EL SEGUNDO, USA: The growth of dynamic random access memory (DRAM) content in PCs—traditionally the biggest market for the memory—is beginning to decelerate due to the rising popularity of ultrabooks and cloud computing, along with weak near-term economic conditions, according to a new IHS iSuppli DRAM Market Brief report.
Average DRAM content this year in notebook computers is projected to amount 4.0 gigabytes (GB) per device—a decline from the originally more optimistic forecast of 4.2GB. The new lower forecast for DRAM content in notebooks translates into year-over growth in 2011 of just 25 percent, 6 percentage points down from the initial projection of a 31 percent expansion. This represents a significant slowdown from the average annual growth in the 40 percent range seen in the past.
The disparity between initial expectations of DRAM loading in notebooks, compared to newly adjusted forecasts to reflect the lower growth, will become even more dramatic in the next four years.
For 2012, notebook DRAM usage will fall below previous expectations by a total of 0.6GB, with average loading amounting to 5.1GB, compared to the previous forecast of 5.7GB. The shortfall compared to the previous forecast will climb to 1.0GB in 2013, surge to 1.9GB in 2014 and then peak at 2.4GB by 2015, as shown in the figure.Source: IHS iSuppli, USA.
The net result is that DRAM content in notebooks will amount to a projected 10.2GB per notebook by 2015, compared to prior forecasts that showed memory loading of 12.6GB for the year.
“Clearly, the era of PC DRAM growth of around 40 percent is a thing of the past,” said Mike Howard, principal analyst for DRAM and memory at IHS. “DRAM companies know this, and suppliers now are turning their attention toward increased production of mobile DRAM for devices like smartphones and tablets, where the next wave of growth is projected to take place. For example, the average DRAM density in media tablets this year will surge nearly 120 percent to 598 megabytes (MB), up from 274MB last year.”
Ultrabooks erode DRAM growth
“The single biggest reason for DRAM’s reduced growth outlook in notebooks during the next four years is the ultrabook,” Howard noted. “Ultrabooks currently use a maximum of 4GB of DRAM, and we believe the emphasis on form factor with minimal size and weight will lead to Ultrabooks using less DRAM on average than traditional notebooks. As ultrabook sales surge during the next four years, this will slow the growth of average DRAM usage in notebooks.”
Ultrabooks are a new type of notebook PC designed to compete more effectively against a rising wave of competition from media tablets like Apple Inc.’s iPad. PC microprocessor giant Intel Corp. increasingly is shifting its focus away from traditional notebooks and toward Ultrabooks.
Defined as notebooks that are extremely light and thin, ultrabooks measure less than 0.8 inches in thickness. And while Ultrabooks employ a full PC operating system like Microsoft Windows, they also add features now commonly found in media tablets, such as instant-on activation, always-connected wireless links, solid state drives and battery lives that are longer than eight hours on a single charge.
Cloudy conditions for DRAM
A second factor expected to stunt DRAM growth in notebook PCs is the new virtual and online storage system known as the cloud. Although cloud computing has been on the horizon for many years, it is only now that the impact of cloud technology on devices is starting to be felt.
A recent example is the Silk browser from Amazon, which is expected to hand off much of the heavy lifting for Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet to the online titan’s cloud service program.
Silk represents only one example of the increasing importance of cloud services in the future, which is sure to exert a long-term impact on DRAM loading for PCs.
Slow economy, fast-moving tablet space don’t help
In addition to the long-term impact of the ultrabook and the cloud, economic factors in the short term will curtail DRAM content growth in the notebook PC space. Given the sluggish economy, cash-strapped consumers are unlikely to splurge on extras, resulting in the PC industry churning out more budget-type devices with less DRAM to accommodate the mood of the times.
Source: IHS iSuppli, USA.