Market Watch

NAND Flash Densities in Gaming to Climb Over 40 Percent in 2011


Average density to reach 923MB in consoles and 123MB in handhelds
Despite the high cost of NAND flash memory that makes it challenging to incorporate into gaming hardware, NAND densities in 2011 will rise north of 40 percent in home consoles and handheld devices, the principal modes for gaming entertainment, according to a new IHS iSuppli NAND Dynamics brief, from information and analysis handler IHS.

Average NAND density in 2011 for home consoles is projected to reach 923 megabytes (MB), up 42.2 percent from 629MB last year. In comparison, average NAND density growth this year for handheld devices will be slightly lower but still within the same range, at 41.4 percent to 123MB, up from 87MB. In both environments, NAND densities will continue to trend higher in the years to come, by 2015 reaching 3.5GB for home consoles and 428MB for handhelds. The five-year compound annual growth rate, beginning from 2010, stands at almost 40 percent.

NAND Flash

Among home consoles, the higher NAND densities will prove especially encouraging for the industry, given that home consoles carry a higher sticker price than handhelds and are not as quickly replaced because of their much-longer lifetimes. In the past, strong competition among manufacturers to keep consoles cost sensitive has constrained the use of expensive flash memory, in exchange for a greater focus on processing and graphical capabilities.

For instance, the PlayStation 3 from Sony Corp. does not even use NAND and employs a hard disk drive as storage, while 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, 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 fl ash in 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.  

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