The 1Q14 numbers for the NAND flash memory market came out at the end of May showing a 6.6% drop in revenue across branded suppliers, according to DrameXchange. Based on what we reviewed last month, this was to be expected. Slow sales of mobile devices due to seasonality contributed to most of the decline. Selling prices also fell significantly across the market, dissolving some of the manufacturers’ hopes of larger profits with shipment growth increases and manufacturing cost reductions. However, there may finally be some optimism in the near future.
Mass production of 3D, or vertical, NAND is coming closer to reality. In March of this year, it looked like developments in this new technology would be shelved until the NAND market picked back up. However, Toshiba announced last month that 3D NAND samples will be sent out this year and production will begin in 2H15. Samsung has also delved further into 3D NAND by announcing the manufacture of its second generation V-NAND using 32 layers instead of 24. Samsung will be able to use the existing V-NAND equipment from their first generation products to build the second generation. This equipment switch-over will increase production efficiency as well as potentially push up the introduction timeframe to market.
There is also increasing confidence in the solid state drive (SSD) market. DigiTimes Research reports that global sales of SSDs may increase by as much as 60% this year. NAND flash prices continue to fall, notebooks are still thinning out, and the surge of convertible tablets are all contributing to this speculation. In 2013, the standard SSD capacities were 120GB and 240GB. In 2014, 240GB are more the norm with 480GB showing promise thanks to falling prices. Even TB-grade SSDs will continue to move closer to affordability using triple-level cell (TLC) NAND. Last month, Micron announced official plans for a lower-end SSD using TLC NAND and it seems that the market is responding on the high end too. SSD controller manufacturers continue their work to increase reliability and performance of their products, which will further help the SSD market.