According to IC Insights, DRAM prices will continue to increase even though they have more than doubled (+111%) over the last 12 months. IC Insights predicts that by the end of the calendar year DRAM's price per bit will have jumped a record 40% (or more). Image Courtesty Of IC Insights
Things change quickly in the DRAM market; just last year we were amid an oversupply that brought low prices for your favorite kits. Unfortunately, IC Insights claims the oversupply was one of the contributors to the latest price hikes. Wholesalers gobbled up stock during the oversupply at low prices, but then sat on the stockpiles as the shortage deepened. Now, the wholesalers are cashing in on their bets and reaping the benefits. Meanwhile, enthusiasts can expect to pay top dollar for the latest blinky RAM kits.
Of course, the record pricing levels are great for our friends at the major foundries. Samsung, Micron, and Sk Hynix are also raking in their own record profits and enjoying healthy margins. We have both DRAM and NAND shortages occurring at the same time, which is great for the foundries, and unless a player breaks ranks to gain market share, we can expect more foot-dragging before any of the foundries increases output.
The booming mobile industry and server markets are exacerbating the issue, so you would expect that the fabs would boost DRAM output. Unfortunately, the three primary fabs (Micron bought Elpida, reducing the number of players) don't share the same vision.
IC Insights indicates that Micron will not increase production capacity, instead relying upon improvements in yields and shrinking down to smaller nodes to boost its DRAM bit output. Sk Hynix has expressed its desire to boost DRAM output but hasn't set a firm timeline for fab expansion (unlikely to occur in the near term). Samsung is as tight-lipped as usual, so we aren't sure of its intentions.
In the 1980's there were 23 major DRAM suppliers, but cutthroat pricing and continual oversupplies eventually led to the wave of consolidation that left us with the current three suppliers. Due to the nature of the DRAM oligarchy, Sk Hynix's plans could be the catalyst for future DRAM expansion at Samsung and Micron. Unfortunately, due to the complexity of today's latest DRAM nodes, these capacity expansions usually require an extended amount of time before the price reductions trickle down to us. We can expect a six month ramp time for an existing fab to reallocate space to DRAM production, or a two year process to build an entirely new fab.
In other words, if you plan on a new build in the near future it might be best to grab a RAM kit now before the prices increase further. Unless the dynamics of market demand change drastically we can expect the shortage to continue over the next six months, and even possibly longer.