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How much RAM does your Android phone actually need in 2022?

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra Object Eraser Update
Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra Object Eraser Update (Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

640K of memory should be enough for anybody. Most people have heard about this quote (oddly enough, Bill Gates probably never even said it) because it's used as a testament to one thing: more memory is always better. But how much do you need on your Android phone in 2022?

You can buy a Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra with up to 12GB of RAM, and the best Android phones can come with even more. That's almost as much as many gaming PCs and about 6 GB more than many other phones. This has a lot of folks scratching their heads and asking why in the world do you need 12GB of RAM, and does that mean my phone needs more?

Seeing 6 or more GB of RAM inside a phone, even a budget phone, is fairly common. Let's talk about what RAM is, how your phone uses RAM, and why a phone would have so much more of it than what's "necessary."

What is RAM

RAM (Random Access Memory) is short-term digital storage. Computers (and yes, your phone is a computer) use RAM mostly to hold data that active applications — along with the CPU and operating system's kernel — are using because RAM is very fast when it comes to reading and writing. Even the fastest hard drive or flash storage is slow when you need to read or write something "right now," and while the CPU inside your phone has its own cache to hold data that's being used for calculations, there's not a lot of it. Even the latest Snapdragon processor's cache is only enough to hold what's being used right now, so you need somewhere to hold what's being used next.

Reading and writing to and from RAM is fast. Superfast.

The OS kernel acts as a traffic cop for everything that goes on when it comes to using your phone's hardware. When a game or any app wants to draw a new screen, the data created to use for it goes into the RAM where the OS can parse it, let the CPU and GPU do any processing needed, then send it off to the display, so the right color dots can be drawn in the right places.

It all sounds complicated, and it is, but all you need to understand are three basic things: RAM is a place to hold data for a short period, data placed there can be read or written very fast, and data in RAM is erased when you shut your phone down. Additionally, a portion of the RAM in your phone is used as soon as you turn it back on, and no apps or even the OS can use that portion. This goes for just about any computer; they (almost) all have RAM, and they use it the same way.

OnePlus 5T

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

How your phone uses its RAM

RAM in your phone is mostly used as a place for running apps to store their data. In the simplest terms, that means more RAM can let more apps run in the background without slowing your phone down. But like most things, it's not really that simple. The RAM in your phone is in use before Android is even up and running.

We're not going to talk about fancy low-level management or things like compcache or swap partitions here, but this is basically how your phone uses the RAM inside of it. If you want to discuss using storage as RAM, you probably already know this stuff anyway.

  • The kernel-space: Your Android phone runs on top of the Linux kernel. The kernel is stored in a special type of compressed file 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: Some folders and files in the system tree aren't "real." They are pseudo files written at boot and hold things like battery levels and CPU speed data. With Android, the whole /proc directory is one of these pseudo file 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.

Once that's done, and your phone is up and running, what's left is the available RAM your phone needs to operate and run apps. A portion of this is also reserved for things that need to happen quickly (low-level operating system functions and housekeeping), but it's reserved a different way. These are software-based settings the people who wrote the OS and built the kernel for your phone set, and it keeps a set minimum amount of RAM free so these low-level functions can be done as needed without having to wait for an app to free any memory.

All this is why the available RAM listing in settings isn't the same as the total amount of RAM installed inside your phone. The full amount really is inside, but a portion of it (usually about 1GB or so) is reserved. Your apps get to fight over the rest.

Unused RAM is wasted RAM

ASUS Zenfone 6

Source: YouTube (Image credit: Source: YouTube)

You might 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. It means that Android was built to stuff the RAM full of apps and their associated data as fast as possible and keep it full, leaving only the minimum free amount we talked about above open for housekeeping duties.

Android is not Windows, and they each do things differently.

This is different from how Windows works, though it's very close if you're using a Mac. Windows keeps RAM open and free for an app that needs it. Linux keeps an app in memory until the memory is needed elsewhere. That's also decided by those minimum free settings the company that built your phone set. Apps and their processes are given a priority based on what they do, how they do it, and when the last time they were on the screen. When you want to open a new app, the apps with lower priorities get closed, so the new app has the RAM it needs.

As you use your phone, you'll use many of the same apps more than others. These apps will tend to stay resident in RAM and be running, so they are available instantly. Having that RAM free instead of having the app(s) already resident in the RAM means the app would need to restart the processes that allow you to interact with them, and that's slower and uses more battery power than keeping them resident in RAM.

It's a true saying for your Android (or iOS) phone, but not your Windows computer. It's kind of true for your Chromebook (also a Linux-kernel-based OS ). Each operating system manages things differently and manages the RAM it has available differently, too. When it comes to your Android phone though, you are better off with almost all the RAM filled with application data instead of free. Either way, it's available.

What does having more RAM inside my phone do for me?

You already know the short answer because it's above — it allows for more apps to run in the background. But the long answer is really interesting.

The first Android phone, the T-Mobile G1, had 192MB of RAM. The Galaxy S22 Ultra has about a gazillion times more.

10GB or 12GB (or 16) of RAM is complete overkill for Android. Older phones or budget phones can get away with just a GB or two of available RAM because the minimum free settings are set with this in mind. A cool factoid: the Samsung interface is more resource-intensive, and Samsung did a very smart thing here, starting with the Galaxy S6. It forced the launcher to stay alive in memory at all times and killed home screen lag. Nice work, Samsung!

Using what that tells us, we can see that a phone that's doing more behind the scenes needs more RAM installed. Since almost every phone comes with 6GB of RAM now, there is no real difference here, and a Pixel phone just has a little more memory to have another app or two up and running because its interface isn't using as much. It's also why Samsung and others have included ways to kill running processes for the times it needs a little boost in performance. If you kill all the apps you can, apps not already in memory will start a little faster. But apps that were in memory still take longer to load. It's a balancing act.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Wireless Dex

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

If you take things a step further and do things like Samsung's DeX desktop setup, having more RAM can be a big benefit. DeX, for example, could use more RAM set aside before the phone is running for the graphics adapter but still needs a nice chunk to use itself so other apps or processes can run without being interrupted. And you can get even more creative if you're developing software for a phone with "extra" RAM.

Ideally, a phone with extra physical RAM could even use a device driver that enables DMA (Direct Memory Access) for the user interface. This sets aside RAM at boot just for the home screen, touch input, and anything else that makes your phone uber-responsive regardless of anything else running or going on outside of the RAM set aside for DMA. Are you ready for instant touch response or scrolling? Because that is how you get it.

You don't need more, but you can always use more.

Now extend this idea into "game mode" or a desktop solution or any other special way an Android phone can be used. There would still be more than enough RAM for the system to do its thing while that extra RAM is there for playing a software-heavy 3D game without killing all the apps in the background, or putting your phone in a stand or laptop shell to use in desktop mode has the memory it needs set aside only for it to work.

RAM is cheap and having more RAM looks great on a spec sheet

Awesome gaming

Source: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central)

Companies charge a lot for a model with more RAM, but most of that is because it means they have another model to manufacture and another parts list to maintain. The actual chips that go inside the phone only cost pennies when bought at volume. But being able to say your phone has 12 or even 16GB of RAM when it's announced can go a long way when it comes to the spec sheet.

It's impressive, especially to tech enthusiasts and early adopters. I'll admit, it gets me interested. I like seeing optimized software that can run well on minimal hardware because it's an art form; writing code can be beautiful. But I'm also intrigued by what having extra RAM can mean when the two have meshed together in the same device. Seeing 12GB or more of RAM in the specs instantly gets me interested, the same way a high-resolution display does.

Seeing better specs is a sure-fire way to interest early adopters.

Companies that build phones know this. They also know that putting more RAM in a phone means they can get away with less software optimization (a costly and time-intensive thing) or try and do more with their version of Android. Either way, some of us will be buying only because of the specs. That makes the added costs worth it because people talking about your product is priceless.

So how much RAM do you really need? As much as you really need is the right answer. The best answer is as much as you can get.

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.

35 Comments
  • 10 gigs how much will it cost? I bet it won't get one os update
  • "8GB or 10GB of RAM is complete overkill for a typical Android phone." Probably. But, as you said, Linux stuffs as much as possible into RAM, so it will get used. And it can make a big difference in performance. The Note8 with 6GB of RAM is totally lag-free. While the S8 with 4GB performs just fine, it's not totally lag-free.
  • Samsung went from having some of the poorest ram management to having the best with the Note 8. Easily beating the pixel 2 XL and iPhones now.
  • SONY has one of the best RAM Mgmt I was reading somewhere. Must be true because my ZX Premium running faster than my friends Samsung G8+. Just looked it up on YouTube, SG8+, IP8+, IP X etc no chance in terms of speed, my zx premium is killing them all SONY must be doing something right...
  • RAM is necessary for web browsing on smartphones. This website lags a lot without enough RAM. I have 4GB of RAM and it lags on certain webpages... my other phone with 2GB will freeze and lock up sometimes.
  • Interestingly my OnePlus 7T has been freezing lately when I'm on this site as well and it has 8GB RAM and so why is that? I'm wondering,
  • I know what is, and what it's for, but I still read the article because Jerry wrote it.
  • I'm pretty sure that its mandatory to read an article if Jerry wrote it.
  • Yep, count me in on that. Jerry = READ!
  • Good article and certainly clarifies things for those of used to the Windows world. Agreed that 4 GB is probably fine for right now, but things change pretty quickly. When my wife had her Nexus 4 with 2 GB of RAM (and 16 GB of storage), it performed decently even into the final OS update (5.1.1). My Zenfone 2 had similar specs and ran the same version (5.0 though) and that phone kept on having memory problems. Apps like Google Play Music kept on force closing itself while I was listening to music (was not multitasking, just listening with the screen locked) and I had to keep forcing the OS to free up memory.
  • I laughed when I saw "RAM is cheap", because I remember when it was about $50 a megabyte... and also when I thought my 500MB hard drive would never get filled up. Nowadays I'd be lucky to install a printer with a drive that small. Memories...
  • More ram is a good thing, as long as you have use for it. If you don't load your phone up with always running apps, or don't play intensive games, all the time( in other words never push your phone), it can be a waste. A waste in that, that ram can waste battery. Regardless if you never use it, it will cut into your battery time, as its always active, even if it's not being used( there's still current running through it). Using the minfree settings you can control, and adjust when a background app can stay in memory(it's a little more involved than that, but I'm keeping it simple). I wouldn't mess with the minfree settings too much on a phone with a lot of memory, though. The mfgr has already adjusted for that extra ram, and will probably use some of that, in a relaxed minfree setting that makes a little more use of it. These extra ram phones are good for power users that will push the limits. If you buy one, make sure the storage option is big, so that ram is used by something, otherwise you may waste battery.
  • Four to six is more than sufficient in today's market. But may change in the future. I think they call that progess. The 10gb's in the Vivo appears to be overkill!
  • Got a SONY ZX Premium and the 4GB are enough for me, for now. when I look what I used last 6 hours : 3.2GB And did a lot of stuff, chatting, browsing, watching Championsleague ,never got close to the 4GB. That Sony ZX Premium is so fast, WoW. And Updates every month, yay!
  • It's "XZ." 😃
  • If this isn't overkill I don't really know what is. It would make sense if they planned on supporting it for about 5 years or so but you're not getting that level of support from Google themselves. And I'm not sure if these Chinese phones are particularly hard to root or not. And how many Android games are on the level of even an Xbox 360 or PS3 not a whole bunch. But on the bright side I guess that means the OnePlus 6 is going to ship with 12 gigs and a 1080p screen.
  • As much as you can get.
  • ^This. Linux (Android's kernel) uses all available RAM for performance purposes, so nothing is wasted. If you have more RAM, Linux will use it for apps, data, cache, etc. It won't sit empty.
  • I would argue that 8GB is not an absurd amount of RAM. I've often broken the 6GB mark on my OnePlus 5, and was glad to have the extra 2. I have as of yet have an app close itself for lack of memory, and that gives the phone a very fast feeling. Could I get by with the 6GB version? Sure. But, I did need the extra 64GB of storage space.
  • My V30 is great, but I might've considered the 5t because if the combination of smart software and RAM
  • The more the merrier lol!
  • I remember when the galaxy note 3 came as first with 3gb ram when all other phones came with 1gb or real flagships as 2gb. Everyone critizised it saying noone needs that much ram. However, that amount of ram is the only thing keeping it alive today 4,5 years later. If it had only 2gb it would almost be useless.
    So much ram is for future proofing.
    Also with the direction of linux on galaxy and the since long existing apps like linux deploy and gnuroot debian running complete linux desktops on the phone the ram is even more neccessary.
  • « It has a lot of folks scratching their heads and asking why in the world does it need 10GB of RAM » I guess they are too lazy to optimize the software and having that much RAM may help a little. At least it gave them publicity
  • Literally this author proves the tech community is insanely overrated. "10gb and etc is overkill but if I see 8gb or more on the stat sheet I instantly am interested" So essentially 4gb gets the job done. Flagships are moving to 6gb and anything more we'll get us hot in the pants and the phone more praise instantly. And don't give us an ultra wide camera because that's just God on a phone
  • 8 to 10GB RAM isn't "insane" because Android does more and is getting more and more resources intensive with each new version.
  • RAMdisk. I have not heard that term in a while. I first used RAMdisks on the Apple ///, which had a maximum RAM of 512K! It worked and worked well though, and I could "save" files on the fly without digging up a floppy disk. Right now for modern smartphones, 6 to 8GB is said to be optimal, though I would consider 10 to 12GB future proofing. Right now my 6GB HTC is using 2.8GB of RAM with about 4 apps open, but no worries since it's always been a performance beast. Jerry, is it still true that more RAM requires more battery to maintain it?
  • It all depends on the OS. BlackBerry 10 did exceedingly well with 2GB and 3GB in the Passport made it fly. Apple and iOS is similar. Operates very well on 2GB and flies on 3-4. Both my S9 and Black Edition Blackberry KeyOne operate perfectly fine for me @ 4GB. I wish all the Android OEM's would worry less about more RAM and worry more about support longevity. Step up already!!
  • The thing is Android is far more resource intensive so nerds more RAM unlike iOS which runs just fine on just 2GB RAM.
  • I still like my Asus Zenfone 3 Zoom with only 3Gb of ram but I do have times when I need more. Currently keeping a lookout for a modern decent budget phone.
  • I don't think 8 gb of ram is overkill. Jumping from the Pixel XL to the OnePlus 6t 4 to 8gb was one of the biggest performance improvements I've experienced. Sure the software might be better optimized and the processor might be a little faster but I think the ram is major factor. Additionally you might need more ram if your using a phone whose ROM uses a lot of memory, I'm looking at you Samsung. They may have tried to cut back and make it feel lighter and faster but if you actually look at the memory usage , it's still using a lot of ram
  • Sorry, "If you kill all the apps you can, apps that were not already in memory will start a little faster." - It seems conflict with this "As you use your phone, you'll use many of the same apps more than others. These apps will tend to stay resident in RAM and be running so they are available in an instant. Having that RAM free instead means the apps would need to restart the processes that allow you to interact with them, and that's slower and uses more battery power than keeping them resident in RAM."
  • In that case the S7 Edge doesn't qualify and even in it's day it was lag city and was constantly embarrassed by the iPhone.
  • Using an S7 now and it runs fine. Only has 4GB of RAM and there isn't any issues with apps closing out.
  • Yeah right, most people know that the S7 Edge was poor with RAM and that the iPhone 6s Plus kicked it's butt and every other Android phone from back then.
  • Yep, my iPhone 6s is still kicking butt with a new battery. My iPhone 6 still has the original battery, and it's health is still in the 90's .