But PC shipments slowed down again in the second half of 2010 with growing demand for tablets and smartphones, which rely on different memory types such as low-power DDR and nonvolatile NAND flash memory. Some chip makers have now changed business models and are increasing focus on memory for tablets and smartphones.
But even in the down market, there are exceptions. Prices are rising for 8GB DDR3 DRAM modules, which are rare and expensive. The DIMMs are based on the new higher-capacity 4Gb die, for which advanced manufacturing technologies are needed. Only a few companies like Samsung and Hynix have the manufacturing capacity to make these chips.
"Physically it's bigger, and the prices on those die are a little more resilient on a dollar-per-gigabit basis," Howard said.
There is also a lot of momentum going into the development of DDR4 memory, which is the successor to DDR3. DDR4 memory could reach customers in 2014, and is expected to first go into servers.
There are also alternatives to DRAM such as MRAM (magnetoresistive random-access memory), Hybrid Memory Cube and PCM (phase-change memory) under development, Howard said. The memory types are just getting out of research and development and are not yet available in significant volumes to replace DDR3.
"To replace DRAM, you need to be ready to go into millions of PCs and billions of mobile devices," Howard said.