by Matt Margolis
During Micron’s first quarter of 2014 they announced that, “Operating cash flows in the first quarter of 2014 also benefited by approximately $250 million of receipts from a customer for product to be supplied through September 2016″. Micron closed on their purchase of memory maker Elpida on July 31, 2013. The name Elpida should be familiar to those of you who use Apple devices. In 2012, Apple reportedly placed a massive order that consumed over half of Elpida’s memory chip production which dealt a significant blow to Samsung’s share prices and they were quick to deny the story. However, as it turned out Samsung was removed from Apple’s list of DRAM and NAND memory chip suppliers.
Apple Hardware Teardowns confirm Elpida DRAM in 2013
Last September a teardown by Techinsights of Apple’s iPhone 5s and iPad Air revealed that Elpida’s DRAM Memory LPDDR3 memory was being used on the device. Ifixit’s teardown of the MacBook Air in June also confirmed the use of Elpida’s DRAM Memory LPDDR3. Precedent has been set and confirmed that Apple is using Elpida’s DRAM memory across their most recent products released in 2013 that continue to be produced in 2014.
Elpida Stakes Comeback on Energy-efficient Chips (Elpida is now owned by Micron Technology)
KEN SAKAKIBARA of Nikkei Asian Review posted an article in January titled, ” Elpida stakes comeback on energy-efficient chips for mobile devices,” which included some colorful input from Micron’s CEO Mark Duncan. The Nikkei Asian Review provided the following;
Micron CEO Mark Duncan has said the Japanese unit will become involved in Micron’s overall technology development.
Duncan has pledged to allocate half of the capital budget to DRAM operations in Japan and Taiwan. This will mark Elpida’s first significant capital investment in three years.
Duncan has said that the plan is to make the Hiroshima plant a DRAM production center that is on the leading edge of chip-making technology.
LPDDR4 DRAM Memory – Why it’s Awesome for Apple Gadget Lovers
Micron highlighted their LPDDR4 DRAM memory technology presentation almost a year ago at a Mobile Forum. Some of the key targets of DRAM mobile power requirements include:
- Tablets – 10 hours active with a 11.5 Ah battery
- Phones – 8 hours active with a 1.4 Ah battery
- Phones are targeting 10+ days of standby
Tablets in “connected standby” targeting 2+ weeks
Another issue plaguing the Mobile power efficiency is heat sink, “Heat spreaders are being used to move heat to the case, away from the memory/processor,” this would explain give another reason why Apple has pursued sapphire screens with GT Advanced Technologies for their ultra hard makeup and their ability to dissipate heat away from the processor.
Other key benefits of Micron’s LPDDR4 include:
- Power Neutrality
- 2x Bandwidth Performance (performance improvement)
- Low pin count (easy to connect)
- Low cost (margin preservation!)
Wirelessnewsweek just published an article on DDR4 memory, titled ” Advancing Mobile Solutions With Low-Power DDR4,” what is even more interesting is that the Author is Reynette Au, who is Vice President of Wireless Solutions Marketing at Micron Technology. Some key points from Au’s article are below:
Many of these features are enabled by highly integrated SoCs that provide greater computing capabilities matched with peripherals like image processors, modems, and Wi-Fi transceivers. This integration has led to a corresponding increase in demand on memory resources and a need for an architecture that can support much higher bandwidth.
Memory bandwidth is not a new problem for mobile devices. Since the introduction of the iPhone, the industry has responded with an evolutionary transition from 2.6 GB/s LPDDR1, to 8.5 GB/s LPDDR2, to 17 GB/s LPDDR3, the technology currently is powering today’s high-end devices in volume production. DRAM bandwidth has roughly doubled with each generation to keep pace with demand.
The next generation of low-power DRAM (LPDRAM)—also known as LPDDR4—addresses these constraints by doubling the bandwidth of LPDDR3 while maintaining power neutrality. For example, LPDDR4 targets 34 GB/s of total bandwidth for a x64 memory subsystem, doubling the bandwidth target from LPDDR3. This bandwidth is achieved by moving to a dual-channel architecture with eight banks per channel—providing more responders for higher efficiency and lower latency—and by using a new high-speed I/O interface capable of up to 4.267 Gb/s.
Conclusion – Micron’s LPDDR4 DRAM Memory will Arrive on Apple’s Hardware in 2014
Apple is a current DRAM customer of Micron Technology, having last used Micron’s LPDDR3 DRAM memory in 2013. Micron presented detailed benefits and product highlights regarding their LPDDR4 DRAM Memory technology almost a year ago. Furthermore, just yesterday Micron’s Vice President of Wireless Solutions Marketing published an article highlighting the benefits of Micron’s next generation DRAM LPDDR4, which tells me this technology is ready for the big show. Lastly, Micron received a mystery payment of $250m from one customer that was reported during their Q1 2014 conference call and their 10-Q indicates that the payment was “for product to be supplied through September 2016”.
Apple is in an arm’s race to improve the performance of their mobile, tablet and ultrabook devices and improve overall battery life. There appears to be little doubt that Apple is going to be showing off Micron’s LPDDR4 DRAM memory across their 2014 iPhones, Macbook and Tablets. You can take my word for it that Apple users are going to love how “lightning quick” the 2014 devices will be compared to the 2013 devices.
Update Micron announced that it was ramping up production of its DDR4 early this morning. This ramp up aligns with other recent Apple production ramp up announcements.
Full Disclosure: I am long Micron Technology and GT Advanced Technologies and have no plans to buy or sell any holdings in the next 72 hours