Explained: What is virtual or extended RAM in smartphones?

Virtual Extended RAM in Smartphones phone Vivo Nubia Random Access Memory Fusion Boost Tech
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With the global smartphone shipment volume hitting new levels every quarter, the longevity of smartphones is put into question. When you’ve had a smartphone for a while, it can feel a little sluggish. The phone’s slowness may be due to different reasons including RAM limitation. From failing to keep apps in memory to inferior multitasking performance, this results in an overall underwhelming smartphone experience. In order to resolve such issues in smartphones, a technique called virtual or extended RAM is getting popular in recent times.

What is virtual RAM?

Virtual RAM isn’t entirely a new technique. It is a feature we’ve been using for a while. But in terms of smartphones, this is a fairly new concept. If you’re a tech enthusiast like us, then you may have heard of SWAP (in Linux), and Virtual Memory (in Windows) which temporarily increases RAM in desktops or laptops. Extended RAM in smartphones works in a similar way.

What is virtual or extended RAM in smartphones?

With this, the phone uses internal memory or creates a partition in the storage which functions as RAM. This means that your smartphone can separate some portion of the storage and consider it as RAM, assisting in better memory management or multitasking.

Vivo Origin OS unveiled Funtouch

This technology was recently seen in certain Vivo phones including the company’s flagship X60 series. Called “Memory Fusion”, Vivo’s OriginOS separates 3GB of internal storage and claims that the RAM, taking the phone’s RAM from 8GB to 11GB. Nubia does something similar called “RAM Boost” where the phone’s 12GB RAM can act as 18GB.

How do RAM and virtual RAM work?

You might already be familiar with what RAM (Random Access Memory) is. It’s a form of volatile storage which is way faster than typical storage forms. Your primary storage is only used to store images, pictures, or data in other formats.

When you perform an action on your phone, RAM is where every single process and thread gets loaded. Think of it as a playground. The larger its area, the more children can play in it and vice versa. That analogy should make it pretty clear that having more RAM means you will technically be able to load more applications at once without any significant lag(s).

Now in the context of virtual RAM, the phone can call upon a certain portion of internal storage (in Vivo’s case: 3GB) and “fuse” it into RAM for a smoother experience.

Here, when you switch from one app to another, it will save your process/thread of the previous app in memory more efficiently. As a result, when you choose to re-launch that app, it will pick up right where you left off, as though you never left it in the first place.

The “short-term” of it all

This is due to the fact that the app data is contained in RAM. And its efficacy is (mostly) proportional to the volume of RAM available. The programs you use are essentially left running in the background when you select other apps. However, keep in mind that RAM is short-term memory.

Realme 8 Pro - Gaming

This implies that it cannot allocate space to each program you try to load. When an app is left idle for an extended period of time, the data is lost and the memory is assigned to another program. This is referred to as RAM management. And this is why big games or similar heavy apps reload frequently when you re-launch it after a while. 

Therefore, virtual RAM builds on the principle of actual RAM where relatively un/underused app(s) are moved to the extended memory so that the actual RAM can be used for some other task instead. And when you return to the app, the data from virtual RAM is accessed by the actual RAM. As a result, data acquisition takes less time and multitasking gets more effective. Ultimately, it provides you with a lag-free or undelayed experience.

Virtual/extended RAM in smartphones: Conclusion

As I said earlier, we’ve seen virtual RAM in action; and are (maybe unknowingly) using it in our Linux and Windows system. Yet, we are yet to fully experience virtual or Extended RAM in terms of smartphones.

Actually, there was this app called “Roehsoft RAM Expander” that apparently swapped SD card storage to work as RAM but I can’t comment about its legitimacy. I had tried it back in 2012 – 2013 in my Samsung Galaxy Y but couldn’t get it to work—despite root access.

Regardless, while virtual RAM in smartphones sounds like a great feature especially for low to mid-range phones, Vivo is currently restricting it to its flagship phones running OriginOS. On the other hand, Nubia’s entire portfolio of smartphones includes high-end gaming devices only. This feature will likely be implemented by other OEMs in their smartphones as well. And we can’t wait to experience it first-hand.

  • Meanwhile, check out our review of the Mi 11X (POCO F3).