Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Memory Makers Set to Reduce Supply to Keep the Pricing Up

The market of dynamic random access memory (DRAM) is a complex eco-system, where each player has to find a right balance of manufacturing costs, production output, capital expenditures, bit growth and other things to stay competitive. While typically DRAM makers cannot ensure that the prices favour their business all the time, some analysts believe that they have good chances to do so next year.

Average spot price of 1Gb DDR2 667MHz (128MB PC2-5300) memory chip dropped from about $4.5 in January to $1.6 in late November this year, according to data from DRAMeXchange, a market tracker company. The same industry observer claims that contract price of 1Gb DDR2 667MHz reduced from $3 in early October to $2 in early December, a substantial decline in a relatively short period of money.

The reasons for such declines are well known by DRAM manufacturers: as personal computer makers were stockpiling memory for holiday sales hike, the prices remained on relatively high level, but as the demand towards DRAM fell, the prices dropped too, which is a negative situation for companies like Samsung Electronics or Hynix Semiconductor, who control about a half of memory market on the planet.

But DRAM producers may reduce the amount of memory produced and increase the pricing, which they did a couple of weeks ago. As a result, 1Gb DDR2 667MHz now costs $2 on the spot market, claims DRAMeXchange, who says that memory manufacturers are well positioned to control the prices in 2008. There are several reasons for successful execution of the strategy:

* Taiwanese DRAM makers announced plans of reducing capital expenditure next year.
* Qimonda has announced its plan to reduce production in its European operation so production output from its European operation will reduce to 30% of total production from 40% currently.
* The slowdown in 300mm wafer capacity expansion and the continued decrease in 200mm wafer production capacity.
* Global DRAM supply bit growth is set to decrease from 92% in 2007 to 57% next year.

“From the market perspective, when prices fall below the variable cost, it becomes highly possible for major DRAM manufacturers to reduce their production volume in spurring prices to rise. Samsung and Hynix in combination own nearly 50% of the global DRAM market, once they or other DRAM makers decide to reduce production, we will then see a chance for DRAM market to reach a balance between supply and demand next year, and potentially a rise in DRAM chip price instead,” a statement by DRAMeXchange reads.

Toshiba Plans to Enter Solid State Drives Market Next Year

Toshiba Corp. one of the world’s largest producers of flash memory, on Monday said that in 2008 it would enter the market of solid state drives (SSD) with up to 128GB offerings. With more companies on the market of drives that combine performance of flash and capacities of hard disk drives, SSDs are likely to drop in price faster.

The first SSDs from Toshiba will be compatible with Serial ATA-300 interconnection and will be available in 32GB, 64GB and 128GB capacities. Toshiba promises that its NAND flash-based drives will feature maximum write speed of 40MB/s and maximum read speed of 100MB/s. Initially, in March ’08, solid state drives from Toshiba will be available in modules, but eventually, in May ’08, the company will offer them in 1.8” and 2.5” hard drive form-factors.

Toshiba’s new SSD integrate the company’s own MLC (multi-level cell NAND flash) controller supporting fast read-write speeds, parallel data transfers and wear leveling, and achieve performance levels comparable to those of single-level NAND flash SSD, the manufacturer indicated. By applying MLC technology, Toshiba has realized a 128GB density in a 1.8” form factor.

Toshiba expects the launch of its SSD line-up to speed up acceptance of solid state memory in laptops and digital consumer products, and to widen the horizons of the NAND flash market.

According to market tracker iSuppli Corp., Toshiba commanded 27.5% of NAND flash memory market in Q2 2007. Only Samsung Electronics – which sold 45.9% of NAND flash memory was a bigger player, whereas companies like Hynix Semiconductor or Micron Technology could only boast with 14.6% and 5.4% of revenue share, respectively. Toshiba’s decision to enter the market of SSDs seems to be important not only for the company, but also for the whole market itself.

Toshiba’s SSDs will be showcased at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, from January 7th to 10th. Samples and mass production will follow from the first quarter (January to March) of next year.

Nvidia Updates GeForce 8800 GTS Graphics Adapter with New Chip

Nvidia Corp. on Tuesday unveiled a new version of its famous GeForce 8800 GTS graphics card, which is based on the recently unveiled code-named G92 graphics processing unit (GPU). The new board has chances to offer unprecedented computing power and increase performance in modern games at price-points below $349.

The new GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB graphics card based on the G92 chip features 128 stream processors at 1626MHz, 64 texturing units, 16 render back-ends as well as 256-bit memory bus. The base clock for the chip is 650MHz and Nvidia recommends its partners to install 1940MHz memory onto the board.

The new “8800 GTS” model sports more computing power than the “8800 Ultra”, the top-of-the-range board unveiled half a year ago that retails for $849, but lacks 384-bit memory bus, as on the high-end graphics cards. As a consequence, the peak bandwidth of its memory bus is 64GB/s, tangibly lower compared to nearly 104GB/s of the GeForce 8800 Ultra.

Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB features PureVideo HD video processor with high-quality video post-processing as well as PCI Express 2.0 bus, which doubles interface bandwidth over the first generation of PCI Express bus. As a result, the new GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB is the highest-performing graphics solution from Nvidia with advanced video capabilities.

GeForce 8800 GTS 512 MB graphics cards are available now from leading add-in card manufacturers, retailers, and system builders in the $299 - $349 price-range.

“If you want the best experience on the PC games coming out right now, then buying a new GPU should be top on your list of upgrades. GeForce 8800 GTS 512 is a fantastic option that we are providing gamers in time for the holiday season,” said Ujesh Desai, general manager of GeForce desktop GPUs at Nvidia.

AMD’s Next-Gen Microprocessor Still Does Not Exist – Company

Advanced Micro Devices said that while its next-generation code-named Shanghai processor is scheduled to be unveiled in the second half of next year, the world’s second largest chipmaker still has not produced a single working sample of it. As a result, it now depends on luck whether the firm is on-track to release its 45nm chips not much later compared to Intel Corp.

“We have 45nm on the way. We will have initial samples also in January. I’m fairly confident that those puppies are going to boot,” said Mario Rivas, executive vice president of computing products group at AMD, in an interview with CRN web-site.

AMD Opteron quad-core and dual-core processors code-named Shanghai, which are expected to be released in the second half of 2008, will use AMD’s K10 micro-architecture that will be present already in the code-named Barcelona processors, but will contain some performance enhancements. Thin 45nm process technology will allow AMD to install 512KB of L2 cache per core as well as 6MB of unified L3 cache, which is a significant enhancement compared to Barcelona.

Recently AMD discovered an erratum inside its Barcelona design and said that it would take it about three months to apply the fix to the shipping central processing units, which are made using three months. As a result, the company is projected to start shipping the new chips sometimes in February or March, 2008. Since the initial samples of Shanghai are not expected to contain the fix, it means that it will take AMD another three months to fix the design of its 45nm server chip too. Still, AMD seems to be optimistic about its development of the 45nm product.

“The 45nm, we consider it Rev C of the device. So all the learning, all the hard knocks that we had on Barcelona, we're going to apply it to Shanghai,” Mr. Rivas added.

Intel Corp., the world’s largest supplier of x86 central processing units (CPUs) and the arch-rival of AMD, demonstrated its first working code-named Nehalem processors, which are made using 45nm process technology and feature new micro-architecture along with some other improvements, back in September, 2007. While this does not guarantee that those Nehalem chips are errata-free, what is obvious is that Intel’s Nehalem chips are currently four months ahead of AMD’s Shanghai. More importantly, Intel is already shipping its 45nm chips based on Core 2 micro-architecture, enjoying performance advantages along with potential decreased manufacturing costs.

The destiny of AMD’s next-generation desktop processors code-named Deneb, Prophus and Sargas, due to be out in the second half of 2008, which support DDR3 memory as well as are intended for socket AM3 platforms, is currently unclear.

Samsung Quietly Drops the Price of Blu-Ray Disc Player

Samsung Electronics, a leading maker of various equipment, has quietly started to sell its BD-P1400 Blu-ray disc (BD) player for $299 in certain locations. The decision moves Blu-ray format into the same price range as HD DVD players from Toshiba that support 1080p output and may pose a serious threat to the standard pushed by Microsoft and Toshiba.

At press time Amazon.com, Best Buy, Circuit City and Costco offered Samsung BD-P1400 players for $299, which is tangibly below the official manufacturer suggested retail price of $499 for the device, reports HighDefDigest web-site. Unfortunately, it is still not completely clear whether the price slash is temporary, or end-users will be able to get the BD-P1400 for $299 going forward too.

By offering a Blu-ray disc player for just $299 Samsung Electronics makes the BD technology available at the price-point of Toshiba’s HD-A20/HD-A30 players, which sport 1080p (1920x1200, progressive scan) output. Even though there are players from Toshiba that cost $199, they do not have full-HD output capability, which is important for those, who have large flat-panel TV with maximum resolution.

With pricing of Blu-ray and HD DVD players equal, the former may find itself being more popular than the latter because of enlarged media capacities and broader support from consumer electronics companies. Still, even $299 is the price-point that it too high for average buyers, which is why it will take quite some time before either Blu-ray, or HD DVD wins the format war against each other.

Blu-ray and HD DVD formats compete for replacing the DVD standard. HD DVD discs can store up to 15GB on a single layer and up to 30GB on two layers. Its competitor, Blu-ray, can store up to 25GB per single layer and up to 50GB on two layers, but Blu-ray discs are more expensive to produce. The HD DVD is pushed aggressively by Toshiba, NEC, Intel and Microsoft, as well as being standardized at the DVD Forum, which represents over 230 consumer electronics, information technology, and content companies worldwide. Blu-ray is backed by Sony and Panasonic, which are among the world’s largest makers of electronics. Among Hollywood studios HD DVD is supported by New Line Cinema, Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. Studios, whereas New Line Cinema, Sony Pictures, Walt Disney, Warner Bros. and Twentieth Century Fox endorse Blu-ray.