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Green Memory in the News

Samsung pushes ahead with 20nm DDR3 RAM, signaling uncertainty about DDR4

Mar. 14. 2014
Samsung Samsung has announced that it is pushing forward 20nm DDR3 DRAM, and has already begun volume production on the next-generation lithography node. Some of you may recall that Samsung has been building NAND flash on 20nm for quite some time, but it’s significantly easier to build NAND flash on next-gen processes than it is to move DRAM to those same nodes. Samsung’s decision to deploy DDR3 at the 20nm node also says interesting things about its DDR4 timelines and confidence in those roadmaps.

Historically, DRAM has been stuck between a rock and a hard place. CPUs from AMD, Intel, and even ARM vendors can afford to be more aggressive with process node shifts; the chips command higher margins and they benefit from being “first” to a given node. NAND flash doesn’t necessarily have the margins of conventional microprocessors, but it’s much simpler to manufacture than DRAM and the company that secures an early lead in manufacturing tends to win the majority of the revenue in this space as well. DRAM, though, isn’t as easy to manufacture as NAND, but it’s nowhere near as profitable as CPUs.

By moving DDR3 to 20nm, Samsung is setting itself up for significant power savings (new modules supposedly draw 25% less power than previous designs), but it’s also a statement about where the company expects the memory market to go in the next few years. In the past, the memory market was driven by the demands of the desktop and server space first and foremost. True, a low-voltage option existed for smartphones and tablets, but these mobile devices themselves weren’t the driving force behind the space.

Ideally (from Samsung’s perspective), it would reserve the 20nm node for its DDR4 products, ship those out in standard and LP form factors, and thus position itself to capture the vast majority of the revenue from this segment. Instead, the company is simultaneously transitioning both DDR3 and DDR4 to the 20nm node. That suggests Samsung doesn’t expect to see a strong shift to DDR4 in the near term and is hedging its bets on the technology accordingly.

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Source: Extreme Tech

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