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The NAND Shortage Is Real, But So Is Hope
Quote:We are currently in the middle of a NAND shortage due to the slower than expected transition to 3D NAND, new smartphones with increased capacity, and an assortment of flash-powered products coming to market. One company representative told me just days ago that, in his opinion, this is the worst shortage we've ever had.

If you follow the SSD market, then you already know that retail product prices have held steady or increased over the last few months. This time of year, we normally see a 15% price drop across the board for consumer SSDs, but I'm skeptical that will happen. We have good news for 2017, though; if you are shopping for a high-capacity SSD, you will have a wider selection. Intel and Micron will release the second generation IMFT 3D NAND with a staggering 768Gbit of capacity per die, which is twice the density of what we examined with the MX300. That should help to increase the number of bits shipped into the market, which will simultaneously decrease the price of high-capacity products positioned for the mainstream.
Disregard that, we're in trouble. I'd tell all of you to grab more storage now before it's too late, but that'll just trigger what I'm warning you about.
Quote:We began reporting on the first signs of the looming NAND shortage all the way back in May, and have touched on the domino effect in many articles over the ensuing months as it unfolded. Now the shortage is in full swing: DRAMeXchange reported that the average price of MLC SSDs rose this quarter between 6%-10%, while TLC SSDs also rose 6%-9%. We also reached out to Trendfocus, whose projections indicate even higher price hikes at both the retail and OEM level.

To make matters worse, although HDDs unexpectedly had the biggest quarter-over-quarter recovery in seven years, according to Trendfocus, now the HDD industry is beginning to exhibit the early signs of "tightened" supply--which means there could be shortages and higher prices in that segment as well.

An increase in smartphone capacity, SSDs in laptops, and a terrible transition to 3D NAND led to SSDs prices that are unquestionably on the rise, and if HDDs also rise at the same time, it could lead to the perfect storm of higher storage prices. It appears the end of low-priced storage is nigh, and we don't expect things to improve until late next year. Let's start with the SSDs.

In many ways, SSDs are a victim of their own success. The continued price drops have made them more competitive with HDDs, so now every market segment is clamoring for NAND. Simultaneously, the market is in the midst of under-supply.

The demand spike began in the smartphone segment. Many popular new phones, such as the iPhone 7 (and a slew of new products from Chinese phone manufacturers), now have double the storage of previous models. Oddly enough, Samsung's Note 7 recall also complicated matters; it effectively removed at least a hundred million gigabytes of NAND from the market, many of which Samsung replaced--and then removed again. This might've been an annoyance during normal market conditions, but Samsung is already dealing with shortages, so it is particularly painful.

SSD demand, in general, is increasing rapidly, but notebook adoption is a particular bright spot. DRAMeXchange indicated that more than 30% of notebooks will ship with an SSD this year and that it will rise to above 50% "sometime within the 2017~2018 period.” Talk about fuzzy math. Others are a bit more exact and say that SSD penetration in notebooks will reach 52% next year, though only 13% of desktop PCs will sell with an SSD.

It's easy to see why SSDs are winning in notebooks, and the HDD vendors are making matters worse by shipping 2.5" SMR HDDs for the "performance" laptop market. The short version: SMR is the slowest thing ever to happen to HDDs (and they were slow already). SMR HDDs are cheaper to produce than the speedier normal PMR HDDs, but the OEMs likely won't pass down those savings to the end user, and SMR is absolutely abysmal for running an operating system.

The move to SMR will only compound the glaring SSD versus HDD performance issues, as most users would (literally) be better served by booting from a USB stick than an SMR HDD. Also, some HDD vendors aren't even labeling these drives as the slower SMR technology in marketing material or even the manual, so proceed with caution.

SSDs have also taken off in the enterprise, and now almost every major vendor offers platforms based upon Samsung 3D TLC NAND SSDs. Samsung is by far the leader in the consumer SSD world, but the explosion of enterprise SSD demand forced the company to shift some of its output from consumer SSDs to the enterprise. Samsung intends to triple its enterprise SSD output in the next two years, and satisfying the server OEMs is probably more important (and the profit margins are definitely higher), but it is exacerbating the NAND shortage in the retail market. Samsung's consumer SSD pricing continues to rise at retailers, and configuring a server with an SSD at many OEMs can increase lead times beyond 30-60 days, while the same HDD configuration is available immediately.

I guess it goes without saying, but all of the major server OEMs have all of their SSD eggs in the same Samsung 3D TLC basket. Fun times await if the shortage gets worse.

The HDD vendors took an absolute drubbing in the stock market earlier this year due to continued steep sales declines. As a result, the companies tightened the production belt and cut down on facilities, capabilities, and inventory. Then, just as we were popping the champagne on the demise of the 15K HDD, the other high-capacity HDD segments had a somewhat astounding rebound last month. HDDs increased 15% quarter over quarter, which is the biggest jump in the last seven years, and most analysts predict that the trend will continue this quarter, as well.

Unfortunately, the good HDD news is actually bad news. The HDD vendors already cut production to the bone, and many of the components come from third-party suppliers, who also cut production. Due to the previous losses and the unstable nature of the market, the vendors will not build new production lines to satisfy demand.

Instead, Trendfocus reported that the HDD and component companies are reallocating resources to account for demand in the high-capacity enterprise segment, which leads to less focus on other segments, such as consumer HDDs. The tightness in components and production could lead to reduced HDD supply, which would result in higher prices.

It's unclear if the recent SSD shortages and higher prices spurred the HDD resurgence last quarter, some of which did come in the notebook and PC segment, but the continued rise in SSD prices will certainly push more to purchase HDDs. This could become a vicious cycle if HDDs become scarce.

Samsung led the market with 3D NAND way back in 2012, but the rest of the laggards have just begun shipping 3D NAND this year. Poor yields and production difficulties have plagued the transition to 3D NAND, which led to delays from all of the major vendors (sans Samsung). While the vendors were ramping up 3D NAND capacity, they neglected to increase 2D (planar) NAND production (they were relying upon 3D NAND output), so the production difficulties have dealt a devastating blow to the overall supply.

The beleaguered Samsung is already short on flash, so it sped up production of its $9.2 billion Pyeongtek fab three months early, and its Xian fab is also generating significant output. IMFT (Intel/Micron) are shipping 3D NAND in volume and expect to sell more 3D than 2D NAND by the end of the year. Intel also has the first run of its production wafers coming out of its new Dalian (China) fab, and the company noted at the recent Credit Suisse conference that it experienced excellent yields from its first production runs. Intel will dedicate the Dalian fab entirely to 3D NAND for the time being (3D XPoint to follow). Micron also recently finished a massive expansion at its Fab 10 in Singapore.

The reclusive SK hynix was already shipping 32-layer NAND, which we've tested, and is now onto 48-layer. It also has 72-layer NAND planned, though it isn't on the roadmap above.

Toshiba and WD, which cooperate in the joint Flash Forward initiative, are shipping some 48-layer NAND (Toshiba is enjoying a resurgence with its iPhone 7 48-layer NAND supply contract), but not much. WD, which now owns SanDisk, indicated that it would ship only 40% of its output as 3D BiCS NAND by the end of 2017, which means they are a full year behind the Intel/Micron 3D NAND crossover. The company began a $3.2 billion BiCS fab in Mie, Japan in 2017, and it's currently transitioning the Yokkaichi Operations in Mie Prefecture to 3D NAND.

The Yokkaichi Operation is the largest fab in the world. We won't see the NAND shortage recede until WD/Toshiba get BiCS 3D NAND production into full swing, but the company still has to qualify its 64-layer NAND with OEMs, which might drag out the process until mid-to-late next year.

The newcomer XMC fab operated by the Chinese state-controlled Tsinghua group (under the name Yangtze River Storage Technology) is expected to come online in 2018, but for now, those operations are a wildcard.

All of these things are great for the NAND vendors, who are raking in record revenues (DRAMeXchange reports a 19.6% increase), but for the consumer, the worst is likely yet to come.

As we reported nearly six months ago, many of the third-party SSD vendors were already building massive NAND stockpiles worth hundreds of millions of dollars to weather the coming storm. These stockpiles helped to smooth over the price increases, so we have only seen limited impact in the retail market--until now.

The shortage is lasting much longer than anyone predicted, and I think it will continue until the end of next year. The pre-emptive NAND stockpiles are likely either already exhausted, or close, which will magnify the price increases at retail as the new higher prices are handed down to the customer. As shortages progress, the vendors tend to ignore the smaller, less desirable customers at first, and there is word that the USB segment is already experiencing a sharper increase in NAND prices than the rest of the industry. (All of a sudden, USB-class NAND may suddenly be SSD worthy).

Of course, as with any shortage, there may be a massive glut after all of this demand is satisfied because there will be a bevy of new fabs that will keep pumping out NAND. It will likely be 2018 before that happens, if it even does.

Many analysts are predicting SSD prices to increase 20-25% over the next few months, so if you plan to buy an SSD or HDD, the time is now.
Quote:On the surface, the response is exactly what we expected from the world's largest SSD manufacturer, but we quickly realized its true value. This is the first confirmation of a retail SSD release that has been delayed due to the NAND shortage. Several recent products have come to market in short supply, like the 960 Series, but none have been pushed completely off the shelf, as far as we know.

Rumor has it the early 960 Series products destined for consumer shoppers were scooped up by datacenters. The series, the Pro model in particular, delivers exceptional performance and endurance for a consumer SSD and rivals many of the existing enterprise-focused models shipping today. There was a lingering suspicion that the low volume at Newegg and Amazon were a combination of datacenter purchasing and supply-side troubles.

NAND flash technology is a vital component in everything from automobiles to children's toys, but NAND's success may become its greatest enemy as companies work to increase production through brute force (new factories) and product development (increased bits per square inch). The demand has simply grown faster than the technology can sustain.

The NAND shortage is starting to disrupt other memory technologies as the vacuum increases. Some companies have shifted some planned DRAM production line expansion to NAND. Analysts predict a looming DRAM shortage for 2017. This timeline falls directly during the peak of the NAND shortage. We expect to see PC prices increase throughout the year and the secondary markets to fall victim to rising prices, as well.
Quote:Over the past while, more warning signs have popped up about the impending NAND flash memory shortage. Samsung has delayed the 850 Pro 4 TB and many others in the field have also felt the squeeze. One of the latest to join the ranks of victims is Lite-On, producers of SSDs under their own brand as well as Plextor. According to CEO Warren Chen, the company expects fewer sales due to reduced supply.

As Chen noted, the shortage is being caused by the increased demand from smartphones as well as the enterprise flash storage market. On the other side of the equation, SSD demand is also continuing to increase. Due to the higher demand, supply has been unable to keep up, meaning manufacturers will have have to prioritize certain more lucrative segments rather than the consumer market. Once supply dries up, we can expect higher prices from shops as they start having trouble keeping stock and no longer require discounts to drive sales.

So far, the price hikes haven’t been felt too deeply as SSD manufacturers have been stocking up on NAND to help ride out the storm. However, the indications show that their reserves have started running low. With increased supply not expected till at least 2018 at the earlier, I would expect SSD prices to slowly increase over the next while. Of course, the more popular the drive, the more likely it is to have supply issues. However, less popular drives may also see a lower production rate as companies start prioritizing lineups. One can only hope that this shortage won’t hurt too much.
More bad news:
Quote:DRAMeXchange, a division of TrendForce, reports that client-grade SSDs of mainstream capacities continue to see rising contract prices in the PC-OEM market during this first quarter. On average, contract prices of MLC-based client-grade SSDs are projected to go up by 12~16% compared with the fourth quarter of last year, while prices of TLC-based products are expected to increase by 10~16% sequentially. Looking ahead to the second quarter, end device sales are anticipated to be relatively flat. Furthermore, PC-OEMs are reaching their limits on SSD costs. While the average prices of mainstream client-grade SSDs will keep climbing, the increase in the second quarter will likely be more moderate.
Looking at the 3D-NAND SSD segment, Samsung is still the leader as the company have shipped products based on its V3 (48-layer) solution since the fourth quarter of 2016. Micron and Intel, which are working together on 3D-NAND products, also started to ship their 3D-NAND SSDs in the fourth quarter of last year, albeit in smaller volumes. Other competitors are going to reveal their respective 3D-NAND SSDs in the first half of 2017 and begin shipments in the second half of the year.

DRAMeXchange anticipates that the global shipment share of client-grade SSDs using TLC Flash will exceed 75% by in 2017. Moreover, 3D-NAND TLC is expected to become the mainstream Flash solution for TLC-based SSDs shipped this year. As for the 2D-NAND MLC and the 3D-NAND MLC designs, they are not cost competitive and their chips are short in supply. Therefore, 2D- or 3D-NAND MLC will be used mainly for high-end SSD lines.
Quote:Market intelligence analysis company TRENDFOCUS revealed in its latest blog post how SSD market has increased by up to 36% in the last four quarters, with price hikes after prices hikes accompanying increasing demand (and sales) of the speedy storage media. And TRENDFOCUS warns that these price hikes are like here to stay until 2017 has run its course, with projections of price reductions only materializing in early 2018. This should put some brakes towards the trend of including SSD storage on mainstream OEM computers and laptops, as the price increase from adding this type of storage would bring prices beyond the mainstream. Likewise, the aggressive ratio at which SSDs were replacing HDDs as storage media as correspondingly declined a bit, though this move still stays strong and isn't likely to (nor should it) fully subside.

The company also sees an increasing pricing delta between conventional SATA-based solutions and their higher-performing PCIe counterparts, with the pricing of PCIe-based SSDs increasing more than those that leverage SATA connections. TRENDFOCUS reports how 2017 pricing hinges on 3D NAND ramping as predicted this year, with higher prices in the demand-heavy back-to-school season) if this ramp fails. The company still feels confident about an eventual return to quarterly takedowns on SSD pricing, coeteris paribus, come 2018.
Quote:We won't have to wait long to find out. Patriot told us the new Scorch NVMe SSD will enter production soon and ship in early Q3. We may see these products as early as July. We don't know final pricing and any numbers given now would only be educated guesses. The Scorch will utilize Toshiba's 64-layer BiCS FLASH with 3-bits per cell (TLC). Toshiba only recently began ramping up production volume of SSD-grade NAND. Once the production lines are fully engaged BiCS FLASH will ease supply side constraints on NAND and bring us out of the shortage.
Quote:Most of our woes can be traced back to high-end smartphones, which make use of up to 6 GB of RAM and have copious amounts of NAND memory. Now, reports are coming in that due to the iPhone 8's impending launch, supply is even tighter, with several firms being either unable to secure the amount of Ram they are looking for, or having to order in significant advance (futures speculation anyone?) Reuters is reporting that some clients have moved to 6-month supply agreements for their DRAM and NAND purchases, accepting higher prices than the customary quarterly or monthly deals, to make sure they get enough memory chips for their products.

Amidst these woes, and if you add in the current mark-up on almost all GPUs being sold to the public due to the crypto mining craze, it's probably one of the most expensive moments to build a new PC from scratch, or even to slightly upgrade your machine. And relief in the DRAM and NAND channels is expected to only come by around 2018, and only from the supply side of the equation (you can bet demand will only keep on rising.) Additional factories from Samsung and SK Hynix are expected to start production in early 2018.
Quote:Samsung is one of the top tech players in the world, with tendrils extending through almost all conceivable markets. That position, and the varied sources of income the company has at its disposal, gives it enough leeway to make investments that echo throughout the industry, Now, after a 15 trillion won investment (something like $13 billion), the company's latest V-NAND fab has started production in Pyeongtaek.

The fab will produce the firm's latest three-dimensional, 64-layer 256Gb V-NAND chips. Here's hoping the expected influx of higher quantities of NAND memory will allows us poor users to see a stop to the NAND pricing increase we've been seeing of late. Not everybody needs all the NAND available in smartphones.
Quote:Based on conversations with dozens of analysts and people inside the industry, we believe that even if 3D NAND production yields increase by the first quarter of 2018, it will take several quarters of high-volume production to turn the tables on the supply vs. demand problem. Apple will demand a large allocation of NAND for the next generation iPhone. Samsung will follow suit with a new Galaxy Note. We expect both to use dense die stack packages, which are also used in consumer single-sided high-capacity M.2 SSDs.
When we add up these factors it puts retail consumer SSDs on track to stay at current price levels until very late 2018 or into early 2019. There will be some price changes, but nothing significant will change for most of 2018.
Quote:DRAMeXchange, a division of TrendForce, reports a growing demand for NAND Flash under the influence of traditional peak season and increasing demand for smartphones and SSD from servers and data centers. The gap between supply and demand is larger compared with the previous quarter. However, the contract price of all product lines increased no more than 0-6% in this third quarter after a long period of continuous price increase, and the current price is approaching the highest level that OEM factories can afford.

As for Q4, the market demand is expected to increase slower except for smartphones’ surging demand. In addition, the price is expected to remain the same or have only slight rise since 64/72-layer 3D-NAND devices have been put into mass production and applied to SSD product lines, gradually driving the market towards a balance between supply and demand. NAND flash manufacturers are expected to maintain their high revenue in the fourth quarter as the prices are still high. But the market is expected to turn to oversupply in 2018, as the 64/72-layer 3D-NAND development matures and brings an off-season in the first half of the year.
Quote:The tight supply of NAND flash memory is expected to ease in the first quarter of 2018 as the yield rates at major 3D NAND flash suppliers continue improving, which will significantly benefit second-tier memory packaging and testing service providers, according to industry sources.

The sources said that the demand and profitability of the DRAM segment are experiencing a positive cycle as global leading DRAM suppliers are rationally expanding their capacities, allowing the DRAM market to sustain stable development in the short term.

As to NAND flash memory chips, the average selling price (ASP) is expected to trend downward in the first quarter of 2018 after peaking in the fourth quarter of 2017, as the improving yield rates at makers will help to ease the tight supply of the segment, the sources continued.
Quote:This has been a record year for new NAND memory investment. We've seen all of the NAND manufacturers start, complete, or announce new facilities in 2017. The flash shortage certainly helped to pump up profits in 2017 and it looks like the companies will put that money to good use.

The current state of the market is 64-layer memory, but that will soon be a passing as companies prepare for the next chapter that will scale to 96-layers and beyond. We're already starting to see the shortage subside and retail product pricing decline. New innovative products are coming to market using higher bit per die NAND, like the Toshiba XG5 and Crucial MX500.
Quote:In August, we said the consumer SSD market would level off but that shoppers would not see any major price drops until late 2018. Just weeks ago, reports spread across the web proclaiming an end to the NAND shortage. In some markets, that's true, but it's important to understand that the consumer market is different from the enterprise market.

Most of the new 256Gbit 64-Layer NAND available today feeds the enterprise demand, and prices are on a downward slope. On the consumer side, we see some incremental price reductions from the companies with NAND manufacturing capability, but not the free-fall we hoped for.

It's CES time, and we should be swimming in new products on display, but that's not happening this year, which seems odd on the surface. All of the conditions are right for the transition to NVMe. In a normal year, the front page of this publication would be full of new SSDs. Granted, there are some products on display, but very few are "ready for retail."

64-layer 3D NAND is shipping, but the 256Gbit die will come and go rapidly. That's what makes this NAND cycle different. Many of the companies we've spoken to do not want to invest in products with such a limited shelf life. The 512Gbit die are right around the corner from the fabs. Some estimates put a major ramp up coming before mid year. The technology offers a 2x capacity increase while taking only a little more space on the wafer. The bits per wafer doesn't double, but it gets very close. The retail products coming in the second half of 2018 with have a heavy impact on SSD pricing. Some estimates from engineers we've spoken with put retail pricing on track for a 20% to 30% reduction over similar-capacity products shipping today.
Quote:This is because there's been a slight NAND oversupply towards the market, even amidst some "incidents" which have impacted global NAND production by as much as 3.5% just last month. However, investment in new NAND factories has been rampant, as companies look to capitalize on ever-growing smartphone NAND demand and the overall increase in storage space and speed for ushering businesses and technologies (think AI and processing workloads, for instance). Now is one of the best times ever to purchase gargantuan amounts of fast SSD storage - though it is expected that pricing will keep on declining at least until the beginning of 2H18, end-users will likely fail to see this reflected in a meaningful way. The situation may change slightly in 2H18, though, with companies reducing output so as to match market absorption of new NAND - moving from oversupply to tight supply.

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