

Of course, influential trends like adopting the latest wireless LAN generations, Wi-Fi 6 and coming Wi-Fi 7, are driving up the density per box. And we can add to the mix the burgeoning opportunities for edge computing, driven by demand for lower latency, real-time response, and greater privacy, as the IoT continues its relentless surge toward ubiquity.

In smartphone cameras, current market trends are shifting to powerful software assistance, particularly post-processing. Automatic image manipulation, typified by the use of AI inference to improve low-light image quality, empowers users to get professional results. Thus, it’s a trendy addition to the specification of the latest smartphones from the top U.S., Korean, and Chinese brands.

The advent of smart appliances and the general adoption of smart devices throughout all aspects of life and work are driving demands for larger numbers of memory ICs. It’s also driving the pace of technological progress, moving to the latest technologies that deliver faster speed, smaller sizes, and lower power.

In addition to the trend toward increasing memory density per box, the external interfaces of such equipment are moving forward in technology terms. For instance, DDR3 has become the mainstream interface in the 1- to 4-Gb density range, which we can support thanks to our new fab. On the other hand, applications for SDRAM and pseudoSRAM (PSRAM, aka mobile RAM) memories are now adopting Winbond’s advanced HYPERRAM across a wide range of densities.

We’ve extended the density of our HYPERRAM portfolio to 256 Mb and 512 Mb, leveraging our advanced 25 nm process while cutting standby power to as little as 35 µW in hybrid sleep mode (HSM). Densities down to 32 Mb and many fewer signal pins than comparable PSRAM meet the needs of wearable applications like smart watches, where low power consumption and small package sizes are critical advantages.

Winbond also is active in the NAND flash segment, where the serial interface relentlessly replaces parallel interfaces in various applications. The modern SPI NAND flash enables high data rates to support demanding use cases such as sensor interfaces, data converters, and graphical user interfaces.

Future Demands

There are indications that demand for Security Flash will emerge strongly in 2023, highlighted by the effects of the cyberwar aspect of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The world’s security agencies have confirmed that military-grade cyber weapons are in circulation, typically used to disable communication and other infrastructure systems. However, many fear damage to assets outside the conflict zone. We’ll probably see a much greater focus on more robust protection for connected devices of all types and locations.

In addition, cybersecurity regulations will increase for IoT endpoints and connected vehicles and devices to protect code, data integrity, privacy, and credentials; maintain the product lifecycle; and enable secure over-the-air updates.

Lastly, there’s the ever-present drive for smart energy and applications such as electric vehicles. They continue to propel demand for electronic technology and computing that manage the vehicle, support connected services, and deal with aspects of driver assistance as more of these become mandatory—for example, driver-monitoring systems (DMS) in 2024-model vehicles. On top of that, moves toward higher-level autonomous-driving modes are pushing the demand for computing power and hence high-speed, high-density storage onboard the vehicle to unprecedented heights.

This article is part of the 2023 Electronic Design Technology Forecast issue.

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