EL SEGUNDO, CA — Shipments of dynamic random access memory (DRAM) for use in smartphones is set for remarkable triple-digit growth this year, outpacing the expansion of the entire DRAM market by a factor of three, according to an IHS iSuppli DRAM Market Brief from information and analysis provider IHS (NYSE: IHS).
DRAM shipments in smartphone handsets, as measured in 1 gigabit-equivalent units, are expected to rise to 1.7 billion in 2011, up 157.2 percent from 672.0 million in 2010. By 2015, shipments will increase to 13.9 billion units, up 700 percent from 2011.
“DRAM usage in smartphones is rising at a rapid clip, as a result of high memory densities in these devices, along with ever-rising sales to consumers,” said Clifford Leimbach, analyst for memory demand forecasting at IHS. “Compared to this year’s stunning DRAM growth in smartphones, a shipment expansion amounting to a much less spectacular 50 percent is expected for the total DRAM market, which is dominated by sales to the PC business. The major growth disparity between the two sectors explains why DRAM manufacturers are aggressively vying for a bigger piece of the cellphone DRAM market. While DRAM also is used in devices like tablets and PCs, smartphones will continue to command an increasing portion of the DRAM market.”
Smartphones’ share of total DRAM consumption will grow to 7.6 percent this year, up from 4.4 percent in 2010. This will expand to 10.6 percent next year and then climb to 13.4 percent in 2013, 14.9 percent in 2014 and 16.0 percent in 2015.
Four smartphones profiled
In at least four recently released smartphones, dissections by the IHS iSuppli Teardown Service revealed the devices had larger quantities of DRAM.
The Xperia PLAY from Sony Ericsson, for instance, had 512 megabytes (MB) of DRAM, while the Galaxy Indulge from Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd featured 576MB. The iPhone 4 from Apple Inc. had DRAM amounting to 544MB, while the Thunderbolt from HTC had the highest level at 768MB. In comparison, a device released last year, such as the SGH T939—an Android-operated, touch-screen smartphone from Samsung—had DRAM content of only 128MB.
The use of discrete DRAM chips—along with a standardized approach that also included utilizing NAND flash—was only one way in which the four smartphones employed memory. Other memory configurations for the devices included the use of multichip packages (MCP) that integrated DRAM and NAND; as well as a blend that used discrete chips and MCPs into the same phone.
For their part, manufacturers have been keen to maintain overall costs even as they optimize performance.
As such, the share of memory expenditures in the general bills of materials (BOM) for smartphones stood at an average of 15.7 percent for the four devices. The only phone to exceed that margin was the iPhone 4, whose memory cost came to an outsized 22.1 percent of that device’s total BOM.
But despite manufacturers’ efforts to rein in memory costs, average DRAM density in smartphones is set to increase in the years to come. Projections call for the average smartphone DRAM density to reach 715MB next year, up 55 percent from 461MB in 2011, with no near-term limitations on growth.