Elpida, Japan's biggest player in the DRAM market, announced today it has developed a 30nm class 2Gb DDR3 SDRAM for PCs and consumer electronics. According to Elpida, it's the industry's smallest 2Gb DDR3 around.
The smaller chip size allows Elpida to achieve a 45 percent higher chip yield per wafer compared to its 40nm products, the company claims. In addition, Elpida says the shrink will help contain rising chip costs associated with process migration. And as for JEDEC specs, everything is kosher.
"Elpida's new chip meets the JEDEC specs for the high-speed DDR3-1855 and 1.35V low-voltage, high-speed DDR3L-1600 memory chips, both expected to become mainstream industry products in 2011," Elpida said. "Also, the 30nm DDR3 SDRAM is eco-friendly. As a DDR3 SDRAM it achieves one of the industry's lowest levels of electric current usage (approximately 15 percent less operating and approximately 10 percent less standby usage compared with Elpida's 40nm products)."
Elpida said it will begin sample shipments in December 2010, with volume shipments slated for the same month.
Oracle is accusing memory chip maker Micron of conspiring to fix prices, alleging it overcharged Sun Microsystems for memory parts, Bloomberg reports.
In its complaint, Oracle said Micron and other DRAM makers "conspired to control production capacity, raise prices or slow their decline, allocate customers, and otherwise unlawfully overcharge their DRAM customers." The antitrust complaint was filed earlier this week in federal court in San Jose, California, and also names Hynix, Samsung, Eplida, and Infineon as co-conspirators.
Oracle's basing its complaint in part on a 2002 U.S. Justice Department investigation of memory chip price fixing, which ultimately resulted in four companies and 16 people being fined a total of around $731 million, Oracle claims.
DRAM makers have been through some tough times in recent years. That's true for nearly the entire tech industry, but the DRAM market in particular was hit hard by the global recession and reduced spending. An oversupply of chips and continued weak demand forced some DRAM makers to be on the brink of collapse, while others sought a government bailout. One firm asked workers to take unpaid leaves to keep from going out of business. At one point, A-Data chairman Simon Chen declared that the DRAM market was the worst it has been for 15 years.
That all happened back in 2008 and through most of 2009. Here we are approaching 2011 and while the situation is improved, there's a lingering fear that the DRAM market could collapse all over again. Scott Chen, vice president of Kingston, believes that DRAM makers could go through another crisis like the one above if demand doesn't pick up in the next 3-4 quarters.
Part of the problem is that DRAM makers can't seem to catch a break. Weaker than expected demand from the Chinese market is taking its toll, and prior to that, it was the European bond crisis. Going forward, analysts predict slow sales in the fourth quarter in China, which has traditionally been the high season.
DRAM makers will have to figure out a way to cope with yet another period of dormant sales. Kingston's strategy is to avoid any kind of capacity expansion, even if orders for DRAM modules and NAND flash products continue to grow. Should that happen, Kingston will look at outsourcing.
DRAM prices could once again be trending downwards, this time on the heels of weakening demand for PCs, Digitimes reports.
While memory makers are hoping that replacement PC purchases in the enterprise sector will help drive DRAM pricing back up, Samsung offered a different outlook, saying continued sales slumps will result in the DRAM market being saddled with an oversupply of memory at least through the first quarter of 2011, if not longer.
Not only does this mean that RAM kits could start to fall this month, but it's likely OEM PC vendors will offer up larger amounts of RAM in their rigs, perhaps as free upgrade promotions. So in other words, whether you're looking to upgrade your machine or buy a pre-built, keep an eye peeled for deals on memory.
When you think of memory, Samsung probably isn't the first name to come to mind, but perhaps it should be. No other company produces more DRAM, and in the second quarter of 2010, Samsung further distanced itself from all competitors.
"Samsung's memory business long has pursued a strategy of taking the leadership in investment in new manufacturing processes, allowing it to be the first to move to advanced semiconductor process geometries, and thus enabling the company to make semiconductors at a lower cost and at greater efficiency than its competitors," said Mike Howard, senior analyst for DRAM technology at iSuppli. "The company's aggressive push into 40nm semiconductor lithography for DRAM manufacturing boosted the volume of its bit production dramatically. Meanwhile, Samsung's broad DRAM portfolio, including high-end devices like mobile and legacy parts, allowed it to achieve an ASP higher than the industry average."
Samsung cranked out 1.2 billion 1Gb density equivalent DRAM units in the second quarter, a 13 percent increase over its first quarter production and enough to pull in revenues of $3.8 billion.
While Samsung is flying high, Micron (Crucial's parent company) showed the weakest growth among the top-five DRAM suppliers in the second quarter. Micron's revenues rose by 4.1 percent to $1.43 billion, which iSuppli blames on manufacturing challenges at the company's Inotera facility.
Trying to follow the ups and downs of the DRAM market is a crap-shoot at best, but market research firm iSuppli is doing its best and now believes we're in for a shortage.
There are two reasons for this. First, iSuppli says bottlenecks in the availability of tooling equipment are cause for concern, and secondly, challenges relating to immersion yield could throw a wrench into the whole operation.
On that second point, iSuppli says resource constrained companies could have trouble funding the transition to beyond 50nm and end up reducing their total output. Elpida, for example, is in the midst of moving from 6xnm to 45nm, but if the company should run into any unexpected yield issues along the way, bit production could be significantly disrupted, iSuppli said.
Or this could all be much ado about nothing. Stay tuned.
Thirty-three states, including California, Florida, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and others, will receive $173 million from six DRAM makers to settle a suit accusing them of fixing prices for products between 1998 and 2002. Companies named in the suit include Micron, NEC, Infineon, Hynix, Elpida, and Mosel Vitelic.
"These companies conspired in an illegal global scheme to fix prices on chips used in computer equipment sold to consumers, schools, and government offices," California Attorney General Edmund 'Jerry' Brown Jr. said in a statement. "The large price tag of this settlement should serve as a warning that we will crack down on any manufacturers around the world that choose to gouge consumers through illegal price-fixing schemes."
It is yet to be determined how much each company will pay towards the $173 million collective settlement, which is to be doled out over the course of two years plus interest to the affected consumers, schools, and government offices.
"The settlement money is welcome, but the illegal overcharging never should have happened in the first place," Brown added. "Especially when times are tight, schools and government agencies can't afford to be ripped off by companies that violate our anti-trust laws to keep profits high."
You better stock up on Dramamine if you intend to follow the volatile DRAM market, which has had more ups and downs than Nicholas Cage's career. Should you buy now or wait a month? That's always the question, and making matters even more confuzzling, the answer often depends on who you ask.
Transcend chairman Peter Su, for example, says that DRAM chip prices are too high right now, and one of the keys to pushing new devices to the end market will be lowering DRAM parts to below $2. At the same time, Su notes that chip vendors, module makers, and consumers all seem content with current NAND flash prices. Go figure.
According to Su, both DRAM and NAND flash chip pricing is expected to rise in the second half of 2010, even though he thinks they're too high already. This, he says, will negatively impact the demand for devices with embedded memory, which is everything from smartphones to digital cameras, MP3 players to handheld consoles, and more.
Memory makers just can't seem to a get a grip on supply and production and have now put themselves in a position where there's less than one month's worth of DRAM inventory left, says Pei-Lin Pai, a spokesperson for Nanya Technology. As a result of the chip shortage, first-tier PC makers are having a tough time getting the memory parts they need to fulfill orders.
This tighter supply has driven prices up in recent months, but even so, Pai says the majority of its PC clients haven't dropped any orders. Nanya has already raised prices for April by 10 percent, a good tick above the industry's average of 4-6 percent growth. DRAM pricing isn't likely to change much more, Pai says, and already customers have begun placing orders for the third quarter.
In the grand scheme of things, this tight supply isn't likely to have a huge impact on PC shipments, says Joanne Chien, senior analyst at DigiTimes Research. At the same time, high and rising prices could present an issue, as PC makers will have to decide how much of that cost to pass on to consumers and how much they can afford to swallow in lost profits.
It's been a turbulent couple of years in the memory market, and just when it looks like things might be stabilizing, we catch wind of a DRAM shortage or some other bit of troubling news.
Stepping up as unlikely heroes, Asus and Silicon Integrated Systems (SiS) have teamed up to form a joint venture intent on making sure there's a steady stream of DRAM products without all the price fluctuations. Called Asint, this new company will mostly source DRAM chips from Elpida Memory, or so says Chinese-language newspaper Economic Daily News.
According to the paper, Asus will hold a 60 percent stake in the venture, leaving 40 percent to SiS, but neither one of these companies say those numbers are accurate. SiS, who made it clear that they're not the source of the report, said their stake is just 20 percent, while Asus issued a filing with the Taiwan Stock Exchange saying it holds a 16.67 percent stake. These numbers obviously don't add up, so maybe they won't end up saving the memory market after all.