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Bandwidth concerns fuel mobile DRAM race

Posted: 21 Apr 2011 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:mobile DRAM? next-gen? DRAM technologies? mobile market? bandwidth requirements?

Cruising ahead of the bigger DRAM business, the mobile DRAM segment is revving its engines to catch up with its fast-moving markets and their escalating volume demand and bandwidth requirements.

Mobile DRAMs are specialized DRAMs that incorporate low-power features. Vendors of the devices, such as Elpida Memory Inc., Hynix Semiconductor Inc., Micron Technology Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd, face inventory shortfalls as OEMs of hot-selling smartphones and tablets race through the stock now on the shelves. Elpida alone is shifting much of its production from PC DRAM to mobile DRAM to meet demand from Apple Inc.'s iPad 2, sources said.

At the same time, mobile market bandwidth requirements are lapping the capabilities of current-generation mobile DRAM technology, forcing a lane change to next-gen standards.

"The requirements for bandwidth are going through the roof," said Jim Venable, president of the Serial Port Memory Technology (SPMT) consortium, a group that is devising a next-generation memory technology. Low-power double-data-rate 2 (LPDDR2) mobile DRAM, the latest and fastest mobile DRAM technology, "is already seeing the end of its life," Venable said.

Various factions have rolled out rival next-gen mobile DRAM technologies in response to the urgent need for more bandwidth. The contenders are LPDDR3, LPDDR4, the Mobile Industry Processor Interface Alliance's (MIPI) M-PHY, Rambus Inc.'s Mobile XDR, Silicon Image's SPMT and wide I/O. Samsung and others are backing wide I/O; Micron is pushing LPDDR3.

Mobile DRAM

Mueez Deen, director of mobile DRAM at Samsung Semiconductor Inc., said it's still too early to predict a technology winner, but he noted there is only room for "one new technology" or a "maximum of two" for mainstream devices in the future.

Bandwidth concerns cry out for new technology. In one example, LG Electronics recently rolled out the Optimus 3D, a 4G smartphone that features a "glasses-free" stereoscopic 3D display, a dual-camera and HD video.

The LG smartphone is built around Texas Instruments Inc.'s OMAP 4 dual-core applications processor as well as mobile DRAMs based on LPDDR2. Apple's iPad 2 also uses LPDDR2 mobile DRAM.

Some believe that LPDDR2 is obsolete even before the parts ramp in volumes. Mobile DRAM based on LPDDR2 technology has a maximum of 8.5GBps of peak data throughput at an estimated power consumption of 360mW. By 2013 at the latest, the industry is shooting for data rates of "12.8GBps at 500mW," said Herb Gebhart, vice president of strategic development at Rambus.

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