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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

2021-03-12

Impaired Shipment of Qualcomm 5G RFIC Expected to Lower 2Q21 Smartphone Production by About 5%, Says TrendForce

The Line S2 fab of Samsung in Austin, Texas sustained a power interruption, which has forced it to suspend operation since mid-February, under the impact from the winter storm. TrendForce’s latest investigations indicate that the capacity utilization rate for the entire fab is not expected to climb back to over 90% until the end of March. In particular, Samsung manufactures several products that are highly important for the production of smartphones, including the Qualcomm 5G RFIC, Samsung LSI OLED DDIC, and Samsung LSI CIS Logic IC. Supply-wise, the first two products sustained the brunt of the winter storm’s impact, and global smartphone production for 2Q21 is therefore expected to drop by about 5% as a result.

According to TrendForce’s investigations, Samsung was able to prepare for the power interruption ahead of time as the company had been forewarned by the local utility. Hence, the loss of WIP (work in progress) wafers caused by the incident was minimal. However, the delay in the resumption of full operation at the plant is expected to last more than two weeks, during which the fab will suspend its wafer input. The incident on the whole will have a definite impact on the global foundry industry that is already experiencing a serious capacity crunch. In terms of wafer input, the Qualcomm 5G RFIC, Samsung LSI OLED DDIC, and Samsung LSI CIS Logic IC account for 30%, 20%, and 15% of the Line S2’s monthly production capacity, respectively.

Of the three aforementioned products, the Qualcomm RFIC is primarily supplied to smartphone brands to be used in 5G handsets. This product is delivered to clients as part of either AP bundles or 5G modems. The winter storm’s impact on the production of the Qualcomm RFIC is expected to take place in 2Q21, resulting in a 30% decrease in 5G smartphone production for the quarter. However, TrendForce expects this incident to impair the 2Q21 production of all smartphones by only about 5%, given smartphone brands’ existing inventory of 5G AP bundles and 5G modems, in addition to the fact that smartphone brands are likely to keep up their quarterly smartphone production by increasing the production of 4G handsets to make up for the shortfall in 5G handsets. Furthermore, TrendForce expects the Line S2 fab to prioritize resuming the production of RF products ahead of other products, in turn further mitigating the winter storm’s impact on global smartphone production.

On the other hand, the Samsung LSI OLED DDIC is primarily used in Apple’s iPhone 12 series. The winter storm’s impact on these DDICs will similarly take place by the end of 2Q21. Even so, Apple likely possesses sufficient DDIC inventory, at least in the short term, since the period of peak DDIC demand for the company’s existing smartphone models has already passed. Moreover, the iPhone 12 mini may reach EOL earlier than expected due to disappointing sales. Should Apple decide to cut iPhone 12 mini production, the company will be able to further minimize the impact of OLED DDIC undersupply. Finally, as sales of the iPhone 11 (which is equipped with an LCD, instead of OLED, panel and therefore does not require OLED DDIC) have been resurging recently, Apple may increase the share of iPhone 11 in its total smartphone production in order to keep up its quarterly production volume. In light of these factors, TrendForce believes that the production volume of iPhones in 2Q21 will suffer only limited impact from OLED DDIC supply disruptions.

On the whole, although the production of 5G smartphones will face a relatively considerable challenge in 2Q21, smartphone brands will be able to keep up their quarterly production volume by raising the production share of 4G smartphones instead. TrendForce thus projects the winter storm to impair smartphone production for 2Q21 by no more than 5%, while maintaining the previous forecast of 1.36 billion units produced for 2021. However, TrendForce also does not rule out the possibility that the winter storm will lower the penetration rate of 5G smartphones in 2021 from 38%, as previously forecasted, to 36.5%.

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

2021-03-04

DRAM Revenue for 4Q20 Undergoes Modest 1.1% Increase QoQ in Light of Continued Rising Shipment and Falling Prices, Says TrendForce

Global DRAM revenue reached US$17.65 billion, a 1.1% increase YoY, in 4Q20, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. For the most part, this growth took place because Chinese smartphone brands, including Oppo, Vivo, and Xiaomi, expanded their procurement activities for components in order to seize the market shares made available after Huawei was added to the Entity List by the U.S. Department of Commerce. These procurement activities in turn provided upward momentum for DRAM suppliers’ bit shipment. However, clients in the server segment were still in the middle of inventory adjustments during this period, thereby placing downward pressure on DRAM prices. As a result, revenues of most DRAM suppliers, except for Micron, remained somewhat unchanged in 4Q20 compared to 3Q20. Micron underwent a noticeable QoQ decline in 4Q20 (which Micron counts as its fiscal 1Q21), since Micron had fewer work weeks during this period compared to the previous quarter.

Demand for PC, mobile, graphics, and consumer DRAM remains stable throughout 1Q21. As for clients in the server segment, they have now reinitiated a new round of procurement for server DRAM after adjusting their inventories during the two previous quarters (3Q20 and 4Q20). These aforementioned factors, in addition to Micron’s power outage at the start of December last year, resulted in a price hike across all DRAM product categories in 1Q21. TrendForce expects DRAM bit supply to remain unchanged and prices to enter an upturn compared with 4Q20. However, as 1Q21 is the first quarter of the upturn in the DRAM market, and demand is yet to emerge out of the off-season, any growth in bit shipment and prices is expected to be modest, with only a slight QoQ increase in global DRAM revenue compared to 4Q20.

Suppliers’ profits were constrained by persistent declines in DRAM prices in 4Q20

With regards to revenue, the performances of Korean DRAM suppliers and that of Micron once again diverged from each other in 4Q20. This difference can mostly be attributed to the fact that, as previously mentioned, Micron had 13 work weeks in 4Q20 (which it refers to as its fiscal 1Q21) compared to the previous quarter, which contained 14 work weeks and therefore was a higher base for QoQ comparison. As such, Micron’s 4Q20 DRAM bit shipment and ASP both fell short of 3Q20 figures. Conversely, although Korean suppliers likewise experienced a QoQ decline in DRAM ASP, they were able to increase their bit shipment, indicating that their client demand was recovering during this period. Samsung and SK Hynix both increased their bit shipment by a wider margin than previously expected. This was enough to offset the downward pressure on revenue caused by the decline in the two companies’ DRAM quotes. In 4Q20, Samsung and SK Hynix each recorded a 3.1% and 5.6% QoQ increase in revenue, while Micron’s revenue declined by 7.2% due to the corresponding decline in its quarterly bit shipment. Micron’s market share also subsequently fell to 23% in 4Q20. Moving to 1Q21, however, Micron is likely to catch up to its Korean competitors in terms of market share, owing to Micron’s pricing strategies, which are the most aggressive among DRAM suppliers, as well as to a general upturn in DRAM quotes.

With regards to profits, all suppliers experienced a decline in 4Q20 as a result of the 5-10% QoQ decline in DRAM ASP. In particular, Samsung’s operating profit margin fell from 41% in 3Q20 to 36% in 4Q20, while SK Hynix likewise showed a decline from 29% in 3Q20 to 26% in 4Q20. For the September-November fiscal quarter (Micron’s own fiscal 1Q21), Micron posted a similar decline in DRAM ASP compared to that of its Korean competitors, as well as a decline in operating profit margin from 25% in 3Q20 to 21% in 4Q20. Taken as a whole, DRAM suppliers were unable to make up for the drop in DRAM quotes with cost-optimization measures. Looking ahead to 1Q21, on the other hand, TrendForce expects DRAM quotes to rebound from rock bottom, in turn generating some upward momentum for suppliers’ profitability to rebound from rock bottom as well. These events will officially mark the cyclical upturn in DRAM prices. It should also be pointed out that, for instance, leading supplier Samsung still retains at least a 30% profit margin even at the lowest level of quotes, while this figure is closer to 10% for Nanya Tech, which is comparatively smaller in scale as a company. These margins suggest that the DRAM industry will be able to maintain its profitability due to its oligopolistic nature, at least prior to the entrance of emergent suppliers from China.

With regards to Taiwanese suppliers, Nanya Tech also increased its bit shipment while its quotes fell compared to 3Q20, resulting in a slight QoQ decline of 0.7% in revenue in 4Q20. Along with falling quotes, Nanya Tech’s operating profit margins narrowed from 13.5% in 3Q20 to 8.8% in 4Q20. As for Winbond, NOR Flash products accounted for an increasing percentage of its total revenue, mostly at the expense of its NAND Flash business, in 4Q20. However, its DRAM revenue underwent a slight QoQ growth of 0.8% during this period due to an early upturn of the specialty DRAM market. This growth was relatively limited due to Winbond’s limited DRAM bit supply rather than low client demand. PSMC’s DRAM revenue includes only its in-house PC DRAM products. The company’s DRAM revenue declined by about 1.7% QoQ in 4Q20 because its production capacity for DRAM was crowded out by other logic ICs in relatively high demand, including PMICs (power management IC), driver ICs, and CIS.

TrendForce indicates that, going forward, the three Taiwanese suppliers are still placing a heavy emphasis on their strongest products while furthering their own respective competitive advantages in the industry. For instance, Nanya Tech has been actively developing its 1A/1Bnm process technologies, with the goal of submitting samples to its partners by the end of 2021. Winbond, on the other hand, is continuing to improve the yield rate of its new 25nm DRAM process technology and expand its production capacity to meet the high demand for NOR Flash memories. Finally, PSMC will continue to maintain fully loaded wafer capacity for logic ICs, which are products with relatively higher gross margins, given the high demand for such products at the moment.


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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