There’s lots of talk about how emerging memories might address growth markets such as automotive and the internet of things (IoT), but in the smartphone space, it’s still all about the DRAM and the flash.
For the consumer who’s buying the latest and greatest smartphone, it’s the 3D NAND that’s the bigger factor in their decision, says Jim Handy, principal analyst at Objective Analysis. “So far, the NAND size is the key selling point, while only the most technically astute consumers concern themselves with the size of the DRAM,” Handy said.
Because prices are currently collapsing for both of these technologies, he said, we may see a big jump in memory capacity and phone performance this year.
For now, Handy doesn’t see many opportunities for emerging memories to be adopted in smartphones. “The only place to expect for smartphones to adopt emerging memories is as embedded memories within the baseband processor because these processors are moving to process nodes that don’t support NOR flash,” he said.
If that adoption occurs, the memory could be any of the numerous options available, as outlined in a recent Objective Analysis report. “No single technology has a sizable lead at the moment,” Handy said.
Battery life is also a key selling point in the smartphone market, but it’s still incumbent on the memory vendor to reduce power consumption and improve energy efficiency, not the battery makers, said Handy, and although the memory makers have done a lot to help with partial array self-refresh in DRAM, “the onus today is more on the processor vendors and coders.” He said that battery manufacturers deserve great praise for the advances they have made over the past decade but wonders what more they will be able to do in the future.
On the smartphone storage side, the pressure has always been on the amount available to users, said Stephen Lum, senior product marketing manager for mobile and consumer memory at Samsung Semiconductor. On the DRAM side, it’s about density as well as power efficiency. The latest and greatest smartphones have as much as 10 gigabytes of DRAM, which surpasses the typical laptop. The devices are typically targeted at users who are playing a lot of more sophisticated mobile games, he said, which have the same quality of video as TV and console gaming systems.
“The expectation from users is that they’ll be able to play these cutting-edge games but, at the same time, be able to multi-task,” Lum said. “That puts a huge demand on the memory.”
Streaming video, including 4K quality, as well as capturing it with the multiple cameras and doing post-processing in apps such as SnapChat or Instagram also put pressure on the DRAM and flash from a performance perspective. Lum said that Samsung is always working to optimize power efficiency, performance, and density.
“Battery technology evolves very, very slowly,” Lum said. “The pressure is actually greater on the memory makers to basically improve the power efficiency to memory but, at the same time, deliver better performance.” Moving from LPDDR3 to LPDDR4 has enabled Samsung to deliver better power consumption numbers while delivering better performance, as does moving from a 20-nm class memory to 10-nm class memory. “With the LPDDR5 coming, that offers even greater power efficiency.”
For the foreseeable future, read and write speed coupled with density is the focus of future flash memory development, said Scott Beekman, director of managed flash memory products at Toshiba Memory America. Although emerging markets such as automotive, augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR) are drivers, he says that for the smartphone, in particular, it’s 5G networks, which enable a device to ingest greater amounts of data at a faster rate. “That will put more demands on the phone and all of the components in it, including the memory.”
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