It has become one of the most studied aspects when deciding to buy a new mobile, and no wonder. As mobile operating systems have advanced, and applications have become increasingly complex and resource-hungry pieces of software, RAM has become a decisive element, in which everything – or almost everything – the world looks at when buying a terminal. But, Is it really that important?
There are many unknowns that exist around the RAM in our mobile devices. Therefore, our intention is clarify the main doubts and answer the big questions about AMR.
What is RAM and what is it for?
Before entering fully to answer some of the main questions, it is necessary to understand what is it really this component that includes each and every one of the smartphones on the market. The random access memory o RAM memory –for its acronym in English–, is a type of memory that devices –be they are mobile phones, tablets, computers or Smart TV, among others– use to store data that will be needed in the short term.
The RAM is ultra-fast memory, since both reading and writing must be done almost instantaneously, something that would be impossible in the case of using other types of memory such as that used by devices as internal storage. In addition, they are called “random access” memories since, regardless of the position in which you want to read or write, the waiting time will be the same by not using a sequential access mode.
Sequential vs random access, what is the difference? | When we speak of sequential access applied to computing, we refer to a type of access that follows a predetermined order when accessing elements before reading or writing to memory. It is a type of access slower than random, because to reach a specific point in memory it must first go through the previous elements.
In our Android phones or tablets, the RAM memory acts as follows: the operating system – more specifically, the kernel or kernel – is in charge of managing the access of applications and other system elements to the RAM memory, in a that they can read or write only when the kernel allows it. Thus, these applications can temporarily store data, which they can access instantly when necessary.
This, translated into the use we make of our devices on a day-to-day basis, means that, once the operating system, its processes and other elements have used part of the RAM they need to function, the remaining space is left free for applications can store data. Once the mobile is turned off and on again, RAM is freed and the process begins again, with the applications to try to occupy its position in RAM.
Unlike the internal storage, the RAM memory is “cleaned” every time we restart the mobile.
It is also necessary to take into account that, like the vast majority of modern operating systems, Android includes integrated RAM memory management, which is in charge of dynamically granting the empty spaces in the RAM memory to the different applications as they need it, until all the available spaces are completed to take full advantage of the RAM memory capacity of our device. Hence, it is commonly said that on Android unused RAM is wasted RAM, and that closing apps manually to save memory is not a recommended practice.
What does it mean that your mobile has 2/4/8 GB of RAM?
Now that the most basic concepts of how RAM memory works have become clear, it is necessary to answer one of the questions most asked by smartphone users: What does it mean if my mobile has 2, 4, 6 or 12 gigabytes of RAM?.
We have already explained that RAM is a type of memory like any other, which differs from the rest by the type of access – random – and by the speed – which, by the way, measured in megahertz-. Therefore, as with the rest of memories, one of its most important features is the capacity, which is precisely the aspect to which these GBs that I spoke before refer.
That your mobile has a specific amount of RAM, only means that both the applications and the operating system itself have more or less space when storing their data to access them later, so that those mobiles with more RAM allow keep more applications in the background . On the other hand, if the memory capacity is reduced, only a few applications will be able to store data – the system reserves a space for its processes, which the apps cannot occupy -, so that data must be loaded from scratch every time it is run, and therefore access to them will be slower.
As we have changed | The HTC Dream was the first Android ever to hit the market, and it had 192 MB of RAM. Today, there are already mobiles like the ASUS ROG Phone 3 with 16 GB of RAM, or what is the same, 84 times more than the HTC model.
If an app or process requests RAM from the operating system, but due to low memory capacity there is no space available, the kernel will be forced to free memory using a technique known as . There may also be the situation that the have to kill a process stored in memory to make room for a new one. These calculations are made based on different factors, such as the time that has passed since the app was opened that remains in the background, so that ending a process to make room for another does not affect the normal performance of the device too much.
Swapping, the technique that uses internal memory as RAM | When we talk about , we refer to a technique that is based on using free space on the hard disk to store temporary data, thus reducing the use of RAM. On Android, this data must be compressed before being stored on disk, and later decompressed to be able to access it.
Of course, on Android there is also the possibility of free RAM manually. By doing so, we can close the processes that the applications keep open to be able to access them later as quickly as possible, thus leaving room for new processes. However, as I said before, it is usually better let the operating system itself manage memory usage as you see fit.
More RAM is always better, is it really so?
Another of the most widespread doubts among smartphone users is related to how much RAM does an Android phone really need to work well. Taking into account the comments above, it would be easy to conclude that the more RAM, the better. But the reality is not so simple.
Like any component built into devices, RAM memory chips consume power, and consumption is higher as memory capacity grows, since more refresh cycles. This is how Park Ju Hyung, one of the developers of the Paranoid Android ROM platform, explains:
Higher RAM capacity increases power usage due to refresh cycles, so bigger is not always better.
I’m not familiar with how RAM boost on OxygenOS works, but if it’s done correctly (like how Google pins several system services related files to RAM), it could make sense. https://t.co/UAABluaBb9
– Park Ju Hyung (@ arter97) May 21, 2019
In addition, it is necessary to take into account that, although applications consume more and more RAM memory of our devices, there are still few that exceed the 1 GB occupied figure. A table made by shows how common applications such as WhatsApp or Spotify rarely exceed 300 MB, while the heaviest games such as PUBG Mobile reach figures close to 1.15 GB.
How do I know how much RAM memory my mobile has? |: practically all smartphones on the market reflect the amount of RAM they include. However, you can check the memory of your mobile, as well as the space occupied and available if you access the developer options of your mobile, in the “Memory usage” section.
Taking all this into account, it is best to find a figure that suits our way of using the mobile, always keeping in mind that, today, the 8 GB RAM are a figure that has shown to be capable of deliver good performance in mid-range and high-end terminals alike. Therefore, if you are one of those who spends hours playing some of the most resource-demanding titles, or you use your mobile or tablet almost as a substitute for a computer and multitasking is the most important thing, you may choose a mobile with 12 GB of RAM be a good idea. If, on the other hand, you do not usually play or are not too demanding with the number of applications you use simultaneously, 8 GB should be more than enough.
RAM memory types and their differences
In the same way that there are different types of cameras, processors or screens, in the market we can find several different types of RAM, which generally differ between them by its speed and energy efficiency.
Today, the most common type that we can find in Android smartphones is the LPDDR4X RAM, where it means , and DDR4 refers to or , while the number 4 corresponds to the version. Finally, the X indicates that it is a derivative version of LPDDR4 technology.
This type of memory offers a data transfer speed of up to 4,266 Mbps, the same as LPDDR4 technology, although it supports capacities ranging from 8 GB to 96 GB, a considerable increase from the 32 GB maximum limit of LPDDR4 technology. In addition, it bases its operation on a single 16-bit channel, and they are manufactured in a 14-nanometer format.
But two years after the launch of LPDDR4X, a new technology arrived that this year we have begun to see in the first terminals, such as the OnePlus 8 Pro or the Galaxy S20 Ultra, by the way, two of the mobiles with the largest memory capacity RAM on the market. It’s about the LPDDR5 technology, faster thanks to a speed of up to 6,400 Mbps that translates into transfers of more than 50 GB per second, while improving efficiency, reducing energy consumption by up to 30%. Today, this type of memory is not very widespread among smartphones, although it is expected that it will gain ground in the coming years.
The mobiles with the most RAM on the market
As application requirements and user needs have evolved and increased, manufacturers have chosen to equip their phones with increasing RAM memory capacities. Currently, these are some of the mobiles with more RAM than can be bought from some of the major brands: