Market Watch

DRAM Growth in Smartphones to Reach Torrid 164 Percent in 2011


DRAM expansion in smartphones will be threefold that of entire DRAM market
Shipments of dynamic random access memory (DRAM) for use in smartphones is set for remarkable triple-digit growth this year, outpacing the expansion of the entire DRAM market by a factor of three, according to an IHS iSuppli DRAM Dynamics brief from information and analysis provider IHS.

DRAM shipments in smartphone handsets, as measured in 1 gigabit-equivalent units, is expected to post 164.4 percent growth in 2011—the result of high memory densities in smartphones, along with ever-rising sales of smartphones to consumers. DRAM growth in smartphones will continue to be very strong in the years to come, with unit shipments up 109.8 percent in 2012 and 75.9 percent in 2013. And even in 2015, growth will continue to be robust, with the expansion exceeding 40 percent.

Compared to this year’s stunning DRAM growth in smartphones, an expansion amounting to a less spec­tacular 50 percent is expected for the total DRAM market, which is dominated by sales to the PC business.

Such disparity between the two sectors explains why DRAM manufacturers are aggressively vying for a bigger piece of the mobile DRAM market. While DRAM also is used in devices like tablets and PCs, smartphones will continue to command an increasing portion of the DRAM market. Smartphones’ share of total DRAM consumption will rise to 7.8 percent this year, up from 4.4 percent in 2010. This share will rise to 11 percent next year and then climb to 13.6 percent in 2013, 15.0 percent in 2014 and 15.9 percent in 2015.

Four Smartphones Profiled
In at least four recently released smartphones, dissections by the IHS iSuppli Teardown Service re­vealed the devices had larger and faster memory.

The Xperia Play from Sony Ericsson, for instance, had 512 megabytes (MB) of DRAM, while the Galaxy Indulge from Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd featured 576MB. The iPhone 4 from Apple Inc. had DRAM amounting to 544MB, while the Thunderbolt from HTC had the highest level at 768MB. In comparison, a device released last year, such as the SGH T939—an Android-operated, touch-screen smartphone from Samsung—had DRAM content of 128MB.

The use of discrete DRAM chips—along with a standardized approach that also included utilizing NAND flash—was only one way in which the four smartphones employed memory. Other memory configurations for the devices included the use of multichip packages (MCP) that integrated DRAM and NAND; as well as a blend that used discrete chips and MCPs into the same phone.

For their part, manufacturers have been keen to maintain overall costs even as they optimized per­formance. As such, the share of memory expenditures in the general bills of materials (BOM) for smart-phones stood at an average of 15.7 percent for the four devices. The only phone to exceed that margin was the iPhone 4, whose memory cost came to an outsized 22.1 percent of that device’s total BOM..

But despite manufacturers’ efforts to rein in memory costs, average DRAM loading for smartphones is set to increase in the years to come. Projections call for the average smartphone DRAM density to reach 715MB next year, up 55 percent from 461MB in 2011, with no near-term limitations on growth.

The current DRAM “sweet spot” for smartphones is at a density of 4 gigabits (Gb), present in 44.0 percent of all smartphone devices, compared to 39.6 percent for 2Gb and 12.5 percent for 8Gb.

By next year, however, 8Gb will take over as the sweet spot and be found in 49.8 percent of all smartphones—compared to just 19.1 percent for 4Gb and 28.4 percent for 2Gb.

Read More > Smartphones, Smart Memory Markets