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Growth Decelerates in DRAM Loading for PCs as Memory Requirements Change

17 March 2013

In another sign that the post-PC era has arrived, the steady increase in performance that has justified the computer upgrade cycle and fueled the long-term growth of the market has stalled during the past few years, as evidenced by the slowing increase in dynamic random access memory (DRAM) content in notebooks and desktops since 2007.

Dynamic random access memory (DRAM) loading in PCs has been growing at a much more measured pace since peaking six years ago, mainly because laptops and desktops either feature design constraints or make no new demands on performance, according to an IHS iSuppli DRAM Dynamics market brief from information and analytics provider IHS.

While DRAM content in PCs has grown nonstop and will continue to rise, the growth rate for DRAM loading has fluctuated over the course of time. For instance, growth climbed steadily from 2004 at 32.8 percent for the next three years, reaching the high point in 2007 at 56.1 percent. But expansion rates have fallen since then, declining from 49.9 percent in 2008 to 21.4 percent as recently as 2012. This year, growth will hit a low of 17.4 percent, before rebounding slightly in 2014 to 21.3 percent and then continuing in the 20.0 percent range until at least 2016.

The decline in DRAM growth rate in PCs is due to the oversized impact of desktops and laptops. In the case of laptops, for instance, battery performance and space restrictions have forced PC makers to consider various aspects when designing the machines, and DRAM chips have had to share space on the motherboard with other semiconductors that control the laptop's other functions. Simply incorporating more DRAM bits would have limited other machine capabilities-a tradeoff that PC makers have been unwilling to make.

For desktops, the explanation on why DRAM bit growth has slowed is different. Here DRAM has become less of a bottleneck in PC performance, tempering the need to increase DRAM bits in each system to ostensibly improve system performance. Moreover, a change in PC operating system requirements has had the effect of limiting growth in DRAM loading. The latest version of Windows, in particular, has not required a step up in DRAM content, unlike previous Windows system versions where increased DRAM loading was explicitly required for desktops to avail of optimal performance that came with a new OS.

All told, PCs no longer need to consume DRAM like they did in the previous times, when failure to increase DRAM in either desktop or laptop could have resulted in a direct impediment to PC performance. The new normal now calls for a different state of affairs, in which DRAM PC loading won't be growing at rates like years past.

DRAM sweet spot for PCs offers best cost savings for PC OEMs

A look at the current offerings of the Top 5 PC original equipment manufacturers (OEM) by shipment shows that the 4-gigabyte (GB) module is the current sweet spot for both desktops and laptops. The Top 5 PC OEMs include Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Dell, Acer and Asus, which together account for 62 percent of the PC market.

At present, the 4GB module offers the best cost savings compared to other DRAM modules. A 4-gigabit Double Data Rate 3 (DDR3) chip costs $0.60 per gigabit-$0.08 less than the next value, a 2-gigabit DDR3, which sells for a higher $0.68 per gigabit despite the lower capacity. The cost savings found in chip prices apply to entire DRAM modules as well, which means that legacy parts are actually more expensive than current higher-bit modules at a per-bit basis.

As a result, 4GB DRAM modules provide the best pricing, and PC brands are offering the vast majority of their products in the 4GB sweet spot.

Read More >> DRAM Loading in PCs Growing at a Slower Pace

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