Mobile Demand Fuels DRAM Revenue Growth to $19B in Q1 2021

Article By : Counterpoint Technology Market Research

Global DRAM revenues rose to $19 billion in the first quarter of 2021, increasing by a solid 30% YoY and 9% QoQ, according to Counterpoint Research.

Global DRAM revenues rose to $19 billion in the first quarter of 2021, increasing by a solid 30% year-on-year (YoY) and 9% quarter-on-quarter. Distance education and work from home (WFH) continued propelling a substantial demand for smartphone and laptop DRAM, resulting in a 6% growth in bit shipment and a 3% rise in ASP over the previous quarter.

Associate Director Brady Wang said the Chinese handset makers stepped up their smartphone shipments in the first quarter, intending to gain shares from the beleaguered Huawei. In addition, the high-density LPDDR4x memory prices softened in H2 2020, increasing smartphone DRAM content and making 6GB the minimum standard for mid- to high-end smartphones since 2021. As a result, the average DRAM capacity in smartphones clocked at 5.3GB in Q1 2021, rising impressively by around 21% YoY and 7% QoQ. Similarly, servers experienced recovery in demand, and the adoption of a new data-center CPU bumped up server content per box. Therefore, the server segment’s DRAM demand rose as well.

According to Wang, DRAM is already an oligopolistic market with an Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI) of 3,138. A significant capacity expansion by any player will soon turn around market status and reduce the overall profitability. Therefore, this year, all three major players will spend most of their resources in migrating to advanced nodes, a process that is bound to reduce production capacity. In addition, transportation and component shortage concerns will force device vendors to place orders earlier than usual. When coupled with the growing demand for personal computers, games and servers, these factors signal the possibility of the DRAM market turning to a shortage this year. The smartphone market is recovering at present, but its cost sensitivity means that a DRAM price spike may put the brakes on smartphone DRAM content growth.

Competitive Landscape

The DRAM industry is dominated by three major players that collectively account for about 95% of the market’s bit shipments and revenue.

Samsung Electronics

With $7.9 billion in revenue, Samsung led the DRAM market in Q1 2021. The South Korean semiconductor giant continued commanding over two-fifths of the DRAM market revenue, overshadowing its nearest competitor by over 41%. Samsung’s DRAM bit shipment growth came from actively responding to the (i) 5G-related surge in smartphone demand, (ii) rising server demands for data centers and (iii) rise of home entertainment culture that increased memory content in TVs and STBs to support 4K UHD content and streaming.

Research Associate Siddharth Bhatla sees 1Z nm or 15 nm as Samsung’s most advanced mass-produced DRAM node from the technology perspective. The company’s plans include beginning mass production of 14 nm node in H2 2021. Samsung aims to differentiate its DRAM offerings using multi-layer EUV on its 14nm node, building upon the single-layer EUV in its current 15 nm node.

SK hynix

Ranking second, SK hynix accounted for over 29% of the DRAM industry’s Q1 2021 revenues. Surpassing Micron by over 25%, its revenues rose by over 28% YoY in that period, in line with the industry’s overall growth. In addition, the company’s bit shipments rose 4% QoQ, thanks to its ability to actively cater to the surging demand for mobile and PC memory. By the year-end, SK hynix aims to (i) ramp up the production of its 1Z nm DRAM and (ii) complete development and begin mass production of its 1α-EUV node.

Micron Technology

Micron achieved a 44% YoY jump in its DRAM revenue in Q1 2021, continuing to grow fastest among the big three since the preceding two quarters. Micron was the first among the big three to begin mass production of 1α DRAM, accounting for one-fourth of the industry’s DRAM revenue. However, Micron’s 1α node is based on DUV, an older technology that may face severe cost competition once the EUV-based 1α DRAMs reach the mass market.

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