It looks like Vivo is going to sell the phone with 10GB of RAM. That’s almost the same as a gaming PC and about 6GB more than most phones. Many people are scratching their heads and asking why the world needs 10GB of RAM and does that mean my 4GB phone needs more?
This won’t be the first time we’ve seen phones with lots of RAM. The OnePlus 5T has an 8GB configuration, and browsing 6GB inside some phones is becoming quite common. Let’s talk about what RAM is, how your phone uses RAM, and why a phone will have 250% more than «needed».
What is RAM
RAM (Random Access Memory) is short-term digital storage. Computers (and yes, your phone is a computer) use RAM primarily to store the data that apps are running—along with the processor and operating system kernel—because RAM is very fast when it comes to reading and writing. Even the fastest hard drive or flash memory is slow when you need to read or write something «right now», and while the CPU in your phone has its own cache to store the data used for computing, there isn’t much of it. . The Snapdragon 835 (as an example) has 2MB of cache for high performance cores and 1MB for low performance cores. 2MB of cache is only enough to store what’s in use now, so you need somewhere to store what’s in use next.
Reading and writing to and from RAM is fast. Super fast.
The OS kernel acts like a traffic cop for everything that goes on when it comes to using your phone’s hardware. When a game or some application wants to draw a new screen, the data is created to be used and it goes to RAM where the OS can parse it, let the CPU and GPU do whatever processing is needed, and then send it to the display, so the correct color dots can be drawn in the right places.
This all sounds complicated, and it is, but all you need to understand are three basic things: RAM is a place to store data for a short period of time, and data placed there can be read or written. very fast. Data in RAM is erased when the phone is turned off. Part of the RAM in your phone is used right after you turn it on and no apps or even OS can use this part. This applies to almost any computer; they (almost) all have RAM and use it the same way.
How does your phone use its RAM
The RAM in your phone is mainly used as a place for applications to run and store their data. Simply put, this means that more RAM can allow more apps to run in the background without slowing down the phone. But, like most things, it’s not that simple. The RAM in your phone is being used up before Android even works.
We won’t talk about fancy low-level management here or things like compcache , but that’s how your phone uses the RAM inside it.
- Kernel space: your Android phone runs on top of the Linux kernel. The kernel is stored in a special compressed file that is extracted directly to RAM during the device’s power-on sequence. This reserved memory contains the kernel, drivers, and kernel modules that control the hardware and space for caching data in and out of the kernel.
- RAM disk for virtual files: there are several folders and files in the system tree that are not «real». These are pseudo files written at boot and store data on battery level and processor speed. On Android, the entire /proc directory is one of these pseudophilic systems. RAM is reserved so they have a place to live.
- Network radios: Your IMEI and radio settings are stored in NVRAM (non-volatile memory that is not erased when the phone is turned off), but are transferred to RAM along with the software necessary to support the modem when the phone is first turned on. The place is reserved to keep it all in memory.
- GPU. The phone’s graphics card requires memory to function. This is called VRAM and our phones use integrated GPUs which do not have a separate VRAM. System RAM is reserved for this.
Once this is done and your phone is up and running, you will have available RAM that your phone needs to run and run apps. Some of this is also reserved for things that need to happen quickly (low-level operating system functions and housekeeping), but this is reserved in another way through so-called minfree settings. These are software settings created by the people who wrote the operating system and created the kernel for your phone and it keeps the minimum amount of free memory (thus minimum ), so these low-level functions can be executed as needed without having to wait for the application to free up memory.
All this explains why the list available RAM in settings does not match the total RAM installed in your phone. The full amount is indeed inside, but part of it (usually around 1 GB or so) is reserved. Your applications will compete for everything else.
Unused RAM is wasted RAM
You may have heard this saying about Android and memory management. It’s a Linux thing, and Android is a Linux kernel-based OS just like Ubuntu. This means that Android was built to fill up RAM with apps and related data as quickly as possible and keep it full, leaving only the bare minimum available for housekeeping.
Android is not Windows 10, and each acts differently.
This is different from the way Windows works, although if you’re on a Mac it’s very close. Windows keeps RAM open and free for the application that needs it. Linux keeps the application in memory until the memory is needed elsewhere. This is also determined by the minfree settings of the company that made your phone. Applications and their processes are prioritized based on what they do, how they do it, and when they were last on screen. When you want to open a new app, lower priority apps are closed so the new app has the RAM it needs.
As you use your phone, you will use many of the same apps more than others. These apps tend to stay in RAM and running, so they’re available in an instant. Instead, having free RAM means that apps will have to restart processes that allow you to interact with them, and that’s slower and uses more battery power than keeping them in RAM.
This is true for your Android (or iOS) phone, but not for your Windows PC or Chromebook (also a Linux kernel-based OS, but uses zcache and sandboxing in a very individual RAM management scheme), as they manage RAM differently.
What does it mean for me to have more RAM inside the phone?
You already know the short answer because it’s above — allows you to run more applications in the background. But the long answer is really interesting.
The first Android phone, the T-Mobile G1, had 192MB of RAM. The Pixel 2 has about 22 times the size with 4GB.
8GB or 10GB of RAM is completely overkill for a typical Android phone. Phones like Nexus or Android One/Android Go can get 1.5GB-2GB of free RAM once the phone boots up. The same can be said for the Galaxy S8, but only because the minfree settings are set so that the home app (UI) is forced to stay open and uses some of the reserved RAM. The Samsung interface is more resource intensive and Samsung did a very smart thing starting with the Galaxy S6 and killed most of the home screen lag. Good job Samsung!
Using this, we can see that a phone like the Galaxy S8 needs more RAM. Since almost every phone is equipped with 4 GB of RAM, there is no difference here, and the Nexus phone has a little more memory to run one or two more applications, because its interface does not use so much. That’s why Samsung, LG, HTC and others have included ways to kill running processes outside of minfree settings for times when a small performance boost is needed. If you kill all the apps you could, the apps that weren’t already in memory will start a little faster.