Thu, Aug 03, 2006 - Page 12 News List

Outlook rosy for flash drive market

By Jason Tan  /  STAFF REPORTER

The flash memory market looks set to enjoy continued growth over the next few years, fueled by sales of MP3 players and handsets in the near term and notebooks in the future, two industry veterans said yesterday.

"The momentum of flash memory growth is currently driven by handsets, MP3 players and digital cameras, but the first two will be the main propellants next year," Steven Chen (陳冠廷), an analyst with Topology Research Institute (拓墣產業研究所), said at a seminar.

NAND flash -- the mainstream flash memory type -- was embedded by Apple Computer Inc into its iPod nano and shuffle models last year, the first time MP3 players used flash memory chips instead of micro hard disks.

Growth is expected to pick up further when Apple releases revamped versions of iPods early next year, Chen said.

As handset vendors have started to incorporate high-resolution camera modules into the latest cellphone models, the flash memory market will also be fueled by retail sales of flash memory cards, with storage size growing to 2,257 megabytes in 2010 from 56 megabytes this year, he added.

Overall, the global NAND flash market will expand by 140 percent to US$26.1 billion by 2009 from this year, according to market researcher iSuppli Corp.

However, the future driver for the flash memory market will be on notebooks, with more momentum seen starting in 2008, Topology said.

In the middle of this year, both Samsung Electronics Co and Sony Corp launched small-form factor laptops that use NAND flash instead of the 2.5-inch hard disk drives.

Notebooks operating on NAND flash -- which offer advantages such as power savings, shock resistance, light weight and faster processing speed over hard disks -- are currently priced at least US$1,000 higher more than mainstream notebooks, so it is hard to expect them to gain greater acceptance in the next two years, Steven Chen said.

But Gibson Chen (陳明達), vice president of memory module maker Adata Technology Inc (威剛科技), is optimistic.

"NAND flash will never totally replace hard disks in laptops, but it is encouraging that research institutions think the percentage of NAND flash in notebooks will surpass the 30 percent mark in 2011," he said.

The rosy outlook is supported by the push from Microsoft Corp and Intel Corp. Microsoft will launch its Windows Vista operating system early next year, which will include a hybrid hard disk and NAND flash as a disk cache.

In the first quarter of next year, Intel's next dual-core notebook platform (codenamed Santa Rosa) will also have NAND flash on its motherboard, along with a controller chip.

Local dynamic random access memory (DRAM) chipmakers are trying to break into the NAND flash market, with Nanya Technology Corp (南亞科技) saying in March that it planned to start manufacturing flash memory chips in the near future.

"Taiwanese makers already have the highest density of 12-inch DRAM plants in the world. They have a chance of shifting their DRAM capacity to NAND flash," Steven Chen said.

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