How Much RAM Does a Mobile Phone Really Need?

Buying a smartphone can become a real headache. We go to the store and find features and spec charts full of numbers. Figures that many times we are unable to associate with the real performance that this phone can offer us. RAM is usually one of those components.

Nor do you think that you are the only ones. Almost all of us have thought that the more RAM the better our smartphone will work, although we are not entirely clear why. Is this really so?

RAM memory: What is it for?

Before starting to discuss whether it is better to have more or less RAM, it should be clarified what is RAM exactly, and what role it plays in the performance of a mobile phone.

When we install an app or a game, the CPU (Central Processing Unit) and the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) do all the processing work, but what is the function of RAM?

RAM (Random Access Memory, or random access memory) is a storage unit, much faster when reading and writing information than a hard drive or internal storage drive.

To give us an idea, when an application or game is running, all its data is loaded into RAM. Thus, as long as that application is in RAM, we can return to it almost instantly, without the need to wait for it to load again from internal memory. Therefore, is essential to be able to multitask on a smartphone and run several applications at the same time - without having to wait several seconds between the execution of one action and another.

The applications and processes that we have loaded in RAM will continue to be there, as long as there is space available, until we need to run a new application, and it is necessary to free up space to make room for this new process.

Therefore, the more RAM we have, more applications can run simultaneously.

The RAM memory also serves to store all those processes that run in the background, such as checking if we have received any new mail, something that is usually quite useful, by the way.

This is what our mobile does with RAM

As we have said, RAM basically helps us to continue running applications in the background without slowing down the mobile. But like most things, the matter is not so simple. The truth is that the RAM is already in use, even before Android starts working when we turn on the phone.

Simply put, this is what our phone does with the device's RAM.

  • Kernel space: Android phones have a kernel very similar to Linux. The kernel is stored in a special compressed file that is extracted directly into RAM when we turn on the mobile.
  • Virtual file storage: There are some folders and files within the "tree" of the system that are not entirely "real". They are a kind of pseudo-files that are generated at startup and store certain information such as battery usage or CPU speed. In Android these files are saved in the folder / proc, which lives peacefully in the RAM of our mobile.
  • IMEI and radio frequency settings: The IMEI data and the radio frequency settings of the phone are stored in NVRAM (a non-volatile memory that is not deleted when we turn off the phone). But when we turn on the phone this data is transferred to RAM to be able to put the modem into operation.
  • GPU: The GPU needs memory to be able to work - and that we can see something on the screen. It is what is known as VRAM, but unfortunately today's smartphones do not have a specific unit for it. Therefore, they use RAM memory instead.

Once all this data has been loaded and we have the mobile up and running, the rest of the free space that remains in the RAM is what will be available for our applications and games to run.

The unstoppable growth of RAM

A curious fact: the first Android mobile - the HTC Dream of 2008- it only had 128MB of RAM, and the first iPhone, also incorporated a RAM of 128MB as well.

The climb since then has been exponential, and today we already find mobiles like the Vivo XPlay 7 and the Oppo FInd X, both with 10GB of RAM. It seems that a phone with 6GB RAM or even the 8GB of other hypermusculated ones like the One Plus 5T would seem little to them.

What these brands sell us is that they are smartphones that are capable of more powerful multitasking, keeping more applications in the background than other mobiles with less capacity.

The disadvantages of having too much RAM in the mobile

But let's not fool ourselves, since not everything is advantages. Having more RAM than we need can also be detrimental to our mobile. Why?

The more RAM you put in a mobile, the more energy it will consume, and, consequently, the battery will drain sooner. This is so because the RAM consumes the same amount of energy, whether full or empty.

In short, if we have more RAM than we use, we will be wasting battery unnecessarily.

In addition, if we have many apps loaded in the RAM memory, they will continue to work in the background, making the CPU work too much. This will also mean an extra cost in battery consumption.

There working hard, as it has to be!

What about the iPhone? Why is your memory so low?

Taking this into account, it seems logical then that other manufacturers such as Apple prefer to face the increase in RAM with caution. Over the years iPhones have always mounted smaller RAMs, from 2 to 4GB - the iPhone 7, for example, only has 2GB of RAM memory-. A notable difference from the rest of the flagships that work with Android.

Apple has achieved the same results with less RAM, and that is something we must value. The key is in how both operating systems, both Android and iOS, manage the memory of the terminal.

In the case of Android, memory management is done using a system called "garbage collection", while iOS uses a reference system. If we search the Internet we will see that there are arduous disputes about which of the 2 systems is better, but it seems to be more or less recognized by all than the Android garbage collection system needs more memory to avoid performance glitches.

The more free and unused RAM, the worse

Thinking that having more free memory on your phone is an indicator of good performance is a misconception. Especially when we talk about a smartphone.

In my day to day, the average use of the RAM of my mobile is 61%.

Mobile phones have been developed to use as much memory as possible, and having free RAM will not make the device go faster or consume less battery. As we have already mentioned, RAM consumes the same amount of energy whether it contains data or not.

Also, we can achieve the opposite effect if we try to free up RAM space. This means that when we reopen that app we will have to launch the memory load operation again, and that is something that consumes a good amount of battery.

Memory sells and is also cheap

In the end we are all clear that saying that a mobile has a more powerful RAM than the rest is a commercial factor, and it serves us wonderfully to sell the mobile. Also, this is one of the cheapest components when compared to other hardware objects. Therefore, it makes sense that manufacturers try to "sell us the bike" by including more RAM in their flagship phones.

The amount of RAM that a smartphone needs will depend on the use we make of it, but it is clear that it is no longer the problem that it was a while ago. Maybe gamers and the most demanding users - video editing and the like - will notice the difference with a 6GB or more mobile. In any case, for the vast majority of users with 4GB we currently have more than enough. From there, it is an excess that can even turn against us.

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