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Sunday, September 19, 2021

Expandable Virtual RAM: What it is and do you need it on your smartphone

Check out how the expandable virtual RAM feature works on phones like the Redmi 10 Prime and what advantages and disadvantages it comes with.

Written by Chetan Nayak | Mumbai |
September 6, 2021 3:00:32 pm
Redmi 10 Prime, expandable virtual RAM, virtual RAM, virtual memory,While extra RAM when you need it sounds pretty great, how exactly is it that the feature works?

One of the many new terms in smartphone spec sheets popping up today is Virtual RAM. The feature, originally found in some mid-range phones, is now also finding its way to budget phones like the Redmi 10 Prime and even premium phones like vivo X60 series.

While extra RAM when you need it sounds pretty great, how exactly is it that the feature works? We take a close look on all the pros and cons.

How does Expandable Virtual RAM work?

Expandable Virtual RAM (Random Access Memory) will reserve a preset portion of your phone’s internal storage for storing temporary files, or RAM duties when the need for more RAM arises.  RAM is important on most computing devices, given it determines how fast or slow your phone or even PC will work. The lesser the RAM, the slower the performance of the device.

On a smartphone, when you’re using up a large portion of your RAM, the expandable virtual RAM feature will send the temporary files to this reserved internal storage space. This frees up more space in your actual physical RAM to load up more apps. When you want to switch back to the older apps, the phone will bring those temporary files from your internal storage back to the RAM, allowing you to use those apps again.

How is this different from regular phones without this feature?

Lack of RAM has never stopped us from opening newer apps on phones that don’t have Expandable Virtual RAM, so what does the feature actually change? The answer is simple, in phones without the feature, when you open more apps and get closer to using up your available RAM, Android’s optimisation will begin deleting the app’s temporary files in the background, in a process we call RAM optimisation.

This lets you use newer apps, but on the downside, when you return to the older app (which will still be shown on your recent apps screen), you will find that the app restarts, instead of resuming from the screen you left it at.

Expandable Virtual RAM solves this issue to an extent by adding more efficiency to how RAM handles all the data processing. Remember, virtual RAM does not actually increase the total RAM size on the device.

Take the same phone with the same amount of RAM, say 6GB, except this time you’re using a phone with expandable virtual RAM. When you’ve opened enough apps, this 6GB of RAM is nearly full. The virtual RAM feature will now kick in, and use that extra 2GB allotted space to handle those apps which are in the background. The phone will intelligently handle the extra data load on the RAM, instead of force shutting older apps. The feature will hence allow you to open more apps on a phone without closing off older apps in the background.

Is Expandable Virtual RAM as good as more physical RAM?

No, performance-wise, actual physical RAM storage will always be faster and more reliable. This is because RAM speeds are much faster than internal storage speeds, even beating the speeds of UFS 3.1, one of the fastest internal storage options we can get on phones today.

When we use expandable virtual RAM, there is a lot of data being transferred from the RAM to the internal storage and back. This process is also happening at speeds slower than that of transfers happening entirely inside the RAM module since the comparatively slower internal storage is involved.

Hence, the feature is more of an emergency reserve of RAM when you need it, rather than a replacement for more RAM. In simple words, a phone with 8GB dedicated RAM will always perform better than a phone with 6GB dedicated RAM and 2GB expandable virtual RAM, even though manufacturer marketing may suggest ‘6GB+2GB (Virtual) = 8GB RAM’.

Other advantages and disadvantages of the feature

Advantages: The cost factor is the biggest plus point of virtual RAM-enabled phones because you will get more performance out of them without paying for extra physical RAM since expandable virtual RAM is a software feature, not a hardware component.

A 6GB+2GB (Virtual) phone will not perform on equal terms to a phone with 8GB RAM, but it should be cheaper than it, provided other aspects like the brand and other specifications remain constant. Phones with the feature will also offer better RAM management than phones with the same amount of RAM, but without the feature.

Disadvantages: Since expandable virtual memory is a software feature that substitutes empty internal storage for temporary RAM use, it will only work when you have surplus internal storage space to spare in the first place. If your phone is already nearing its total internal storage capacity, there is no extra space to be allocated to extra RAM and your phone will simply use the amount of dedicated RAM that it does have.

Expandable virtual RAM being a software feature also means you will not be able to make use of the feature if you use a third-party custom ROM on your phone in the future instead of the official firmware. Unless the custom ROM has a similar implementation you will again be stuck with the dedicated RAM that you have.

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