The amount of dynamic random access memory (DRAM) in media tablets will jump 147 percent in 2011 to an average of 676 megabytes (MB), according to new IHS iSuppli research.

“With tablets handling more data-intensive applications such as video, the average DRAM content in these platforms during 2011 will be about two-and-a-half times more than last year’s 274MB,” said Mike Howard, principal analyst for DRAM & memory at IHS, in a statement. “The rapid expansion will continue next year, when average DRAM in tablets reaches approximately 1.3 gigabytes (GB). In 2015, tablets will have DRAM content similar to that of today’s laptops, reaching 3.7GB.”

Tablet DRAM density will expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 68 percent from 2010 to 2015, according to IHS.
Despite the substantial increase this year of DRAM content in tablets, growth could have been even greater if Apple’s recently released iPad 2 turned out to have the full 1 GB of DRAM – similar to the iPad’s competitors – instead of just 512 MB. In comparison, the Xoom by Motorola, the TouchPad by Hewlett-Packard and the BlackBerry Playbook by Research In Motion each has 1 GB of DRAM.

Apple’s choice to include only 512 MB of DRAM isn’t really surprising, however, given that the company is attempting to focus on the overall tablet experience rather than its product specifications, IHS believes. Just the same, Apple’s dominance of the tablet market at present – taken in consideration with the 512 MB in its iPad devices – means that the overall increase in DRAM content this year was much less than if Apple had used 1 GB.

Alternative Technologies For DRAM

IHS says DRAM in its current form soon may prove inadequate for the data intensive needs of smart phones and tablets in handling applications, but emerging options await in the wings as possible replacements in mobile platforms.

Low-power, double data rate 2 (LPDDR2) is just now becoming the predominant technology in the mobile DRAM space, projected to take 40 percent market share by the second quarter this year, up from 31 percent in the first quarter. The majority of the mobile DRAM market continues to be held by the older LPDDR1 technology. But by the fourth quarter this year, the tables will have turned, with LLPDDR2 finally gaining ascendance for the first time and controlling 58 percent of the market.

A major challenge to mobile DRAM is its performance for future devices. While LPDDR2 is adequate now for phones and tablets, power consumption and bandwidth remain areas of concern. For instance, operating at 1.2V, LPDDR2 offers as much as 50 percent power savings per data transfer compared to LPDDR1. However, if the devices of tomorrow perform 10 times as many data transfers, LPDDR2 would come up short.

LPDDR2’s transfer rate of 8.5 Gbps is also phenomenal compared to 1066 megahertz (MHz) for LPDDR1, but the LPDDR2 rate might not be enough for devices making their debut in the very near future. Feedback from smart phone makers has pointed to the need for rates of 12.8 Gbps, which would necessitate LPDDR2 increasing its clock rate to 800MHz. This does not appear feasible, IHS believes.?

Several mobile DRAM technologies are vying for attention as alternatives. The current front runners are mobile XDR, offered by Rambus Inc.; and Serial Port Memory Technology (SPMT), developed by the SPMT Consortium and designed to be a royalty-free memory interface. ?Other competitive mobile DRAM technologies include Wide I/O, which promises to connect DRAM cores at the silicon level but is not necessarily a mobile technology; LPDDR3, whose specifications remain undefined; and DDR4, a form of standard DRAM not likely to appear until 2013.

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