DRAM memory pricing is at the bottom of its cycle, so now is a great time to maximize memory capacity to achieve the best performance and data throughput rates. The cost of DRAM directly impacts the type and amount of memory that system designers choose for their new product launches. For example, immediately following the launch of DDR3, system designers were hesitant to make the transition due to high price points. At the time, DDR2 pricing was still far more compelling.
While in the short term this approach can be advantageous, the longer term issues of potential price hikes and longer lead times can eliminate any short-term benefits. For instance, if a product’s average lifecycle is three to five years, it becomes more difficult to take advantage of price fluctuations with older DRAM technologies. As a result, the planning horizon for system designers should incorporate a detailed analysis of memory technology trends and their associated pricing patterns.
Within the last two quarters, the migration to 4GB and 8GB DDR3 modules has gained significant momentum. This coincides with the 45% drop in DDR3 pricing that occurred last October and November. During that time, the 2Gb DDR3 DRAM dropped below the crossover point of two 1Gb DDR3 DRAMs. Even though DDR2 prices declined in this same time-period, they did not drop at nearly the level of DDR3. DDR2 price declines were also isolated to 1Gb DRAMs (which did not help to drive up the usage rates for higher density DDR2 modules).When DDR3 2Gb DRAM pricing hit the crossover point, more upgrade migration began, which continues to affect all types of DDR3 modules and form factors.
Here are some of the specific trends currently occurring:
- Transition from 4GB DDR3-1333 256Mx4-based RDIMMs to 256Mx8-based
- Transition from 2GB DDR3 128Mx8-based Mini-DIMMs (all types) to 256Mx8-based
- Transition from 2GB DDR3 128Mx8-based SO-DIMMs (VLP and standard) to 256Mx8-based
- Mainstream density growth from 2GB SO-DIMMs (all types) to 4GB SO-DIMMs
- Mainstream density growth 2GB Mini-DIMMs (all types) to 4GB Mini-DIMMs
- Mainstream density growth from 4GB RDIMMs to 8GB RDIMMs
While DRAM technology transitions and pricing patterns are somewhat predictable, there are always surprises. One example has been the sharper than expected drop in the price of 2Gb DDR3 256Mx8 DRAMs. This can be seen in the DRAM pricing chart below.
Proactive system design can enable OEMs to take advantage of DRAM price fluctuations. One method is to qualify not only the current density of DRAM but also the next higher density as well. In the example above, it would have been to design-in 2Gb-based modules while 1Gb-based modules were still at a lower cost. In addition, right now OEMs would be wise to begin evaluating and qualifying 4Gb-based modules. The price point for 4Gb 512Mx8 DDR3 DRAMs is 7-8x the price of 2Gb 256Mx8 DRAMs today, but it is expected to steadily drop over the next few years. It is possible that sharper than expected price drops could happen to the 4Gb DRAM (similar to the 2Gb DDR3 DRAM). In this case, prepared OEMs could be in a position to immediately changeover any backlog they have to the new module using the higher density DRAM.
Another cost-effective option for using the next higher density DRAM on modules or on down-board applications is to stack mainstream off-the-shelf DRAMs. In this way, a system can be designed to support both options, and then the OEM could make a quick transition when the market conditions change. The DRAM pricing chart using this option is shown below (click image to download larger image as a PDF).
About the Author
Arthur Sainio is the senior product manager at SMART Modular Technologies. He is responsible for new DRAM product introductions and has been there for 12 years. Prior to SMART, Arthur worked as a product manager for DRAM, SRAM and NV memories at Hitachi Semiconductor America for six years. He holds a MBA from San Francisco State University and a MS from Arizona State University. www.smartm.com