Market Watch

DRAM Bit Shipments Not Expected to Grow Even with Launch of New Windows 8 OS


Computers running Windows 8 won’t need extra DRAM, canceling out any hoped for DRAM boost

Debuts of new PC operating systems (OS) from Microsoft Corp. always have generated double-digit percentage increases in quarterly DRAM shipments—until this year, when the rollout of Windows 8 is not expected to generate a significant rise, according to a new IHS iSuppli DRAM market brief report from information and analytics provider IHS.

Global DRAM bit shipments are expected to increase by only 8 percent in the fourth quarter, with all of that growth driven by smartphones and tablets, rather than PCs. Windows 8 is not expected to generate the kind of bump in DRAM shipments seen in the past partly because of its lean hardware requirements. Even more importantly, the arrival of Windows 8 is not expected to deliver a significant increase in PC shipments in the fourth quarter of 2012 compared to the same period in 2011.

The release of a new Microsoft OS traditionally has been accompanied by more advanced system requirements, which then fuels growth in the DRAM market as more bits are shipped. At such times, DRAM shipments grow because of increased orders from PC original equipment manufacturers that need to put the additional memory into their products, as stipulated by the requirements of the new OS.

For instance, the release of Windows 3.1 caused DRAM bit shipments to increase by 29 percent in the first quarter of 1992, compared to just a 12 percent climb in the earlier quarter.  A similar heady expansion was seen with Windows 95 in light of a 23 percent advance during the fourth quarter of 1995. Prior to the surge, DRAM bit shipments had been growing on average by 11 to 14 percent in the previous four quarters.

An even bigger rise in DRAM bit shipments took place at the time of Windows 98. DRAM bit shipments rose 40 percent in the third quarter of 1998 at the time of the new OS, compared to bit shipment growth of 4 to 16 percent in the earlier four quarters.

Two of the biggest upward movements in DRAM bit shipments occurred around the time that Windows 2000 and Windows XP were introduced. Compared to their previous-quarter levels, DRAM bit shipments jumped 49 percent in the first quarter of 2000 due to Windows 2000, while DRAM bit shipments swelled 41 percent in the third quarter of 2001 because of Windows XP.

The exuberant expansion started to slow down, however, in the last two Windows operating systems. Only a 24 percent rise in DRAM bit shipments resulted with Windows Vista in the first quarter of 2007, and Windows 7 saw a further attenuation in growth, to just 18 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009. DRAM growth was slowing perceptibly, coinciding with the start of the economic recession.

Now with Windows 8, scheduled for release on October 26, DRAM bit growth in the market has decelerated even more. Shipments of DRAM are expected to increase by just 8 percent in the final quarter of this year—the lowest rate of growth among all Windows operating systems dating to Windows 3.1, covering a span of more than 20 years. Instead of additional DRAM for computers, increased uptake of the memory will be found in smartphones and tablets, accounting for the 8 percent gain of DRAM bit shipments in the fourth quarter.

Even with Windows 8 not requiring additional DRAM in PCs, another factor could have helped DRAM bit shipments to grow. Had PC sales been on the upswing, the extra DRAM going into new PCs being purchased by consumers would have helped boost overall DRAM bit shipments growth. However, that potential saving factor has not materialized, as consumers continue to stay away from new PC purchases.

All told, PCs will not be as important to the overall DRAM market moving forward. PC share in the DRAM space dipped below 50 percent for the first time earlier this year, while alternative devices using DRAM—such as smartphones and media tablets—are raising their usage and DRAM market share.

As DRAM enters an era of diversified applications, the lack of a boost from a new operating system will prove less significant. And while the highs to be derived from increased DRAM bit shipments won’t be as dramatic from quarter to quarter, the lows will also be more muted from the extenuating effects of a disparate applications base, IHS iSuppli believes.

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