Oversupply of NAND flash memory has pushed prices down
It's tough to get a pulse on the NAND flash memory market. On one hand, you have OCZ selling off all of its assets to Toshiba and filing for bankruptcy in part because a shortage of NAND chips put the company in a tough spot. Days later, we're finding out that NAND flash chip suppliers are stuck with an oversupply of parts and plan to cut production to try and stabilize prices.
Analysts at IHS iSuppli spent some time pondering what would happen if current tensions in Korea escalate to the point of a war on the Korean peninsula, and what they determined is that it could theoretically cripple the global electronics business. South Korea is a major cog in the electronics supply chain, as it accounts for half of the world's DRAM output, two-thirds of NAND flash manufacturing, and 70 percent of the world's tablet display.
OCZ Technology fans have had cause for concern lately. Earlier this month, the former memory maker turned solid state drive player sacked 28 percent of its staff and discontinued 150 product variations. The restructuring effort was put into place by OCZ's recently appointed chief, Ralph Schmitt, who was appointed to replace former CEO and founder Ryan Petersen. At the time, Schmitt admitted OCZ had "lost credibility," but going forward, he seems to have a plan to turn things around.
Have you noticed how cheap NAND-powered memory devices have gotten? Flash drives and SSDs aren't quite a dime a dozen these days, but they're significantly cheaper than they have been in the past. While you and I may appreciate the decline in costs, low pricing is putting the pinch on NAND manufacturers, and Toshiba is cutting its NAND production by about 30 percent to compensate. (And drive up prices, of course.)
Memory makers would be wise never to take consumer demand for granted. It's a lesson all involved had to learn the hard way after the DRAM market crashed crashed a few years ago, and with the rise in popularity of solid state drives and products that use them, NAND flash memory is proving to be their mulligan. Even still, a repeat of what happened to DRAM sales is possible, and surprisingly enough, it's the Ultrabook market that's driving sales of NAND flash memory, not all those supposed PC-killing tablets.
Technology giants Intel and Micron hammered out revised agreements to expand their NAND Flash memory joint venture relationship, the two companies announced this week. As part of the agreements, Micron will buy back Intel's stake in two wafer fabrication plants for $600 million, half of which will be paid in cash and the rest deposited with Micron to be refunded or applied to Intel's future purchases.
Teams of engineers from SanDisk and Toshiba working at SanDisk's Milpitas campus developed a NAND flash memory chip smaller than a U.S. penny, the two companies announced. The 128Gb (gigabit) memory chip, which is currently in production, is the world's smallest and can store 128 billion bits of information on a single die measuring just 170mm2, barely more than a quarter of an inch squared.
Perhaps 2012 will be the year that solid state drives (SSDs) finally dip to $1 per gigabyte, or even lower depending on how the market plays out. High prices compared to mechanical hard disk drives (HDDs) have prevented SSDs from making a serious run at the mainstream market, but Ultrabooks as gain popularity, the demand for NAND flash memory is growing fast, and that could lead to lower costs.
The joint collaboration between chip giants Intel and Micron has resulted in a new benchmark in NAND flash technology. Specifically, the two tech gurus announced the world's first 20nm (not just nanometer-class, but an actual 20nm process) 128Gb (gigabit) multilevel-cell (MLC) device they say is ideal for small form factor tablets, smartphones, solid state drives, and high-performance compute devices.
After peering into its crystal ball, the market psychics at Kingston firmly believe that by this time next year, you're likely to choose a solid state drive over a mechanical hard drive. NAND flash memory prices are coming down, and while it's been slow going, overall pricing for SSDs will finally reach the point where they're able to attract would-be HDD buyers.