Meanwhile, Samsung will focus on strengthening its DRAM product line-up by increasing the proportion of 20nm-class DRAM and providing more differentiated value for the server market, while meeting demand for high-density DRAM and next-generation solutions like DDR4, according to Elliot. The company didn't provide any more details.
SK Hynix has an aggressive cost structure, as competitive as Samsung's, IHS's Howard says, adding that it's not clear whether they have a defined differentiation strategy. Still, SK Hynix is a key supplier, especially for DRAM buyers who prefer not to use Samsung, since it is considered one of their competitors. "They are the non-Samsung alternative," Howard says. (SK Hynix could not be reached for comment.)
In the first quarter of 2014, SK Hynix said it fully recovered from its Wuxi, China, fab fire that occurred in September 2013. It will begin mass-producing PC and server DRAMs using its 2Ynm class process technology in full scale this quarter. It also plans to move mobile DRAM production to 2Ynm in the second half of this year in an effort to build capacity to meet growing demand from mobile devices, which includes smartphones and tablets -- nontraditional applications of the DRAM sector.
As mobile platforms quickly become one of the DRAM industry's major target markets, several changes are occurring. For example, the design process for a smartphone is a lot different from that for a PC, which is usually equipped with a DIMM. In smartphones and even some laptops now, the memory is soldered to the motherboard.
"The mobile platform is the model going forward instead of a large module that you just plug in," Howard said.
Another key development in system design is how memory is moving closer to the processor, helping to boost speed or improve power consumption. "Micron has been a little bit more adventurous in pursuing alternative design," he says.
As part of this trend, Micron is pioneering a particular kind of memory called a hybrid memory cube that allows for much denser stacking of DRAM that can be placed closer to the processor to achieve higher performance, according to Micron's Shirley.
"It really unleashes an order of magnitude of more bandwidth for the processor to take advantage of -- that in conjunction with other forms of where are called in-package memory technology, really trying to get the DRAM much closer to where the processing happens, and that is starting to happen."
— Ismini Scouras is a freelance writer for EE Times.