SAN FRANCISCO—Thanks to its usage in hot products like smartphones and media tablets, the market for mobile DRAM chips is projected to grow to a record $6.56 billion in 2012, up 10 percent from 2011, according to market research firm IHS iSuppli.
By contrast, the market for standard DRAM is projected to grow by merely 3 percent, according to IHS (El Segundo, Calif.).
Ryan Chien, analyst for memory and storage at IHS, said through a statement that mobile DRAM is growing impressively as mobile operating systems, streaming apps and games require more memory to handle sophisticated tasks. "Crucial features like multitasking, media decoding and decompression, data synchronization and background operations are all driving DRAM needs—and new phones and tablets are meeting those needs with their rise in mobile DRAM densities," Chien said.
Mobile DRAM is a low-power DRAM variant preferred for use in mobile applications. Analysts from IHS and elsewhere believe that Elpida Memory Inc.'s strength in mobile DRAM is a major reason that Micron Technology Inc. bid to acquire the firm's assets earlier this year.
IHS said dissections conducted by the firm's teardown analysis service confirm that the average densities are rising in mobile DRAM chips found in wireless devices. Mobile DRAM density in smartphones jumped from 2.28 gigabits (Gb) in the second quarter of 2010 to 5.85 Gb in the second quarter this year, according to the firm. The trend is even more evident in tablets, with the mobile DRAM average density soaring fourfold during the same period from 2 Gb to 8.33 Gb, according to IHS.
Revenue growth for standard DRAM chips is expected to be weak this year due to lagging sales of PCs, IHS said. And while mobile DRAM average selling prices have been falling over time in line with the overall memory space, prices remain relatively firm for mobile DRAM chips because of a number of factors, including high demand, a smaller supply base and healthy density growth, IHS said.
While both Micron and Elpida had similar DRAM revenue in the first quarter, Elpida's mobile DRAM revenue—$218 million—was more than twice Micron's, IHS said.
"Despite its financial ruin, Elpida in the first quarter had an outsized portion—nearly 20 percent market share—of the total mobile DRAM industry revenue of $1.8 billion," Chien said. "The increasing ubiquity of mobile DRAM projected for the next few years also makes the high-flying memory segment the most important factor in Micron’s $2.5 billion purchase, especially as the Boise, Idaho, outfit aims to counter the current market dominance of the South Korean giants Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix Semiconductor.”
IHS said it expects mobile DRAM will continue to become more efficient, enabling superior product functionality and an even larger total available market in the future, with its use in ultrathin computers a natural next step.