Memory and Microprocessor Demand Trends Diverge as PC Sales Rebound

John Ward Author

Despite indications of a rise in PC demand in Q4 2023 and expectations of a strong rebound in shipments in 2024, demand for computer-related chips are following divergent trends in Q1.

Microprocessor sales are set to increase, while total memory is on track to decline. PC upgrade cycles and pivots to AI applications will keep DDR5 and HBM DRAM in the black, however. Join us as we explore what’s next for these markets in 2024.

Relief on the Horizon for the PC Market?

The global PC market has been mired in a downturn of historic dimensions, with two consecutive years of declines in the mid-teen-percentage range in 2022 and 2023. By some estimates, 2023 was the worst year ever for the PC market, with an approximate 15% drop in shipments compared to 2022, according to market watchers. Following the major COVID-driven sales surge in 2020 and 2021, the PC market was thoroughly saturated in 2022 and 2023.

However, signs of a fundamental shift appeared in Q4 2023, with global PC shipments rising by a low single-digit percentage on a sequential basis, according to multiple industry sources. Market demand reached the bottom in Q4 2023 as massively swelled inventories of electronic components and finished PCs finally returned to more normal levels.

With this stockpile issue resolved, the PC market is primed for a new growth cycle in 2024, fueled by the arrival of a new class of PCs enhanced by AI.

At CES, PC industry leaders Intel, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Microsoft announced they were joining forces to offer notebooks based on Intel’s Core Ultra mobile MPU, which features built-in AI acceleration hardware. The notebooks will support on-device generative AI, bringing capabilities associated with cloud-based services like ChatGPT to personal computing.

At the same time, AI acceleration chip leader Nvidia announced three new GPUs, the RTX 4060 Super, the RTX 4070 Ti Super and the RTX 4080 Super designed to power AI-ready laptops. Several PC makers, including Acer, Dell, HP, Lenovo and Samsung, unveiled new models equipped with Nvidia’s latest chips at the event.

However, many of these AI-enhanced PCs aren’t expected to reach the market until H2, limiting their impact on PC and component demand in H1. In the meantime, demand trends for critical PC components are set to vary early in 2024.

Demand Shifts Ahead

The Commodity IQ Demand Index for MPUs remained above the baseline level in Q4 2023, indicating continued increases in sales. Sales growth is expected to accelerate during Q1, with the index projected to average 15 points above the baseline. The resolution of the finished-product inventory overhang, along with increasing demand from the AI-enhanced server market, will combine to drive the increase.

On the other hand, memory demand across all device types is set for weakness, with the index set to average well below in Q1, well below the baseline level. Demand will dip as certain memory inventories remain inflated in the channel.

As PC makers stock up on essential components to support the AI PC wave, demand is set to rise for key components, including memory and MPUs, bringing a change in the purchasing environment.

PC industry buyers need to monitor the supply of key components as demand picks up, inventory declines and lead times begin to lengthen as the year progresses.

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