Of Ram, Flash, Burn and Cash
As the RAM prices increase more and more (nearly 100% up year over year) on one hand and as newly released Ryzen CPU increase their dependence on fast RAM, we are presented with a bit of a quandary. Either gulp the high price down the throat, or limit the speed and capacity of your computer. But the question we should be asking is, “Why are Rams so costly?”. And “when” will it come down?
RAM is undoubtedly one of the most essential components of our PC’s. And more the amount of RAM on a PC, the merrier. But before we get to the main questions, let us as, “what is RAM?”
“RAM”? Frankly My Dear, I Don’t Give a Damn
Ram started as electrically charged spots on cathode ray tubes as William-Kilburn tube in 1947. Invented by scientists and engineer Freddie Williams and Tom Kilburn, it depended upon the secondary emission factor to store memory. Then it transpired to magnetic-core memory which used magnetic rings to store data. This procedure became popular in 1950’s and dominated the PC market till late 1970’s when solid state memory took over with dynamic random access memory becoming popular. This used capacitance and required ram to be recharged every few milliseconds. The topic of today is dynamic ram, which won over static ram as the main mode of memory.
With the advent of memory controller IC as a staple of microprocessors, we got the logic and the circuitry necessary to obtain extremely high refresh rates allowing for RAM speeds with hundreds of MHz. Then came the buffered RAMs with error correcting codes built into them to guard RAM capacitors against cosmic particles. Finally we got double data rate RAMs which allowed for a parallel link to be used on two separate RAM slots to allow double the data rate than single stick RAMs in spite of each stick running at only half of the effective speed.
For the last 50 years Joint Electron Device Engineering Council (JEDEC) has been the pioneer in developing IC layouts of DRAMs and Flash cells defining various types of RAMs. Common types of RAM include EDO-RAM, SDRAM, DDR, DDR2. DDR3, DDR4, HMC (Hybrid Memory Cube) and HBM (High Bandwidth Memory).
You Can’t Handle The Truth!
Recently IC Insights published two studies, one predicting the future of global wafer capacities and the other about increase in the RAM prices over the next few years. The first predicts a sharp decline in the number of flash wafer producing companies over the years. The number of 200mm wafer fab owners fell from 76 in 2007 to 61 currently. While the number of 300mm fab wafer producers fell from 28 to 22 during the same period. Whereas the predicted number of 450mm fab wafers is a measly 9. This fall comes in a scene of only 10% increase in global wafer supplies over the next few years. What is means, is less competition, rising prices and lower production growth.
On the other hand there is a projected 40% increase in the RAM prices. The representative of the semiconductor storage in the global price hikes, the price has risen from 2.45 US dollars to 5.16 US dollars is up by a staggering 111%. Samsung reported a 2017 second quarter results show that operating profit rose nearly 72% to KRW 14 trillion (US $ 12.1 billion ), a five-year high of the quarter’s history.
And that’s just the start.
Houston, We Have a Problem
The global smartphone boom have presented another problem. The smartphone rise have really created a market for cheap, low capacity LPDDR rams.
Now look at the measly numbers that represent the PC sales over an equivalent period of time.
If we consider only 2016, the average RAM in each PC was about 6 GB’s, while it was only 3GB for smartphones. But multiply that by total sales amounts to 1 million Terabytes for PC, while it was a gigantic 3 million Terabytes for smartphones. And this trend will only increase as more and more consumers shift their daily workload to the ultra-portable and ever-the-more-powerful smartphones.
So, in future, the trend will obviously favor the demand of RAM in smartphone memories, while PC will continue to face a slowdown. The only saving grace for the PC’s are a continuous rise in high performance gaming PC’s which keep their uptrend for many quarters in a row. But it is unlikely to be able to produce any significant influence in the PC average RAM capacities. And that is if the data center and smartphone demands do not further inflate the prices. Combine this with the absolute reduction in the total number of players in the ancillary flash markets, and it seems to be a long time before we see any appreciable excess in the supplies of RAM. I think, for the next few years or so, RAM demand will keep outstripping supplies.
I Love the Smell of Napalm in the Morning
In the midst of it all, S.K Hynix lost half of its production capacity when it lost two of its fabs in China (Fab 1 and Fab 2) to a fire resulting from a chemical explosion. Hynix is the world’s second biggest supplier of DRAM with 35% of the total global output under their belts. According to a quote from The Guardian, there has not been any damage made to the equipment, but the testing and production lines are probably done for. How long does it take to build a new factory? It takes a lot. Anywhere between 3-5 years to build it, then another couple of years to retool it and get the production lines ready for series production. So, probably, we will need a lot of time before the RAM prices stabilise. And far more before it hints at any signs of reducing.
I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!
Exactly! I hate this situation. But unfortunately, we cannot do much to change this situation. We just have to bite the bullet and keep a steady feet. I personally had to reschedule a lot of purchases due to the high RAM and flash prices. Yes, the prices of SSD’s are also at a temporal maximum. I bought a 525GB Crucial MX300 for 150$ an year and a half ago. The same SSD was selling for 230$ recently. The 16Gb GSkill kit which I bought a couple of years ago for 100$, is clocking for 180$. What I recommend to our readers is to wait for a few months before jumping the gun. Black Friday is just around the corner and there would be steep discounts all over the place. Tell us what you think of these atrocious prices below in the comments. Happy Gaming!