Was 2010 the Last Really Good Year for NOR Flash?

 
 
By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2011-02-23
 
 
 

That NAND flash sure is a popular piece of action, what with all those iPads, smartphones, Flip video cameras and 1,001 other connected pieces gobbling it all up like no one's business. Did you see the story we had the other day about the upsurge in NAND flash production expected for this year and next? If not, then go here.

So the news is going to be good for NAND for a long while, it seems. But it doesn't look quite as rosy for its cousin, NOR flash.

You see, IHS iSuppli--the same researcher that predicted superstardom for NAND--reported Feb. 22 that the global market for NOR flash memory will decline by almost 6 percent in 2011 after huge growth last year. This is the first sign of the difficult years that lie ahead as the industry struggles with declining prices, IHS iSuppli said.

Wow. That's a slap in the flash if there ever was one.

NOR flash memory used to store and run code and is used in a broad range of consumer electronics items, including mobile handsets, PCs, hard disk drives, DVD players, televisions and set-top boxes. But it simply doesn't hold as much storage capacity as cousin NAND.

For the record: differences between NOR and NAND flash. NOR, which first came to the market from Toshiba in 1988, has long erase and write times but provides full address and data buses, allowing random access to any memory location.

NOR differs from NAND flash--also developed by Toshiba but introduced in 1989--in that the connections of the individual memory cells are different, and the interface provided for reading and writing the memory is different. NOR allows random access for reading; NAND allows only "page" access.

So back to the numbers. NOR revenue in 2011 is projected to amount to $4.8 billion, down from $5.1 billion last year in what had been the industry's best performance since 2004. The decline this year is in painful contrast to NOR's 10.9 percent growth in 2010, an unusually strong period for the industry as it benefited from a ramping economic recovery.

While shipments will keep rising in the future as NOR finds its way into more applications, average selling prices (ASPs) are weakening as a whole, iSuppli said. As a result, NOR revenue will continue to take a hit, declining in the years ahead.

"In recent years, NOR has been steadily losing its share of the memory market to a rival flash technology, NAND, which costs less and has much higher memory capacity especially suitable for today's smartphones," said Michael Yang, senior analyst for memory and storage at IHS iSuppli. "The robust results of NOR last year came when manufacturers cut back supply after demand for the product recovered."

This is not a death knell for NOR. It's more like a long, slow decline.

But its days are numbered.

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