The Importance Of Smartphone RAM And Why You Need Lots Of it

Usually, when I ask people, "What is the size of the RAM on your phone?" I get disappointing answers like, "You mean the internal storage?" or "Am I supposed to know all that? I only know how to use it."

RAM stands for Random Access Memory. Though RAM is more of an under-the-hood feature, it is the most important feature on your smartphone. RAM is the most reliable indicator of a phone’s performance because its a super-fast type of memory that stores the working data of applications opened on the phone.

Though they are both types of memory, RAM is different from internal memory and for most people, the importance of RAM is a little harder to grasp than the role of internal storage.

Let us look into what RAM does in a smartphone and how much of this "mysterious" memory do you really need?

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RAM is the phone’s working space

RAM is the working space of a phone and is used to hold the data a phone is currently working on. For example, when you click open an application on your phone, the operating system transfers the application’s data and working commands into the RAM. All the while the application is open, its working data is stored in RAM.

Think of RAM as your office and internal storage as the shelves in the storage room. To work on a file, you go to to the storage room, select the file and bring it to your office. That is how a smartphone takes the smartphone’s application data into the RAM when you open an application.

If you think you are going to need the file later, it saves time to leave the file in the office than to return the file to the storage room and then take it later. That is exactly what happens when you minimise an application on your phone. The operating system assumes you are going to need the application soon, so it keeps the application’s data in RAM for quicker access when you need it later. Its quicker than having to reopen the application.

What happens then when you keep leaving the important files in the office and the number of files in the office increases? Simple. You run out of office space and you choose the files least likely to used today and return them to the storage room. However, the files you returned to the storage room thinking you are least likely to use, might be the ones you will need next. You waste time going to the storage room to retrieve them again, all the while cursing yourself for having a small office. Otherwise you would have kept all the files in the office.

The phone’s RAM works the same way. Its finite, as more application data get stored in the RAM, it runs out of RAM. The least likely to be opened applications gets cleared from RAM. Next time when you open the application that has previously been cleared from RAM it restarts and opens slow. If you know, you should be cursing yourself for buying a phone with less RAM.

What you might have learnt from the "office" example is that a phone with low RAM performs slow because it can’t keep more application data in RAM for quicker access. It keeps clearing application working data when you leave the application which means the application has to load again from internal storage to RAM everytime you open it.

RAM allows the phone to multitask

For a multitasking operating system like Android, there are usually many applications in the RAM at any particular time. These usually are, the foreground application you are using right now and the background applications you minimised earlier. RAM allows you to flick between apps without the minimised app having to reopen from scratch each time you visit it. When the app is minimised in the background, RAM is used to create a saved state of the application that you can flick back into as if you’d never left.

For example, when you leave your internet browser, without pressing exit, to check your WhatsApp messages the browser is minimised and its state stored in RAM. When you return to the browser, you will begin were you left off as if you never left.

Without RAM, an application would close itself when you switch to another application, causing delays when you revisit it.


How much RAM do you need?

As we discussed earlier, a phone with less RAM performs poorly, the more RAM you have, the better. More RAM means your phone can store more of the open applications data and makes your phone incredibly fast because the operating system and apps you’ve previously used are kept in RAM, ready to use straight away when you return to them.

If your phone is Android 5 and above, 2GB is the minimum amount of RAM your phone should have for a decent performance. There is no upper limit to the amount of RAM a phone can have. However, large amounts of RAM makes the phone keep more background applications running, increasing power consumption. This causes the battery to last slightly less.


Sydney Chako

Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics teacher at Sytech Learning Academy. From Junior Secondary School to Tertiary Level Engineering Mathematics and Engineering Science.

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