DRAM Market Fights, China Takes Power

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Date: 2018-03-12

Recently, research firm IC Insights warned that DRAM prices are soaring. China's rising star is expected to take advantage of the opportunity to ease the demand that has been suppressed.


Looking at the historical situation, the DRAM market is the most volatile part of the main IC product segment market. In the past two years, the DRAM market fell by 8% in 2016 and by 77% in 2017. This is a good example.


Over the past 30 years, the price of DRAM has continued to fall. During the 34 years from 1978 to 2012, the average price per bit of DRAM has declined at an average annual rate of 33%. However, from 2012 to 2017, the annual average price per bit of DRAM has shrunk to 3%. By 2017, DRAM prices fell before the reversal, reversing a 47% increase, the largest increase since 1978.


From the perspective of the increase in the number of DRAM bits, the number of DRAM bits increased by 40% in 2016 and 20% in 2017. As shown in Figure 1, during the nine months from May 2017 to January 2018, the average annual growth rate of DRAMs is only 13%. In 2018, the number of DRAM bits will grow by 20%.


From January 2017 to January 2018, the monthly price of DRAM per gigabyte has been rising sharply. Compared with January 2017, the price has increased by 47% in January 2018. There is no doubt that electronic system manufacturers are currently scrambling to adjust and adapt to the soaring memory prices.


DRAM is usually considered an oil-like commodity. Like most commodities, product demand is elastic, which means that price increases will curb demand, while lower prices will increase and create new uses. For example, when oil prices are low, many consumers buy large-scale suvs because there is little to worry about the efficiency of using gallons of gasoline. However, when oil prices rise, consumers often choose smaller or alternative energy sources (such as hybrid or all-electric).


From January 2017 to January 2018, the correlation coefficient between the per-bit price of DRAM and the annual increase in the number of bits is -0.88. Therefore, although system manufacturers have not reduced the amount of DRAM used in current electronic devices due to price increases, there are many rumors that some smart phone manufacturers will reduce DRAM in the next generation of models. DRAM dropped from 5GB to 4GB.


IC Insights believes that in 2018, the major suppliers of DRAM should be careful, and if shareholders are more happy, they will further alienate the DRAM customer base. If start-up Chinese DRAM makers can launch a competitive product in the next few years, DRAM users may flock to these new suppliers to try to get rid of the current upward pressure on prices. The current DRAM makers may suffer heavy retaliation.


Violet cooperation with Intel can reduce the gap in memory technology for three years?


South Korean media businesskorea revealed in recent days that Tsinghua Unisplendour is working with Intel to develop 3D NAND flash memory chips. According to reports, according to the contract between the two parties, Intel decided to first provide wafers for NAND flash memory chips, and then provide 64-layer 3D NAND flash memory chips. With Intel's support, Tsinghua Unisplendour's flash memory products not only increase its competitiveness in sales, but also increase its brand awareness in the market.


This kind of flash memory technology is from IMFlash, a joint venture between Intel and Micron. However, by the beginning of next year, the two parties will end cooperation and optimize their own products and services independently. At the same time, Intel will sell almost all of its shares to Micron. If completely independent will inevitably greatly affect the capacity and supply, and the current flash memory market demand continues to be high, so Intel urgently needs a new partner.


Violet is a key target for the development of the semiconductor industry in China. In the next five years, China will invest 1 trillion yuan in the semiconductor industry. The goal is to increase the semiconductor self-sufficiency rate to 70% by 2025. Ziguang naturally plays an extremely crucial role. Currently, Violet has invested US$30 billion to build its own memory and flash memory plant in Nanjing. It has also jointly established a SSD development and manufacturing facility in Suzhou with Lite-On.


Intel ranks sixth in the NAND chip market, behind SK Hynix. Last year, Intel regained its memory chip business. After giving up the business 20 years ago, it once again entered the market, but still has a very high level of technology. The company cooperated with Micron Technology, which ranks fourth in the market share of NAND flash memory in 2012, and began manufacturing 64-layer 3D NAND flash memory chips last year. Intel is currently developing 96-layer 3D NAND chips. In addition, IMFlash is still developing a new generation of 96-layer stacked 3D flash memory, supplemented by a 10nm-level manufacturing process. Its capacity density will be double that of the current 64-layer, and it is expected to settle in the future.


Some market watchers stated that the technology gap between China's memory chip makers and their Korean counterparts, who began manufacturing 32-layer 3D NAND chips at the end of this year, is three years. This is because Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. has mass-produced 32-layer 3D NAND chips worldwide for the first time in August 2014. It was a 48-layer 3D chip in August 2015 and a 64-layer chip in December 2016. Higher level and bit-stacked 3D NAND chips require a higher level of technology. Therefore, the time and effort alone cannot reduce the technological gap.


However, through cooperation with Intel, China is expected to rapidly narrow the technology gap and threaten Korean memory chip makers including Samsung Electronics. China will be able to release high-performance 3D NAND products in advance, and it is expected to introduce low-end products in the first two to three years.


Market research firm Market Realist said: "China's cooperation with Intel may lead to excess supply and endanger the entire NAND flash memory ecosystem." An official from South Korea's semiconductor industry said: "Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix are concerned because of competitors. With NAND expansion, the market conditions may get worse, which may increase the debate among global investment institutions that the price of NAND chips will fall sharply.


In addition to Intel, China is also seeking to establish a technical cooperation relationship with Toshiba Corporation of Japan. Toshiba needs approval from China’s antitrust regulator before it can sell its memory chipsets to a consortium led by Bain Capital, including SK Hynix. Therefore, China is using this to make a replacement deal with Toshiba. The industry believes that this condition may be that China may require Toshiba to provide technical cooperation or product supply. Since the memory prices have skyrocketed in 2016, the semiconductor memory required by Chinese smart phone companies has not been adequately supplied, and these companies have been deeply dissatisfied with them.


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