OnePlus 6: Do you really need 8GB of RAM in a phone?

You can buy a OnePlus 6 that has 8GB of RAM on board. That's 4GB more than most other high-end Android phones (and Chromebooks and cheap Windows Laptops) have and about 6GB more than the absolute bare minimum you can get away with. We'll answer the question right here in the first paragraph: no, you do not need 8GB of RAM in a phone.

But it does mean some really cool stuff could happen.

Read our OnePlus 6 review

What your phone does with RAM

We all know that more RAM means more apps can be kept running at the same time (sort of at the same time, anyways) but that's just one thing your phone does with the RAM inside of it. In fact, a portion of that RAM gets used before Android even starts running.

Without getting too nerdy and injecting ideas like compcache into the mix, your phone uses RAM like this:

  • The kernel-space: Your Android phone runs on top of the Linux kernel. The kernel is stored in a special type of compressed file that's extracted directly into RAM during the device power-on sequence. This reserved memory holds the kernel, drivers and kernel modules that control the hardware and room to cache data in and out of the kernel.
  • A RAMdisk for virtual files: There are some folders and files in the system tree that aren't "real." They are pseudofiles written at boot and hold things like battery levels and CPU speed data. With Android, the whole /proc directory is one of these psuedofile systems. RAM is reserved so they have a place to live.
  • Network radios: Data about your IMEI and radio settings are stored in NVRAM (Non-Volatile memory that's not erased when you power off your phone), but get transferred to RAM along with the software needed to support the modem when you first turn on your phone. Space is reserved to keep this all in memory.
  • The GPU: The graphics adapter in your phone needs memory to operate. That's called VRAM, and our phones use integrated GPUs that have no stand-alone VRAM. System RAM is reserved for this.
  • Available RAM: This is what's left over, minus any extra reserved for file-system cache and minfree settings. This is what the apps you run can use.

Having 8GB of RAM means any or all of these different ways RAM is used can use a lot more of it if it needs to. Or if a person writing the operating system wants to try something new and different.

What can you do with extra RAM?

I'll start by saying it's not entirely clear what exactly OnePlus is doing with the extra RAM or what plans it has for the future. On the face of it you have to expect it won't do too much more on a system level considering the base OnePlus 6 model still comes with 6GB of RAM and uses the same software.

But there is one thing that OnePlus (or any custom ROM developers) can do that would be a great way to use an extra 2GB of RAM: store the entire system home launcher in it.

8GB of RAM means more could be set aside for the user interface or a game mode.

Think back to the HTC M7 if you've been around Android that long. It was the first phone that used Android and was super-responsive when you were zipping around the OS. It was because a good portion of the system RAM was "reserved" for HTC Sense and wouldn't be freed when another app asked for more memory. In the M7's case, that meant it couldn't hold as many apps open as other phones. Most companies making Android phones do something similar now and set things up so that parts of the launcher are never removed from RAM, and Android feels much better to use because of it. With 4GB of RAM, getting a balance that offers good performance without upsetting users who want to keep apps open in the background can be tough.

With 8GB of RAM, the whole user interface can not only be kept in RAM, but done with a real reserved block outside of the system memory parameters.

Writing a device driver that enables DMA (Direct Memory Access) for the user interface means RAM can be set aside for use by only the user interface. The operating system still controls the i/o, but no other application can overwrite any part of it so everything needed for "instant" scrolling and swiping is held in RAM where it's fast and ready at all times.

OnePlus may not have anything planned for the extra RAM, but I'm sure developers at XDA will.

This is a little different than the memmap kernel parameter that reserves space outside the operating system for the radios and VRAM, but it lets the OS manage the RAM so data can move in and out and a buffer can be written when you shut the phone down to prevent data loss. It's a more robust solution than using the standard Linux LMK (Low Memory Killer) system to keep important processes running. The end result is a user interface that's fluid and responsive all the time, without affecting the way other apps run or stay alive in the background.

And that's just one example I thought of without digging too deep into it all. Perhaps imagine a tweaked minfree settings so we can leave every app we love open in the background all of the time.

Don't forget the cool factor

The OnePlus 6 can have 8GB of RAM to do crazy stuff with the OS for better performance, but it likely has it simply because it can.

RAM isn't expensive. At least not component RAM used on a phone mainboard. Spending a few dollars more per unit (which can be a lot if you sell millions of units) to give the OnePlus 6 something the Galaxy S9 or iPhone doesn't have is a real selling point in parts of Asia and for a lot of enthusiasts. Plenty of people are obsessed about the specs of a phone because they understand how they could be used, or simply because more is always better. Double the RAM of other flagship phones makes the OnePlus 6 more futureproof.

I'm sure someone at OnePlus did the math and figured that through a combination of all these factors, it was beneficial to sell an 8GB RAM model.

We'll end this the same way we started: by saying no, you don't need 8GB of RAM in a phone. But it doesn't hurt anything, and the creative freedom it gives to Android developers, both at OnePlus and third-party devs, could very mean some cool things will be coming.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • No, you don't unless you have a phone that has horribly unoptimised manufacturer software installed.
  • LMAO have you even used a device with OxygenOS? Running the software for months on end adding and deleting software the OS remains silky smooth. Can't say that about other manufacturer's like say Samsung's OS touches.
  • I didn't say all manufacturers though did I and not all manufacturers have unoptimised software!!!!!
  • Optimized doesn't mean "uses very little RAM." it just means "optimal" for the hardware it's running on. You could have software on a 6GB or 8GB device that uses a ton of RAM, and it could very well be optimized for such devices.
  • True but surely it should be optimised for the lowest end devices not the highest?
  • You missed the point. Software should be optimised for the device it's running on. There's no point optimizing OxygenOS to run on a device with 2 or 4 gigabytes of RAM, because there aren't any devices with that much RAM that run it.
  • So what manufacture you talking about gives us names
  • Does it really matter that much to you who I'm referring to?
  • Defend yourself!
  • Since you commented, here, I believe most folks think you are referring to the OP6.
    Thus, the questions.
  • But no, you should not optimize for the lowest end devices, otherwise what's the point?
  • They should offer lower cost 4 gb option which is enough even for highest demanding games. At this point users are just paying for something they dont need.
  • Yeah, more please
  • I can only Imagen RAM is cheap.
    I think it was well documented that there was no noticeable difference between the 6gb RAM and 8gb RAM Oneplus 5T's.
    But if a phone is offered with more I need it...
  • You can imagine whatever you like, but RAM is incredibly expensive at the moment.
  • Where did you get that information?
    Mark-up on RAM is not linear so how do you calculate cost?
  • You don't need 8GB RAM in a phone, other than keeping more apps running in the background, there's no other real benefit of having that amount of RAM other than being a vanity spec as the Pixel 2 XL and other phones with 4GB RAM are just fine for demanding games.
  • In the last 12 months at various times on a regular basis I've used the S8 the Note 8 the OnePlus 5T and the pixel 2 XL without a doubt the smoothest running fastest phone was the OnePlus 5T with 8 gigabytes of RAM the Note 8 with 6 gigabytes of RAM was second so ram does make a difference all these phones were set up identical they all had the 835 processor now the only difference was screen size and resolution
  • I would have thought running the same phone with two different RAM's would be a better guide.
    Oneplus 5T for example.
  • More RAM only really makes a difference with the amount of apps you can keep open in the background without reloading other than that the Pixel 2 XL easily competes with the OnePlus 5T but the Note 8 with 6GB RAM will lag over time because of Samsung's bloatware.
  • On Samsung phones I always used a package disabler to disable all the bloatware and keep it out of RAM without that I don't feel I would be able to use Samsung phones occasionally
  • That's the thing with Pixel phones you don't need to disable anything as Google's software is bloat free and the best Android experience so it doesn't need anymore than 4GB RAM and will maintain its performance over time. And that is a major reason why along with regular fast updates that I'm choosing the Pixel 2 XL.
  • I have a pixel 2 XL I got it a few months back when they were giving out $200 credits and also they gave me a hundred and thirteen trade-in for an S7 so I got it $300 off there's no way this phone was worth 840 bucks or so and the thing about it I've had the Nexus 4 and Nexus 6 and now the 2XL I had a Nexus 7 2013 and I'm crazy about Google I couldn't live without them but their Hardware is Never As Good As it should be I'm to the point where I feel like their people are just lazy by not coming out with better stuff my OnePlus 5T is much better than the 2 XL and the Note 8 was much better than the 2 XL
  • That's your opinion if you think that the OnePlus 5T and Note 8 are better than the Pixel 2 XL, I personally think the Pixel 2 XL is better than both, it's software is second to none and bloat free and you're guaranteed updates for 3 years can't say the same about Samsung or OnePlus and I like the industrial design of Pixel 2 XL more than those phones too. Plus the Pixel 2 XL has everything it needs,I don't care for what Samsung or OnePlus offer, wireless charging isn't important for me only the important core features matter and Google's software and hardware ticks all the boxes for me.
  • Haven't we had phones in the past that have had significantly more ram than the typical flagship? What cool things happened? Wouldn't at least some cool things already have been produced? I mean beyond the "keep the launcher in ram" deal.
  • Some of the basic things that are better that I've noticed with more RAM as animation much faster and smoother and the double tap the recents button to switch between two apps much faster smoother you can keep more tabs in Chrome without it reloading when you go back to it and Friendly I use for Facebook that never reloads it's always where I left it and if you want to really tweaked up Nova and use that for your launcher you know that'll take 6 or 800 megabytes of ram running in the background you can do it more RAM you got and it'll still be smooth
  • They had the exact same article with the 6GB Axon 7.
  • With 8GB of RAM, guess the thing to do would be to get a Samsung DeX type device and use ones phone as a desktop computer.
  • Proud owner of Oneplus 5t with 8gb ram. Future proofing is important to me because I will use this phone for at least 3 years, hopefully more than 4.
  • Need...? Probably not.. Want...? Yeah, sure. The more the better
  • When you are planning to keep your phone for several years (3+), I think it will be valuable in the long run. A samsung S6 is 3 years old and had only 3gb, same for Note 4. Now I wouldn't buy a bottom line budget without 2GB. Newer things will need more RAM over time.
  • If you pay so much for a phone, better to get more of everything than less.
  • Yes, you do. I own both the 4 GB Z2F and the 6 GB U11 and the difference in background app performance is like night and day. Basically the U11 never kills apps. Resilio Sync runs for 40+ days (not kidding.) You can scroll across infinite subreddits and user profiles in Boost and not lose your place in the subreddit you started it. I absolutely hate when people do that "Do you really need" crap. It makes everything run much better.
  • For the one that will buy a Oneplus 6 phone use this link and get 20€ (or the equivalent in your currency) in free accessories.
  • « Double the RAM of other flagship phones makes the OnePlus 6 more futureproof » Though historically oneplus is lacking in software support... whereas even the iPhone 5s from 2013 and with way less RAM onboard is getting ios 12...
  • 2 years later in 2020 and 8 GB, RAM seems low on high-end phones.