I still remember, as if it were yesterday, the surprise that OnePlus gave in 2016 with its 3T. It had 6 GB of RAM. Samsung, LG, Huawei, Sony and the giants of the moment launched their flagships with 4 GB of RAM, the usual figure at the time. Six years later, the six gigabytes of RAM are still that figure that marks several standards. It is the most common RAM in the mid-range and, curiously, the number that the iPhone 13 Pro have.
Is this figure enough on a phone? Does it make sense that the high-end standard continues to rise? We wanted to reflect on this point. Explain what manufacturers are doing to increase RAM without physically increasing it, and why it seems that we are “stuck” at six gigabytes.
AMR fever, past disease
The bigger (and better) hardware, the longer (and better) lifespan. Based on this basic principle, any advance in the amount of RAM memory is positive… up to a certain point. The vast majority of phones in the broad middle segment opt for base versions with 6 GB of RAM (To go down to 4 GB we usually talk about the input range). This figure seems like that comfort zone from which we do not want to move, reserving the 8 GB of RAM for more ambitious versions and high-end models, and the 12 GB of RAM for the most premium ones.
To discuss whether or not we need more RAM in Android, it is necessary to understand what the system does when it starts to run out of memory and how it manages it.
To understand the need or not of larger amounts of RAM in Android (we will talk about iOS later), it is worth remembering some of the keys to its operation. In Android, every time we start an app, we are creating a process. This process needs a certain amount of memory to run and, for each function that the app performs, this amount of memory required can increase.
In Android what you are looking for is that RAM is as useful as possible, so it tends to fill up, regardless of whether we have 6 or 12 GB of RAM. When an app does not have enough space in RAM to open, Android resorts to solutions such as compressing the list of inactive or less active processes (ZRAM SWAP) or, directly, to close the apps and processes that it considers lower priority.
The more RAM we have, the easier it is for the system to run a high number of appsor that can run apps that require a significant amount of memory space, without closing the others.
Do we need more than 6 GB of RAM?
Understanding the basic operation of RAM, the approach, a priori, seems simple: as long as RAM can keep the apps we use active, “no more is needed.” But when thinking about RAM it is not convenient to think about the RAM you need todayit is worth thinking about the RAM you will need in two or three years. Those processes that now occupy 300 megabytes can go on to occupy 500 in two years, the next heavy game will go almost to the gigabyte, and the operating system will demand more and more resources.
It seems that there is no rush to increase physical RAM, but virtual RAM is coming as an optional feature for those who need an extra
Instead of increasing physical RAM, manufacturers are betting on virtual RAM, since 128 GB begins to be the standard memory. The most humble mobiles can virtualize 2 or 3 GB of RAM, and there are even those that virtualize 7 GB. This is memory slower than physicalbut it is more than valid to alleviate the small deficiencies in capacity that a mid-range may have.
On the Apple side, which has always had practically half the RAM compared to high-end Android, it made the leap to 6 GB with the iPhone 12 Pro and, except for surprise, things will continue like this during 2022 and, probably, 2023.