The aftermath of the pandemic continues to dominate economies and daily lives worldwide. Like many markets now, those for our commodity memories like DRAM and NAND/NOR Flash are seeing turbulent conditions. On the other hand, we expect strong emerging trends to drive significant new demands for specialist memories such as Secure Flash. At the same time, the momentum behind automotive electrification – striving for sustainability – should provide an additional boost to demand.
During the pandemic, sales of home electronics, as well as smartphones and PCs, increased significantly. As people were obliged to live and work within the confines of their homes, there was a surge in investment in PCs, office technology, and televisions to consume streaming services. These trends have already subsided, consequently driving down demand for commodity memories.
On the other hand, demand for memory in servers, data centre equipment, automotive electrification, industrial digital transformation, and infrastructure-related networking have remained strong in 2022.
The chip shortage induced by the short-term demands connected with the pandemic, including longer transportation times and system makers’ double bookings, has been considerably eased. Today, only a few niche power-related components continue to struggle with excessively long lead times. In contrast, the availability and delivery times of most memory ICs have returned more or less to normal.
Overall, the memory market is currently experiencing oversupply due to the impact of high inflation in major economies, which has driven down consumer and business demand. The market for DRAM (per bit) had been predicted to grow at more than 15% CAGR in 2022, although figures from TrendForce, a respected analyst, now suggest growth will be 8.3%. The reduction in global demand has translated into a drastic reduction in the DRAM price.
Influential memory technologies
From a technical standpoint, next-generation technologies like DDR5 are moving into the mainstream while today’s market trends are demanding greater density across the board. Whereas typical PCs have shipped with between 4Gb to 8Gb of DDR4 per machine on board, this is now increasing either 8Gb or 16Gb while at the same time advancing to DDR5.
The most prominent DRAM vendors focused on the high-volume markets for PCs, servers, and smartphones are moving with this trend and dropping earlier DRAM generations and 4Gb DDR4 modules. Their moves could compromise supply for makers of other products, who may now need to consider 8Gb DDR4 modules for future designs. Winbond have invested in a new fab for 2Gb and 4Gb DDR3, which is currently in production and enables us to offer a dependable supply to designers who need them.
And, of course, influential trends like adopting the latest wireless LAN generations, WiFi 6 and coming WiFi 7, are driving up the density per box. And we can add to that the burgeoning opportunities for edge computing, driven by demand for lower latency, real-time response, and greater privacy, as the IoT continues its relentless surge towards ubiquity. In smartphone cameras, current market trends are towards powerful software assistance, particularly post-processing. Automatic image manipulation, typified by the use of AI inference to improve low-light image quality, empowers users to get professional results and so is a trendy addition to the specification of the latest smartphones from the top US, Korean, and Chinese brands. The advent of smart appliances and the general adoption of smart devices throughout all aspects of life and work are driving demands for larger numbers of memory ICs, as well as driving the pace of technological progress, moving to the latest technologies that deliver faster speed, smaller sizes, and lower power.
In addition to the trend towards increasing memory density per box, the external interfaces of these types of equipment are also moving forward in technology terms. For instance, DDR3 has become the mainstream interface in the 1Gb to 4Gb density range, which we can support thanks to our new fab. On the other hand, applications for SDRAM and PseudoSRAM (PSRAM, aka mobile RAM) memories are now adopting our advanced HYPERRAM across a wide range of densities.
Winbond have extended the density of our HYPERRAM portfolio to 256Mb and 512Mb, leveraging our advanced 25nm process while cutting standby power to as little as 35µW in hybrid sleep mode (HSM). Densities down to 32Mb and many fewer signal pins than comparable PSRAM meet the needs of wearable applications like smart watches, where low power consumption and small package sizes deliver critical advantages.
We are also active in the NAND flash segment, where the serial interface relentlessly replaces parallel interfaces in various applications. The modern SPI NAND flash enables high data rates to support demanding use cases such as sensor interfaces, data converters, and graphical user interfaces.
There are indications that demand for Security Flash will emerge strongly in 2023, sharply highlighted by the effects of the cyberwar aspect of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The world’s security agencies have confirmed that military-grade cyber weapons are in circulation, typically used to disable communication and other infrastructure systems. However, many fear damage to assets outside the conflict zone. We will probably see a much greater focus on more robust protection for connected devices of all types and locations.
We will continue to see increased Cybersecurity regulations for IoT endpoints and connected vehicles and devices to protect code, data integrity, privacy and credentials, maintain the product life cycle, and enable secure over-the-air updates.
Lastly, there is the ever-present drive for smart energy and applications such as electric vehicles, that continue to drive up demand for electronic technology and computing which manage the vehicle, support connected services, and also deal with aspects of driver assistance as more of these become mandatory - like driver-monitoring systems (DMS) in 2024-model vehicles - and moves towards higher-level autonomous-driving modes continue, raising demands for computing power and hence high-speed, high-density storage on-board the vehicle to unprecedented heights.
Author details: Johnson Chen, Senior Sales Director, Winbond