Wednesday, March 22, 2000
Now that both the IDF and the Platform 2000 are over, can we make our prediction of the memory trend for the year of 2000 and 2001? The story seemed to be more confused than before. There are definitely two camps of opinions. The Intel camp is insisting on RDRAM (Rambus) technology while the non-Intel camp is going for DDR (Double Data Rate) and PC133. Each camp is boasting for their performance and price. Is there going to be a fragmented memory market? DocMemory takes a look at the situation and try to analyze with some technical logic and facts behind it.
Calculating Device Takes on Multiple Forms
To come up with the answer, we might want to look at the entire “Electronics Industry” as a whole instead of looking only at the PC sector. Indeed, the future of electronic memory is no longer just the PC as we understand it. Michael Slater of Micro Research Corporation puts it this way “The existing PC as we know of today has reached its limit of 50% penetration into the American homes. The rest of the 50% population will not be technical savvy to withstand the daily software manipulation required for today’s PC. Yet, these people also want the benefit of the Internet. They do want it in a easy to use and easy to understand non-PC format.”
The upcoming calculating devices may take on the form of a PC, Server, Sealed Box, Gaming Device, Internet Appliance, Multimedia Device, Cell Phone, a Communication Router/Switch, Mobile Device, or Palm Device. Depending on application, each type will favor a certain configuration of memory. We will spotlight on each type and explore its memory usage possibilities.
The Conventional PC
The conventional PC is quickly dividing itself into different market segments for different customers. The high end Unix work stations used for CAD (computer aided design) and CAM (computer aided manufacturing) will require large amount of highly reliable memories. These applications can only be filled with PC133 memory or DDR memory when it is available.
The IT Work Stations for executive office and financial office usually demands high performance but not extremely high bandwidth will yield to Rambus Memory. Price is not a major concern in this segment and the best looking technology wins. Customers are willing to pay for the latest technology just to be the first.
Then there is the “Value PC” market that is getting very popular. Over 80% of the conventional PC’s will be sold under this category. At under $600, users are not going after the latest state-of-art memory. Instead, they are looking for the most cost-effective way to do the job. For cost purpose, the PC100/ PC133 memory will dominate with migration to DDR memories when the DDR prices are finally settled into place.
With increasing popularity of the Internet, the “Internet Server” will be the fastest growth segment. This includes the “Cache Server”, “Redundant Server”, “Load Balancer”, and “Database Server” all requiring mission critical reliability and large amount of operating memory. The average memory in these servers are usually in the Gigabyte range with error correction, chip-kill, and hot-swap as the basic requirement. Under the circumstances, registered PC133 DIMM and the registered DDR DIMM would be the choice. The registered memory modules provide the least loading per module through the on-board clock PLL (phase lock loop) driver. Therefore, the system can be loaded with a lot of memory without having clock skew and performance degradations.
Sealed Box PC
If the only purpose is to browse the Internet, then open-box access for upgrade is not a requirement. These boxes will be built with no expansion socket (ISA or PCI). It will also be called Legacy Free computers. All external peripherals like printers and video cameras will be connected through the USB (Universal Serial Bus) port. Sufficient hard drive and sometimes floppy will be provided.
Since upgrade expansion is no longer a requirement, memories in these sealed boxes will be discrete memory chips instead of memory modules. Point to point connection method on memories will be used to squeeze the most performance out of it. Since cost is also a major factor in Sealed Boxes, they are likely to use more conventional PC100, PC133 type of SDRAM memory. Switch to DDR memory would only take place when DDR memory gets into price parity with PC133 memories.
The Game Boxes
The game box category includes the Sony Play Station II, the Nintendo 2001, the Microsoft X-Box and all the high speed, high frame buffer 3D Graphics Acceleration Cards. Survey shows this is the segment that requires most memory bandwidth performance. Extensive research is usually performed to decide on the memory to be used in the design because the graphic performance can make or break the game box product.
The Sony Play Station II has selected the Rambus DRAM approach to get highly sustainable video bandwidth. The Nintendo 2001 has selected DDR memory, instead. Microsoft X-Box has also announced its selection on DDR memories.
On the add-on graphic accelerator, 128bit wide DDR seemed to be the best choice delivering up to 4.8Gb/sec bandwidth now with outlook to increase to 6.4Gb/sec. in the near future.
As Americans are finally wiring up their homes with the Home Networking Standard, a lot of new device call Internet Appliance will be created. The closest to market will be the Web pad. This is a book size electronic tablet with a color LCD display and a touch pad input. This pad will be placed in or closed to the kitchen at a house. Its main purpose will be to obtain recipe or to read daily news from the Internet. It will also be used as a home controller to monitor the status of your Internet Enabled appliance like refrigerator, washing machine, cooking range and your coffeepot.
Internet Appliance can also come in the form of a TV Set-Top-Box doing Internet surfing and appliance controlling from your TV screen.
Due to the consumer centric application, designer will opt for the low cost non-Intel processor and also PC100/PC133 memory wherever possible. Memory usage will likely to be point-to-point (soldered on board) for the best bandwidth and clock frequency performance.
Cell Phone and Palm Units
Cellular phone will go large screen to allow e-mail and Web surfing functions in addition to the regular cell phone function. Everyone will eventually carry a James Bond phone. This phone will be his personal communicator including remote control functions for household appliances. Things like turning on your home air-conditioning before leaving work is a typical application. Grocery ordering on the way home will become a common practice.
Since cell phones are usually not bought but leased and paid together with the monthly usage charge, it would be very easy for most consumers to own and to use. Today’s Palm Pilot PDA will probably merge with the cell phone function to become a “dressed-up phone”. Overall, the wireless communication device will become the “personal controller” for every individual.
As for memory usage, this kind of phones uses some DRAM and a lot of Flash memories. This personal communication boom will surprise the memory industry. It will create a shortage on NOR Flash memory in the next two years.
Communication Routers and Switches
Communication router is just important to the Internet as the computer. It packetize the Internet signal and also figures out how to get and re-assemble the pieces of information we request from the world wide web. Router comes in several different levels depending on whether it is at the end user’s premises, at a communication relate station or at the ISP. With the popularity of high speed DSL and Cable Modem, routers will be installed in most Internet enabled home.
As of today, these routers are using SDRAM memory in their data buffer and look-up table structure. Their memory size requirement is still very small. However, following the growth in router speed and performance, more memories will be required. New memory architectures are also being designed to realize the best efficiency on specific router specific applications. In the next two years, we will see the SDRAM being replaced by the new type of memories call CAM memory. At that point, we will have a much faster look-up table function then the conventional memory.
Mobile Memory Solution
Mobile and handheld are specific power sensitive applications. Automatic frequency scaling technology is being introduced to throttle back the CPU speed during non-critical applications like word processing. Memories in this kind of application must be flexible enough to re-initialize itself. It must also work on minimum amount of refresh cycle and still keep the memory contents alive. It must also be able to go into “sleep mode” and wake up as “refreshed”.
These pre-conditions had ruled out RDRAM and in turn favor the SDRAM SODIMM in the PC100 category. Since PC133 power consumption is not the lowest, it will be kept out from mobile applications. However, DDR memory with 2.5V power operations will be attractive since it has lower power consumption.
Judging from the technical and price position of memories, I would conclude that RDRAM would be 5-6% of the total DRAM market this year. DDR memory will occupy 20% of the market in 4th quarter 2,000. That will mean 6% of the DRAM market for the year. The rest of the DRAM market will be filled by the familiar PC100 and PC133 SDRAM memories.
In the year of 2001, the picture would be quite different. DDR will come into price parity with PC133 SDRAM. At that point, I am predicting a 40% DDR occupation in Q3, 2001. That will put the annual percentage to 25%. At that time RDRAM will still only maintain a 5-6% position.
There will also be a surge in Flash memory requirement. They will be in the form of Compact Flash Cards, SD Security Flash Cards, Sony Memory Sticks and also in the Mini Flash Card format. These memories will be filling a new wave of consumer appliance including feature filled MP3, Internet radio, digital video spooler and digital video recorders. These memory cards will be used as a transportable media for the personal freedom and convenience.
Since capacity is still plentiful, price level on mainstream memory SDRAM and SDRAM modules will be stable. Periodic segmental shortages will occur. However, these shortages will be balanced within 10-12 weeks period (the average production to market time). Rambus DRAM price will stay high keeping it from realizing bigger market share.
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