How much RAM do I need in my phone in 2022? We have the answer

The most popular phones have a wide range of RAM sizes. At one end, you have ultra-premium devices as much as 12GB or 16GB of RAM. At the other end are budget phones, some of which have variants with only 4 GB of RAM. Meanwhile, the middle ground is packed with lots of devices with 6 GB and often 8 GB of RAM.

In general, cheaper phones tend to have smaller amounts of RAM, while premium, advanced flagships offer more. The question is, how much RAM do you need when buying a new phone? What is the ideal amount of RAM for an Android phone in 2022? How much does it take to add some future security? Let’s find out.

RAM vs swap space: Memory management explained

Gary Sims / Android Authority

All computers, including your phone, use Random Access Memory (RAM). Your currently running programs, their data and OS are all stored in RAM while the computer is working. Ten or so years ago, Android devices had 512 MB or 1 GB of memory. However, the average amount of RAM in devices grew rapidly. In 2014, many premium devices had 3 GB of RAM, and during 2016 and 2017, 4 GB became the de facto standard. 4 GB is now considered the absolute minimum for a new device.

No matter how much RAM your device has, it is a limited resource that needs to be managed. When you launch a new app on Android, it should occupy part of the memory. Simple apps and games will use a few hundred megabytes. More sophisticated games can use up to a gigabyte of RAM, and the most demanding games can use up to 1.5 GB of RAM.

With 4 GB of RAM, there is enough space for several medium-sized games or apps, together with the operating system, to live happily together. But at some point, there will be no more free RAM.

No matter how much RAM your device has, it is a limited resource that can run out. This is where swap space comes in.

To deal with this eventuality, modern computers use a technique known as swapping. The oldest and least used memory pages are printed to the swap repository, and the memory they recorded in RAM becomes free. If the replaced memory is needed later, the stored memory pages are read back from storage and copied back to RAM (swapped). This greatly increases the amount of memory available to store apps and data, but the trade-off is that it is much slower compared to RAM.

Check out: The best phones with 16 GB RAM

Desktops, laptops and servers use external storage (hard drives, SSDs) as swap space. Android uses a slightly different technique. Instead of writing the pages out to the repository, Android compresses the data and writes it back in RAM. This is known as zRAM, following the Unix / Linux tradition of using “z” to denote compression. Assuming a compression ratio of 50%, 128KB RAM can be reduced to 64KB, freeing up 64KB. The Linux kernel looks exactly like zRAM as it would look traditional swap space. The compressed memory is not directly readable, so if needed, it should be uncompressed and copied back, just like traditional swapping-in.

However, swap space (especially zRAM) is also a limited resource. If Android runs out of swap space, it needs to become more aggressive and start killing apps that are already in memory. This means that an app you would like to return to may be forced to close, as Android needs to make room for the new app you want to launch.

If Android runs out of swap space, it needs to become more aggressive and start killing apps that are already in memory.

What all this means is that the more RAM you have, the more apps you can keep in memory at the same time without Android killing older apps. Less RAM means Android needs to remove apps from memory more often. With that in mind, what is the optimal amount of RAM?

Test to find the ideal amount of RAM

Three Android phones running three games with a wood panel background

Gary Sims / Android Authority

To determine the optimal amount of RAM, I tested three phones: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra with 12 GB RAM, OnePlus 9 Pro with 8 GB RAM and Pixel 3XL with 4 GB RAM. The Samsung and Google devices run Android 12, while the OnePlus runs Android 11. On each phone, I noted the amount of free RAM and the amount of swap space used. I then launched a game, noted the amount of RAM the game used, and watched the changes to the free RAM and swap space. I repeated these steps until Android was forced to kill an app that was already in memory.

Also see: Android 12 review – It’s really about you

Here is a list of the games I used, along with the average amount of RAM they take up:

  • Subway Surfers – 750 MB
  • [1945Airforce—850MB[1945Airforce—850MB
  • Candy Crush – 350 MB
  • Brawl Stars – 500 MB
  • Minecraft – 800 MB
  • Asphalt 9 – 800MB
  • Shadowgun Legends – 900 MB
  • Elder Scrolls Blades – 950 MB
  • Genshin Impact – 1.4 GB
  • Chrome – 2.2 GB

Galaxy S21 Ultra and Pixel 3XL tests

These two units sit at the extremes of the spectrum. The Galaxy S21 Ultra has 12 GB of RAM, while the Pixel 3XL has only 4 GB. Below is a graph showing how the devices performed in my test. At the bottom is the list of games in the order in which I launched them. The blue line shows how much free RAM is available, and the green line shows how much swap space is being used.

As you can see, the S21 Ultra offers an almost textbook example of memory management. As the amount of free RAM decreases, the amount of swap space used increases. With 12GB of RAM, the S21 Ultra was able to keep all the games in mind, starting with Subway Surfers, then 1945 Air Force, straight on through Minecraft, Elder Scrolls Blades and finally Genshim Impact. No apps were killed. To push the S21 Ultra to the brink, I booted up Chrome, and after I had opened 12 tabs and Chrome had used 2.2GB of memory, Android was finally forced to kill Minecraft. Quite impressive. A deeper analysis of what happened can be found in the video.

12 GB Galaxy S21 Ultra provides textbook memory management and can hold lots of active apps at once.

Things were completely different on the Pixel 3 XL. It was able to hold three games in RAM simultaneously: Subway Surfers, 1945 Airforce and Candy Crush. When I launched Brawl Stars, Subway Surfers was killed and removed from memory. As we expected, this smaller amount of RAM means that swap space is required with far fewer apps, and only a handful can be stored in memory at a time.

Looking back: The history of Android – the development of the largest mobile operating system in the world

OnePlus 9 Pro test

The OnePlus 9 Pro used for testing has 8GB of RAM and includes the company’s RAMBoost feature found in many of its devices. RAMBoost tries to make memory management smarter. It analyzes your consumption and tries to keep the apps you use often in memory and kill the apps you do not use often. It will even try to preload certain apps if it determines that you will be using them soon. To test the OnePlus 9 Pro properly, I tested it with RAMBoost on and RAMBoost off.

The first thing to note about the test with RAMBoost on is the increase in free RAM when Candy Crush is launched. This happened because Subway Surfers were killed even though there was still plenty of free RAM and swap space available. I restarted Subway Surfers and continued. Brawl Stars started smoothly, as did Minecraft. When Asphalt 9 was launched, Android killed Candy Crush and 1945 Air Force.

OnePlus 9 Pro is quite aggressive in its memory management, shutting down apps while there are still free resources.

With RAMBoost turned off, Android behaves differently. I was able to launch all apps, from Subway Surfers to Minecraft, without anything being killed along the way. When I launched Asphalt 9, Subway Surfers was killed.

The strange thing about both tests running on OnePlus 9 Pro is that apps are killed when resources are still available. OnePlus 9 Pro has 4 GB of swap space available, but only about 1 GB is used when apps start to be removed. It seems that the OnePlus 9 Pro is quite aggressive in its memory management, especially compared to the other phones I tested.

So how much RAM do you need on your Android phone?

Galaxy S21 uses split view

Gary Sims / Android Authority

Clearly, 4 GB is not really enough for an average amount of multi-tasking. Only the last three or four games remain in memory. Productivity apps tend to be smaller than games, so you should be able to run five or six smaller apps together before some of them reload when you switch back to them. 6 GB of RAM will help remedy this problem.

12 GB on Galaxy S21 Ultra is very robust and well managed. At least 15 games, including some major ones, can remain in RAM at the same time, including active Google Chrome pages. I doubt any user would have a reason to complain or be disappointed with this level of multitasking capability.

8GB-12GB RAM is ideal, while 16GB seems to be nothing more than just bragging rights.

While OnePlus 9 Pro is aggressive in its RAM management, long-term use of RAMBoost should help Android make better use of its 8 GB. But my assumption is that 8GB on other devices will be utilized better than on OnePlus.

Based on the results, our recommendation is to aim for 6 GB of RAM when buying a budget expensive smartphone. For upper-middle-class or advanced devices, 8 GB will provide a good multitasking experience plus some future-proofing. However, what became clear in our test is that 12 GB of RAM on the Galaxy S21 Ultra is clearly a sweet spot and should provide a great overall experience for even the most demanding power users. At the moment, 16 GB of RAM seems to be nothing more than just bragging rights.

Next: The best phones with 12 GB RAM – what are your best options?

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