DRAM


2021-04-28

DRAM Prices Projected to Rise by 18-23% QoQ in 2Q21 Owing to Peak Season Demand, Says TrendForce

TrendForce’s investigations find that DRAM suppliers and major PC OEMs are currently participating in the critical period of negotiating with each other over contract prices for 2Q21. Although these negotiations have yet to be finalized, the ASP of mainstream DDR4 1G*8 2666Mbps modules has already increased by nearly 25% QoQ as of now, according to data on ongoing transactions.

This represents a higher price hike than TrendForce’s prior forecast of “nearly 20%”. On the other hand, prices are likewise rising across various DRAM product categories in 2Q21, including DDR3/4 specialty DRAM, mobile DRAM, graphics DRAM, and in particular server DRAM, which is highly related to PC DRAM and is therefore also undergoing a higher price hike than previously expected. TrendForce is therefore revising up its forecast of overall DRAM price hike for 2Q21 from 13-18% QoQ to 18-23% QoQ instead. However, the actual increase in prices of various DRAM product categories will depend on the production capacities allocated to the respective products by DRAM suppliers.

PC DRAM prices are now expected to undergo a 23-28% QoQ growth in 2Q21 due to the increased production of notebook computers

PC DRAM contract prices are rising by a higher margin than previously expected for 2Q21 primarily because major PC OEMs are now aggressively expanding their production targets. Furthermore, as second quarters are generally peak seasons for notebook production, PC ODMs are now estimated to increase their quarterly production of notebook computers by about 7.9% QoQ in 2Q21. Finally, with regards to the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccination rates remain relatively low across the globe, meaning WFH and distance education are likely to persist and create continued demand for notebook computers, thereby further expanding the hike in PC DRAM prices.

DRAM Suppliers will enjoy increased bargaining power in price negotiations as server DRAM prices are expected to increase by 20-25% QoQ in 2Q21

Apart from the issue of short DRAM supply, server DRAM procurement in 2Q21 has benefitted from the positive turn in the view of enterprises toward IT investments as well as the stronger-than-expected demand related to cloud migration. There was already a supply gap in 1Q21, and these developments will further drive up demand in 2Q21. Hence, difficulty has increased for buyers and suppliers in reaching an agreement on price. Suppliers are in a more advantageous position in contract negotiations since the DRAM market is an oligopoly. Therefore, compared to the previous forecast of nearly 20%, TrendForce is now expecting server DRAM contract prices to increase by 20-25% QoQ in 2Q21.

For more information on reports and market data from TrendForce’s Department of Semiconductor Research, please click here, or email Ms. Latte Chung from the Sales Department at lattechung@trendforce.com

2021-03-18

Intel Responds to AMD’s Challenge with Ice Lake CPUs as Competition in Server Market Intensifies, Says TrendForce

The x86 architecture remained the mainstream server architecture at the end of 2020, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. In the x86 server segment, Intel took the lead with a 92% market share thanks to the wide-ranging positioning of its solutions. On the other hand, AMD saw its market share rise to nearly 8% in 4Q20, which represents a 3% growth compared to 4Q19. Other server solutions, based on non-x86 architectures, comprised an insignificant portion of the market. TrendForce projects total server shipment to increase by 21% QoQ in 2Q21 owing to the release of Intel’s new Ice Lake platform.

Notably, edge computing, which involves low-latency data processing, has risen to the forefront of server applications in response to the rise of AI and 5G networks. Ideal use cases of edge computing include autonomous driving, IIoT, and other proprietary commercial applications, with relevant vendors already scrambling to deliver solutions aimed at these use cases. With regards to architecture, ARMv8-based solutions are the most suitable for edge computing applications in terms of both cost and power consumption. With the ongoing 5G commercialization, ARMv8 solutions have been occupying a growing share within the total shipment of all ARM solutions, and North American data centers have been the most aggressive in adopting these solutions. TrendForce expects ARMv8 solutions to occupy a respectable share of the low power consumption edge computing market in 2023-2025.

With the upcoming ramp-up in production, Intel’s new Ice Lake CPUs will likely account for 40% of Intel CPU shipment in 4Q21

As previously mentioned, Intel’s x86 CPUs are the mainstream among server platforms. With regards to Intel’s server roadmap, the company has started shipping a small batch of Whitley Ice Lake CPUs to its clients in the data center segment in 1Q21, while bulk shipment to branded server manufacturers is expected to take place in 2Q21. At the same time, Intel expects Whitley Ice Lake CPUs to account for about 40% of Intel’s CPU shipment in 4Q21, although adoption by buyers remains to be seen.

In terms of specifications, the Whitley platform allows Ice Lake CPUs to be compatible with the fastest DDR4 standards and therefore provides a major improvement in both data transfer rate (MT/s) and maximum capacity of DRAM supported per CPU. The Whitley platform will effectively increase the average DRAM storage capacity of servers, leading to faster and more advanced virtualization applications while improving data streaming performances in data centers. On the whole, not only does the Whitley platform increase the Ice Lake CPU’s cloud computing capabilities, but it also allows Intel to catch up to AMD’s Rome platform, in turn further strengthening Intel’s leadership position in the server market. As such, buyers will likely adopt the Whitley platform given the increased server demand generated by the post-pandemic new normal. Incidentally, although AMD’s mass-produced server solutions are slightly superior to competing offerings from Intel in terms of specs and pricing, AMD will not make significant adjustments in its upcoming Milan platform. AMD will therefore unlikely be a factor that propels the overall bit demand for server DRAM.

In the competition among server CPUs with respect to the data transfer rate, the Whitley Ice Lake is Intel’s first server processor platform that supports PCIe Gen 4. Although AMD was already mass producing server CPUs featuring PCIe Gen 4 support in 2020, Intel will likely be more effective in leveraging this advantage across the application ecosystem. The reason is that Intel is the long-time leader in server CPUs and controls the lion’s share of the market. Furthermore, Intel aims to synergize its latest server CPUs with the second generation of its Optane SSDs. Working together, they are expected to significantly enhance the computing performance of servers for the applications that will become mainstream in the future (e.g., AI and machine learning). TrendForce believes that the penetration rate of PCIe Gen 4 will rise rapidly in 2H21 as Intel and AMD step up shipments of CPUs that support this interface.

Regarding the implementation of the support for DDR5 and PCIe Gen 5, both Intel and AMD have already begun sending samples of related products to their clients in 1Q21. Intel plans to begin mass production for server CPUs belonging to the Eagle Stream platform at the start of 2022. Since the Eagle Stream is designed to support PCIe Gen 5, it will provide another significant boost to the data transfer rate. As for AMD, it plans to commence mass production for server CPUs based on the Genoa platform in 2Q22.

For more information on reports and market data from TrendForce’s Department of Semiconductor Research, please click here, or email Ms. Latte Chung from the Sales Department at lattechung@trendforce.com

2021-03-16

PC DRAM Contract Prices Projected to Undergo Remarkable 13-18% Increase QoQ in 2Q21 Owing to High Demand from End Products and Data Centers, Says TrendForce

At the moment, the DRAM market has formally entered a new cycle of rising prices, and 2Q21 will see larger QoQ price increases compared with 1Q21, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. Looking ahead to 2Q21, shipments of various end products are expected to remain fairly strong. At the same time, clients in the data center segment will resume large-scale procurement. Hence, DRAM buyers across different application segments will be under pressure to stockpile. After experiencing QoQ increases of 3-8% for 1Q21, the average contract prices of different kinds of DRAM products are forecasted to rise more significantly by 13-18% QoQ for 2Q21.

PC DRAM contract prices are projected to rise by 13-18% QoQ due to urgent demand from notebook manufacturers driven by bullish notebook market

Notebook computer production on the whole will maintain a fairly healthy momentum in 2Q21. The demand for PC DRAM products therefore continues to grow as PC OEMs have been raising their annual production targets. Since buyers of PC DRAM products are now carrying a relatively low level of inventory (i.e., around 4-5 weeks) and anticipating that DRAM prices will keep rising in the foreseeable future, they have been further ramping up their DRAM procurement activities. With regards to supply, the three dominant DRAM suppliers retain a conservative approach for raising bit output. The production capacity share of PC DRAM could experience a squeeze in the future because of robust demand in other application segments. For instance, some smartphone brands continue to vigorously stock up on memory components. Also, the demand for server DRAM products are expected to warm up rapidly in 2Q21. All in all, contract prices of PC DRAM products will register significant QoQ increases of 13-18% for 2Q21.

Server DRAM prices are projected to rise by nearly 20% QoQ due to cyclical upturn in server shipments

With regards to the demand for server DRAM, the second quarter is traditionally the peak season for server shipments while also being a fairly busy period within the year for the procurement of other kinds of DRAM products. Hence, the situation of different sources of demand competing for DRAM suppliers’ production capacity becomes more evident in this period. TrendForce expects server DRAM buyers to be more aggressive in inventory building during 2Q21 and begin to raise the procurement quantity on a monthly basis. This, in turn, will sustain the uptrend in server DRAM prices. With regards to supply, the server DRAM production capacities of the three dominant suppliers will still not return to the level that existed in the middle of 2020, although these suppliers will slightly increase the share of server DRAM in their overall DRAM production capacities in 2Q21. In addition to the peak-season effect, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to influence server manufacturers as well. Server manufacturers have intentionally extended their component inventories by several more weeks because of the pandemic-induced uncertainties. TrendForce is therefore not discounting the possibility of server DRAM contract prices registering a QoQ increase as large as around 20% for 2Q21.

Mobile DRAM contract prices are projected to remain bullish due to smartphone brands’ expanded procurement activities in advance of market risks

With regards to mobile DRAM demand, smartphone brands will not relax their inventory-building efforts in 2Q21 as the production capacity crunch in the foundry market has made them more vigilant in maintaining a stable component supply. The quarterly total smartphone production volume for 2Q21 is forecasted to exceed 300 million units. Although the three dominant DRAM suppliers have yet to adjust their product mixes for 2Q21, they will probably have to later on because the ASPs of server DRAM and other kinds of DRAM products are rising faster than the ASP of mobile DRAM. Hence, the production capacity share of mobile DRAM could be scaled back so that the production capacity share of server DRAM could grow. Additionally, the behavior of mobile DRAM buyers has been influenced by the cyclical upturn in prices and the anxiety over a tightening of supply in the future. They will continue to procure in large quantities so as to avoid the risks of a supply shortage and larger price hikes. This means that mobile DRAM prices will be on the uptrend as buyers stock up in advance.

Graphics DRAM contract prices are projected to rise by 10-15% QoQ due to high demand for graphics cards from cryptocurrency miners

With regards to demand, the three growth pillars of the graphics DRAM market are graphics cards, game consoles, and cryptocurrencies. At the same time, the mining of various cryptocurrencies has become a lucrative activity. Besides graphics cards that represent the more conventional mining technologies, miners are buying notebooks for this purpose as well. Sensing opportunities, Nvidia has launched CMP (cryptocurrency mining processor) cards and thereby taken up more of DRAM suppliers’ resources. This, in turn, has led to small- and medium-sized OEMs and ODMs experiencing a widening supply gap for graphics DRAM. With regards to supply, the three dominant DRAM suppliers have all reassigned their production capacity for graphics DRAM from GDDR5 to GDDR6, resulting in an increasingly lopsided discrepancy between the two products’ bit supplies, so there is no effective resolution to the ongoing shortage of GDDR5 products. As for GDDR6, demand remains strong as cryptocurrency mining is keeping the demand for graphics cards at a high level, although Nvidia is hogging much of the existing production capacity for graphics DRAM. Looking ahead to 2Q21, the supply situation will still be very strained unless the values of the mainstream cryptocurrencies undergo a drastic change. TrendForce forecasts that contract prices of graphics DRAM will rise by about 10-15% QoQ during this period.

Consumer DRAM contract prices are projected to rise by up to 20% QoQ due to intensifying shortage

With regards to consumer DRAM demand, the demand for TVs, set-top boxes, and networking devices remains strong due to the prevailing stay-at-home economy. Additionally, the build-out of 5G infrastructure and the rapid migration to Wi-Fi 6 contribute to the brisk demand for low-density consumer DRAM products. The supply gap in consumer DRAM market is already significant at this moment and will likely widen in 2Q21. With regards to supply, the overall production capacity for DDR3 products is gradually shrinking. The three dominant suppliers are migrating to the more advanced processes such as the 1Z-nm and 1-alpha nm while reassigning the wafer production capacity of the older processes such as the 20nm and 25nm to CMOS image sensors. Also, Taiwan-based suppliers have allocated some wafer production capacity to products with higher margins (e.g., logic ICs and Flash memory). As a result, the consumer DRAM market is in a rare situation of experiencing a supply shortage and a demand rebound at the same time. There is a strong likelihood that prices of some consumer DRAM chips will register a QoQ increase of almost 20% for 2Q21 contracts, and there is room for further hikes following quarterly contract negotiations.

For more information on reports and market data from TrendForce’s Department of Semiconductor Research, please click here, or email Ms. Latte Chung from the Sales Department at lattechung@trendforce.com

2021-03-10

Automotive Applications Projected to Account for More Than 3% of Total DRAM Bit Consumption in 2024 Owing to Autonomous Vehicle Industry Growth, Says TrendForce

There are four major categories of automotive DRAM applications, including infotainment, ADAS, telematics, and D-clusters (digital instrument clusters), according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. Of the four categories, infotainment applications require the highest DRAM content, although DRAM consumption per vehicle across all four categories remains relatively low at the moment. In contrast to ADAS, infotainment applications present a lower barrier to entry for companies, since current legislations and automotive safety standards governing infotainment are not as stringent, making infotainment a highly attractive market for various semiconductor companies and memory suppliers. TrendForce expects infotainment to remain the primary driver of automotive DRAM consumption through 2024, while all four automotive DRAM applications will together likely comprise more than 3% of total DRAM consumption as autonomous driving technology progresses toward higher levels. As such, automotive DRAM applications represents an emerging sector whose potential for growth should not be underestimated.

TrendForce further indicates that the safety requirements of automotive parts are far higher than those of consumer electronics in terms of both quality and durability. As a result, the release of new vehicle models may take up to 3-5 years from development and verification to release. Vehicles still under development are therefore likely to greatly surpass existing models in terms of both memory content and specifications.

Infotainment will comprise the majority of automotive DRAM consumption, while total automotive DRAM consumption is still relatively low

Infotainment applications represent the highest bit consumption among the major automotive DRAM applications, due to the computing demand of basic media entertainment functionalities in vehicles now. However, most vehicles with these functionalities require only about 1-2GB (gigabytes) of DRAM, which is the current mainstream, since infotainment applications are still relatively basic. As infotainment systems evolve towards higher image qualities and higher video bitrates, solutions requiring 4GB in DRAM content are also under development, with high-end systems transitioning to 8GB in DRAM content. On the other hand, given the close viewing distance involved in automotive infotainment, video bitrates must be sufficiently high to minimize lag. DRAM specifications for infotainment applications are therefore gradually shifting from DDR3 2/4Gb (gigabits) to LPDDR4 8Gb in order to satisfy the high data transfer speed and bandwidth required to achieve a sufficiently high video bitrate and optimal viewing experience.

With regards to ADAS, development is currently divided into two architectures: centralized vs. decentralized (or distributed) systems. Decentralized systems include such devices as reverse parking sensors, which require about 2/4Gb of DRAM. Centralized systems, however, require 2/4GB of DRAM, since data collected from various sensors located throughout the vehicle are transferred to and computed in a central control unit in centralized ADAS. Most vehicles with autonomous driving capabilities currently available on the market are still equipped with ADAS levels 1-2 and therefore require relatively low DRAM content. Going forward, as the development of autonomous driving technologies moves to level 3 and beyond, along with the potential inclusion of AI functionalities, vehicles will need to be able to integrate and process enormous amounts of data collected from sensors in real-time, as well as perform immediate decision-making with the collected data. Given the high bandwidth required for such operations, there will be a corresponding increase in automotive demand for higher-spec DRAM as well, and automotive DRAM for ADAS applications is expected to transition from DDR3 to LPDDR4/4X and even LPDDR5 or GDDR5/HBM later on, though this transition will require more time before it can take place, due to existing regulations.

The mainstream memory products used for telematics, or automotive communication systems, are MCP (Multi Chip Package) solutions. Due to the frequency and compatibility requirements of baseband processors contained in these systems, all telematics applications require the use of LPDRAM. As V2V and V2X gradually become necessities in the auto industry, automakers will place a high importance on memory bandwidth, meaning automotive DRAM for telematics will gradually shift from mainstream LPDDR2 solutions to LPDDR4/LPDDR5. Even so, the growth of telematics will depend on the pace of global 5G infrastructure build-out, since telematics requires 5G networks for fast peer-to-peer connections. As for D-clusters, DRAM bit consumption per vehicle for this application category comes to either 2Gb or 4Gb, depending on the individual vehicle’s degree of digitization for its instrumental panel. However, DRAM consumption for D-clusters is not expected to undergo significant future growths, and D-clusters may potentially be merged with infotainment into a single centralized system going forward.

For more information on reports and market data from TrendForce’s Department of Semiconductor Research, please click here, or email Ms. Latte Chung from the Sales Department at lattechung@trendforce.com

2021-03-09

Persistent Shortage Results in Near 7% MoM Increase in Average Contract Price of Specialty DDR3 4Gb Chips in February, Says TrendForce

As the three dominant DRAM suppliers (Samsung, SK Hynix, and Micron) are currently experiencing a shortage in their production capacities, the corresponding shortage situation in the DRAM market has yet to be resolved, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. Taking advantage of the fact that the whole DRAM market has entered a period of cyclical upturn in 1Q21, DRAM suppliers have significantly raised quotes for specialty DRAM products. This extraordinary development has led to price hikes that are almost double digits for some specialty DRAM chips. Furthermore, the magnitude of the price hike especially widens for products belonging to the lower part of the density range and the more niche applications. Looking at MoM changes in contract prices of specialty DRAM products for February, DDR2 and DDR3 chips saw the largest price hikes. Prices of DDR4 chips also went up due to the influence of the rising quotes for DDR3 chips. The average contract price of DDR3 4Gb chips, which are still mainstream for specialty applications, jumped 6.8% MoM.

As for DDR3 2Gb chips that are primarily promoted by Taiwan-based suppliers, TrendForce indicates that there is not enough supply even as quotes are being offered. With this situation becoming the norm, the price range (i.e., the difference between the high and low prices) has also expanded dramatically. The average contract price of DDR3 2Gb chips rose by nearly 9% MoM in February. Samsung significantly raised quotes for DDR4 4Gb chips in response to the sharp upswing in prices of DDR3 chips. The low and average prices of DDR4 4Gb chips for specialty applications both climbed around 6% MoM. The average price of DDR4 8Gb chips went up by around 4% MoM as the price trend of this product aligns with the general price trends of mainstream PC DRAM and server DRAM products. However, it should be pointed out that the hikes in contract prices of specialty DRAM chips were mainly the result of the adjustments made to monthly contract deals and thus reflected the market situation of February. By contrast, prices held steady for quarterly lock-in deals with tier-1 clients.

While the three dominant DRAM suppliers have been slowing down their DDR3 manufacturing, Taiwanese suppliers are constantly adjusting their capacity allocation to maximize profits

With demand getting hotter in the specialty DRAM market, DDR3 products are starting to surpass DDR4 products and logic ICs in profit margin. Consequently, DRAM suppliers are also changing their strategies. Looking at South Korean suppliers, Samsung will continue shifting the wafer production capacity of Line 13 to CMOS image sensors over the long term. However, this reassignment has now been scaled down for this year due to the recent surge in specialty DRAM prices. Likewise, SK Hynix will keep the DRAM production capacity of its older fab M10 relatively constant through 2021 after reducing it in 2020. As for Micron, it has raised the yield rates of the 1Z-nm and 1-alpha processes, so the output shares of products based on these more advanced technologies will gradually expand. Since the available fab space in Taiwan is limited, Micron will relocate the 20nm and more mature processes to Fab 6 in the US. In sum, the output of DDR3 products from the three dominant suppliers will continue to shrink, but the pace of the reduction is now slower than originally expected.

Regarding Taiwan-based suppliers, Nanya has shifted some 20nm and 30nm production capacity from DDR4 products back to DDR3 products. Winbond has been focusing on Flash products in the recent years, and its DRAM production capacity will remain fairly limited until the completion of its new fab in Kaohsiung. Nevertheless, Winbond is concentrating its DRAM production efforts on low-density DDR2 and DDR3 products (i.e., 1Gb and 2Gb chips). It actually has the advantage of being able to raise prices as its market share for low-density products is fairly large. As for PSMC, it has been focusing on foundry manufacturing of logic ICs for a while. However, with prices now rising for foundry manufacturing of DDR3 products, PSMC now wants to shift some wafer production capacity back to DRAM. Going forward, the three Taiwan-based suppliers will keep adjusting their capacity allocation strategies in accordance with changes in the profit margins of different products. Nevertheless, even as suppliers are now changing their product mixes to take advantage of the latest market situation, TrendForce projects that specialty DRAM products will be in undersupply at least through 1H21. The magnitudes of price hikes for various types of specialty DRAM products will depend on suppliers’ capacity allocation strategies.

For more information on reports and market data from TrendForce’s Department of Semiconductor Research, please click here, or email Ms. Latte Chung from the Sales Department at lattechung@trendforce.com

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