Are smartphone component shortages here to stay?

May 29, 2013
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    We already know that the reason behind the Snapdragon 600 and Exynos Octa split in the Galaxy S4 came down to production issues, and how can anyone forget the HTC One’s component shortages. It’s obvious that there’s a growing trend with production difficulties in the smartphone market, and it seems that other component manufacturers are also struggling to keep up with the growing demand for smartphone hardware.

    Today we learn that SK Hynix Semiconductor, the world’s second largest chipmaker, will not be supplying mobile dynamic random access memory chips (DRAM) to Samsung Electronics. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the problem seems due to a lack of production capacity and a failure to meet Samsung’s demand.

    According to one anonymous industry watcher on Wednesday:

    The June plans seem to have fallen through because SK Hynix’s supplies can’t meet Samsung’s demands

    With devices like the Samsung Galaxy S4 taking a record number of pre-orders and proving to be phenomenally popular, it’s easy to see how the industry’s production capabilities can be put under strain. The smartphone market has grown substantially over the past few years, and yet manufacturing capabilities appear to be failing to keep the pace.

    However, it also seems that a downward market pressure on prices is also becoming a major factor in these shortages. Looking specifically at SK Hynix, PC DRAM has been was showing much better margins than mobile DRAM, which has caused manufacturers to look elsewhere for suppliers. Whilst this switch in demand caused PC DRAM prices to rise over 90%, overall the increased competition in RAM production and the need to secure the best deal with big handset manufacturers has driven prices down, which could be stifling investment in new manufacturing facilities.

    It’s clear that the industry needs to invest in new production technologies to prevent further problems with future handset launches. Samsung already owns and produces some of its own components, and it would make sense for other manufacturers to start producing their own components to avoid relying on other suppliers.

    Having said that, Samsung is in quite a unique position as the dominant market leader, and without the spare capital to invest or the additional bargaining power, smaller manufactures may be stuck with limited production capacities for the foreseeable future.

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    • MasterMuffin

      I’ve been reading this over and over, am I just stupid or is this a typo “PC DRAM has been was showing much better margins”

      • Joshua Hill

        Just remove the ‘has been’ and it makes much more sense.

        • MasterMuffin

          Yea I thought so too :)

    • Joshua Hill

      Smartphones are memory bandwidth limited if you ask me. Smartphone manufacturers are being stingy and driving prices down so no new development is happening and we are now not only facing slow, bandwidth deprived devices but delays in their release.

      Good one stingy manufacturers, the way they gouge consumers for storage capacity increases you’d think they could pay DRAM providers more.
      Yes, I know I’m talking about two different types of memory

      • Gilles LeBlanc

        I’m interested in what your saying. However you really need to love how the market is favorable to the consumer in most aspects. 16GB capacity issue? Can you not buy a armagedon proof 64gb sd and Root the OS?

        • Joshua Hill

          The capacity of your devices storage ram is much less important than the lack of bandwidth from the DRAM. These are completely different types of memory and serve completely different purposes. I was just pointing out the price gouging for larger capacity devices. Take the Nexus 10 vs. Nexus 7, $100 more for extra 16Gb on Nexus 10 but only $50 more for the same on Nexus 7???

          In answer to your question I have a 32Gb sd card in my Galaxy S2 but a lot of android phones don’t have the option for expandable storage. So the answer to your question is both Yes and No, not all users can.

          • Gilles LeBlanc

            Im not seeing performance issues related to Ram bandwith. My experience with my first android device “note 2″ has been software that is beautifuly scaled with hardware. What usage scenario’s producing these ram related issues for you?

            • Joshua Hill

              I’m not a developer. My comment was just reiterating what the article said in regards to pricing pressures and availability with a slightly different spin on it.

              I wouldn’t say RAM bandwidth limitations are a problem for me just that I suspect it’s one of the weaker points in smartphones/tablets. GPU performance doesn’t scale with clock speed like it should leading me to think there are bandwidth limitations. With my Mali 400 Gpu overclocked to 400 Mhz (a 50% increase on stock, 267Mhz) benchmarks such as Quadrant and Antutu sow only 10 – 20% improvements. 3D Mark shows a 30 – 40% improvement which is pretty good but in my experience it tends to scale almost 1:1 with clock increases for non bandwidth starved desktop GPU’s.

            • Gilles LeBlanc

              Hmm after analysing benchmark results myself I totally see what you mean. Intetesting thought you have there. I like it.

            • Joshua Hill

              There were also varying benchmark scores for devices sporting S600 processors at the same clockspeeds which could be due to different manufacturers memory implementations.

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