Seasonal changes in demand have driven memory prices down once again.

The slowest time for IT product sales is normally between April and June, with some hangover as the summer arrives and people go on vacation. By mid-May or June, it will be a great time to pick up extra DRAM modules to help perk up a PC, or even look into digital music players. Often, when memory prices decline, companies that make MP3 players add more memory to new models and slash prices on older ones.

Flash memory down 20%

DRAM prices on the global spot market have dropped in the past two weeks to lows of around $4.58 per chip for the most widely used 512MB version of DDR2 (double data rate 2), compared to $5.45 a month ago, according to researcher DRAMeXchange Technology. It's been more dramatic for NAND flash, where prices for the most widely used 2GB chips slid 33 per cent in the first half of March.

"Moving ahead to the second quarter, DRAMeXchange is still doubtful about any price rebound," it said in a report Monday.

MP3 player market slows

Nam Hyung Kim, a memory industry analyst at iSuppli, believes NAND prices have declined due to weak demand for digital music players. Brisk holiday demand late last year gave way to a short period of shelf restocking by retailers early this year, but now demand has slowed.

The slowdown prompted iSuppli to lower its forecast on Tuesday for the global NAND flash memory market, to $13.8 billion from $16 billion previously. Last year, the market was worth $10.8 billion.

There's plenty of other evidence for weak flash memory prices. Lexar Media, a developer of NAND devices, updated its earnings forecast Tuesday for the quarter ending March 31 to a level far below estimates. It didn't say why it revised its guidance, but analysts reckon it's because of weak NAND flash demand.

It's new numbers miss by a wide margin. The company expects revenue for the period of up to $130 million, with a $30 million loss, compared to analysts' estimates of $200 million in revenue and a $16 million loss.

"We believe weak flash demand and prices were the primary reason for the shortfall," investment banking firm Credit Suisse said in a research note Tuesday.

Vista delay impacts market

It's important for users to note that the current downtrend in memory prices won't last. Demand for PCs and other IT products normally pick up later in the year, especially near back-to-school time in August or September. Market researcher Gartner believes it's likely flash memory prices will strengthen later in the year, while the DRAM market continues to soften - especially since Microsoft decided to delay the launch of its new operating system, Vista.

"Impact from Vista was originally expected to be minimal: the delay will, however, affect PC shipments at the end of 2006. Some users may delay purchases until the beginning of 2007," Gartner said Monday. PCs are the largest users of DRAM chips.

The global market for DRAM chips is expected to rise to $26.4 billion this year, from $24.8 billion last year, according to iSuppli.