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NAND Flash Densities in Video Game Platforms to Climb More Than 40 Percent in 2011

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Despite the high cost of NAND flash memory, NAND densities in 2011 will rise more than 40 percent in home consoles and handheld devices, the principal modes for gaming entertainment, according to a new IHS iSuppli NAND Dynamics Market Brief, from information and analysis provider IHS(NYSE: IHS).

The average NAND density in 2011 for home video game consoles is projected to reach 923 megabytes (MB), up 42.2 percent from 649MB last year. In comparison, average NAND density growth this year for handheld game devices will be slightly lower but still within the same range, at 41.4 percent to 123MB, up from 87MB in 2010.

In both platforms, NAND densities will continue to trend higher in the years to come. By 2015 the average NAND density will reach 3.5GB in home consoles and 428MB in handhelds. The five-year compound annual growth rate, beginning from 2010, stands at almost 40 percent.

“In the past, strong competition among game console manufacturers compelled them to keep prices down,” said Ryan Chien, researcher for memory and storage at IHS. “This constrained the use of expensive flash memory, in exchange for a greater focus on processing and graphical capabilities. However, the next generation of consoles appears to be adding greater densities of NAND because of the memory’s advantages in terms of faster read speeds, less heat generation and lower power consumption compared to hard disk drives.”

NAND Use in Games Rises
The current PlayStation 3 from Sony Corp. does not even use NAND and employs a hard disk drive as storage. Meanwhile, the Wii from Nintendo Corp. includes just 512MB of embedded NAND memory.

Nintendo, however, will be increasing its NAND storage for the upcoming Wii U console, with NAND capacity expected to be more than the 2GB currently employed in the company’s latest handheld device, the 3DS. The entry-level Xbox 360 from Microsoft Corp. also started out with just 256MB when introduced in late 2008, before expanding to 512MB and its current 4GB level.

One other avenue for increasing NAND density in home consoles is to enhance removable storage, for example by allowing game installs to be saved on a high-performance flash drive. To date, the Xbox 360 allows some downloadable games to be saved on a USB drive. Also, companies like Kingston Technology and Super Talent have unveiled USB 3.0 drives with fast sequential read/write speeds—even though pricing for the USB products is similar to costly solid state drives because of requirements for higher-quality controllers and NAND.

In the case of handheld gaming devices, NAND flash also has been picking up traction. The Nintendo DSi is equipped with 256MB of internal flash and the 3DS has 2GB, while the Xperia Play gaming smartphone from Sony Ericsson includes 400MB.

Handheld gaming, however, is being challenged by the wide availability of app ecosystems popularizing free or cheap, lightweight games. Already, devices like mobile phones, portable media players and tablets leverage the use of flash memory for digital downloads—an embedded flash memory model that has filtered into gaming handhelds via Nintendo’s eShop and Sony’s PlayStation Store, and was adopted completely by Sony’s PSP Go.

Still, the decision by Sony for its upcoming PSP Vita handheld to rely completely on removable storage suggests that traditional gamers might prefer hard copies of their storage media, potentially complicating the argument for supporting NAND flash in gaming handhelds.

Most likely, however, the industry won’t be able to completely ignore the benefits of incorporating NAND into gaming hardware, such as decreased cooling needs and slimmer form factors. Nintendo by now has set a clear trend of adding flash memory to its products—an action that might presage the same for Sony and Microsoft when the time comes for their next-generation consoles.

Read More > Gaming Déjà Vu: Solid State Storage in Consoles

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