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Power ICs, MEMS to gain from ultrabook surge

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:ultrabook shipment? MEMS? power management? DRAM module?

According to IHS Inc., global ultrabook shipments will reach 136.5 million units in 2015. The remarkable growth from only less than one million this year is seen to affect various semiconductor markets. The IHS iSuppli Semiconductor Value Chain research has revealed that as the ultrabook market opens opportunities for sensors and power management ICs, DRAM modules will begin to feel the pinch.

While the ultrabook is regarded as a type of notebook computer, it requires changes in design and component selection as compared to conventional mobile PCs. Backed by Intel Corp. and other players in the PC business, ultrabooks are extremely light and thin at less than 0.8in thick. While using a full PC OS such as Microsoft Windows, ultrabooks also add features now commonly found in media tablets including instant-on, always-connected wireless links, solid state drives (SSDs) and battery lives longer than eight hours on a single charge. Ultrabooks are targeted to be priced at less than $1,000, although most of the early models are more expensive.

Ultrabooks boost MEMS tech
One major semiconductor winner in the ultrabook sweepstakes will be the sensor, including devices based on microelectromechanical system (MEMS) technology.

"In terms of usage of sensors, ultrabooks much more closely resemble media tablets than conventional notebooks," stated Jrmie Bouchaud, principal analyst at IHS. "Media tablets make extensive use of such devices, incorporating MEMS microphones, accelerometers, gyroscopes and pressure sensors as well as non-MEMS devices like compasses, ambient light sensors and possibly proximity sensors. In contrast, today's notebooks make relatively minimal use of sensors. With ultrabook shipments expected to rise to account for 42 percent of the notebook market by 2015, this represents a major growth opportunity for MEMS."

Media tablets this year contain about of $3.45 worth of sensors, compared to $0.51 for conventional notebooks, illustrating the huge opportunity for these devices in ultrabooks.

Ultrabooks tout more power
Another beneficiary of the ultrabooks' increasing share of notebook shipments will be analog semiconductors, particularly power-management devices.

"With their stringent battery-life requirements, notebooks have represented a key market for power-management semiconductor suppliers," noted Marijana Vukicevic, senior principal analyst at IHS. "However, power requirements in ultrabooks will be even more rigorous than in notebooks, due to the ultrabook's slimmer form factor and longer battery life. This will increase the value of power management electronics in each unit sold, boosting the opportunity for analog suppliers."

Just as with sensors, Ultrabooks resemble media tablets that conventional notebooks in terms of their power management electronics. The tiny size of ultrabooks will require more highly integrated power and analog components compared to notebooks. Furthermore, the form factor of these devices must be smaller and will require slimmer packages in comparison to notebooks.

Finally, the usage of SSDs in ultrabooks will spur demand for new and more sophisticated power management solutions.

Ultrabooks: Bye-bye DRAM
The thin media tablet style of ultrabooks will act as a detriment to the market for dynamic random access memory (DRAM) modulesparticularly those used for memory upgrades.

"The vast majority of ultrabooks now shipping have DRAM chips soldered directly onto the motherboard," indicated Clifford Leimbach, memory demand forecasting analyst at IHS. "This helps to achieve an extra-thin design by eliminating the additional PCB traditionally used in notebook PCs required for support of a DRAM module. However, this also eliminates the need for a traditional small outline dual in-line memory module DRAM module."

Notebooks represent a key market for DRAM modules, both those built into the PCs and those purchased to upgrade memory capacity. Because of this, the upgrade DRAM module market will be negatively impacted, as ultrabooks account for an increasing portion of notebook shipments.

While the reduction initially will be limited, the ultrabook in 2015 will reduce the number of upgrade notebook PC modules shipped by 13.5 percent, amounting to some 10.8 million units.

DRAM shipment

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