DDR3 Technology Progress and Future Development
To DRAM industry, 2007 and 2008 are absolutely considered the down years. Over expansion by the DRAM makers resulted in an over-supplied market where DDR2 die price fell sharply. With the expectation of lower PC sales in Q4, DRAM inventory is expected to continue its climb and DRAM price is expected to break new lows. Up to this point, DDR2 1Gb eTT spot price is now at 1.15 USD and DDR2 667 1Gb is down to 1.19 USD. Even though DDR2 price is already below its variable cost, for DRAM makers, developing DDR3 remains the key factor to winning the next war.
DDR3 was initially developed in beginning of 2005 but was not applied on motherboard until middle of 2007 when DDR3 first began production in 90nm and when the Intel first introduced the P35 motherboard – the first motherboard to support DDR3. With the advancement in process and continued introduction of new PC models, DRAMeXchange analyst expects DDR3 to be part of 20-30% of all PC market.
DDR3 Specification Advantages: high data rate and low power supply
According to the JEDEC specification, technically DDR3 is high data rate and low power supply. Compared to DDR2, DDR3 can save roughly 30% of power and speed to 1600Mbps – nearly twice as fast as DDR2. Because of the high data rate, DDR3 can transmit 8-bit of data in 1 clock cycle while DDR2 can only transmit 4-bit in 1 clock cycle. DDR3 operates at 1.5V supply which is 17% lower than 1.8V supply required by DDR2. The low power supply will allow NB to extend its battery life. There are even talks of using an ultra low 1.35V supply in certain NB makers’ roadmaps in order to grab shares in the high end NB market and distance themselves from competitors in terms of technical specifications. (Figure-1)
Strong support for DDR3 from Intel Chipset vendors
In terms of support for DDR3, Intel chipsets claims the best support for DDR3 with the most number of chipsets and with the most complete support ranging from low to mid/high end. The only difference in terms DDR3 support is the speed especially with Intel's high end X Series chipset which supports Intel XMP (eXtended Memory Profile) over-clocking system to optimize DDR3 memory performance. Although its core strength is in the graphic chip market, nVidia has also begun to introduce DDR3 support in its nForce Series chipsets with a memory over-clocking system – EPP2 (Enhanced Performance Profile) - which optimizes DDR3 memory performance by fine tuning the DDR3 memory configurations in similar fashion as Intel’s XMP system. However, because its memory controller is built into the CPU due to its CPU architecture, AMD will not be able to support DDR3 until the next generation AM3 is launched. (Figure-2)
DDR3 Process development and Current Market Analysis
From the product roadmaps, currently, the only DDR3 manufacturers continue to be the primary DRAM makers such as Samsung, Hynix, and Elpida. Of the Taiwanese DRAM makers, only Nanya has begun manufacturing DDR3 dies. From the production scales, Samsung and Elpida are the most aggressive in ramping up DDR3 production. DRAMeXchange estimates Samsung and Elpida will have nearly 10% of their production capacity focused on DDR3 production. In addition, with advancement in process, DDR3 dies will begin to be produced with 70nm, 65nms or even 56nm process beginning the second half of this year and will officially begin mass production in these advance process sometimes in 2009. Given the increased willingness to adopt DDR3 among the PC OEM makers, it is possible for DDR3 to reach a large enough economy of scale and to begin a generation shift from DDR2 to DDR3 (Figure-3)
According to DRAMeXchange figures, DDR3 dies will make up roughly 5% of total DRAM die produced by the end of this year. Although the proportion is small, DRAM makers have been very persuasive in convincing PC OEM makers to adopt DDR3. Besides promising a steady supply of DDR3 dies, DRAM makers have offered extremely attractive prices to lower the price barrier between DDR2 and DDR3 memory modules for those PC makers who are willing to adopt DDR3. Thus, in NB market, we have begun to see new product launches featuring DDR3 from branded PC makers such as Dell, Sony, Lenovo, Toshiba, Acer, etc. We expect more PC OEM makers to launch products containing DDR3 by end of this year.