Why Intel is returning to the memory market

Graphics is a focal point of the upcoming Haswell platform, necessitating a high bandwidth memory solution. To deliver high performance Intel is returning to the DRAM market, which it unceremoniously exited in 1985.

According to veteran Silicon Valley analyst David Kanter, the memory that ships with Haswell will be a custom embedded DRAM mounted in the package and manufactured on a variant of Intel’s 22nm process. By avoiding the commodity memory market, Intel will preserve high margins by cannibalizing discrete GPUs and dedicated graphics memory.

Nevertheless, says Kanter, while Intel’s eDRAM will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the industry, it is not a direct threat to the high volume vendors like Samsung or Micron.

“The DRAM business is mostly a low margin, commodity business where cost metrics drive decisions; there are a few exceptions such as specialized solutions for high value applications such as networking or graphics,” Kanter wrote in a detailed analysis published in RealWorldTech.

“[Essentially], Intel is living up to its name and simply integrating more of the PC platform. While this is not competition for any DRAM vendors, it is an indirect threat. As Intel’s integrated graphics becomes more capable and takes more of the market, DRAM consumption will shift from companies like Nvidia and AMD (which buy from Samsung, Hynix, Micron, etc.) to Intel.”

Kanter also notes that Intel’s return to the DRAM business is “emblematic” of a larger shift in the industry.

“[Clearly], Moore’s Law is alive and well, but improving performance requires more than just shrinking transistors. Intel’s strategy is quite clear: differentiate through superior process technology and manufacturing and leverage this advantage through greater integration and delivering higher performance to customers. Intel’s embedded DRAM is just one step in this direction, there are assuredly many others on the roadmap,” he added.