Smartphone Performance: Is RAM size or processor speed more important?

If smartphone performance is important to you, the key items you need to pay attention to when picking a smartphone for use are processor speed and RAM. Together, they decide the performance of your phone. But they do so in different ways.

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The first step is to spell out what the processor clock speed and RAM do in a smartphone. Remember that while they are complementary, each affects performance in a different way.

Processor Speed

The processor clock speed is what indicates how powerful a smartphone is – and how fast/smooth it will run. The newer the processor and the higher the clock speed, the more powerful the smartphone is for heavy duty. So, all other things being equal, a 3 GHz processor smartphone is more powerful than one with a 2.3 GHz processor.

So, if you need a smartphone for gaming or for other heavy tasks, you should be looking for a smartphone with higher clock speeds.

RAM Size

More RAM enhances multi-tasking. The more RAM a phone has, the smoother it is to launch and switch between apps. More RAM does not make your phone faster. Let me put it differently: the more RAM your smartphone has, the better it can switch between apps and do multiple things at once.

If you are an app junkie and switch between multiple apps a lot, you will suffer on a smartphone with 2 GB RAM. I promise you. You will likely run into a lot of “out of memory” errors or of apps shutting down in the background. Definitely, when switching between apps, you will experience slower transitions.

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Smartphone Performance Example

So, together, the processor speed and RAM size determine how responsive your smartphone behaves, each determining a different dimension.

To illustrate this, let us compare two smartphones with different processor clock speeds and amounts of RAM (all other things equal):

  1. Smartphone One: Quad-core 1.3 GHz with 3 GB RAM
  2. Smartphone Two: Octa-Core 2.2 GHz with 2 GB RAM

Smartphone Two is the more powerful of the two because it has a higher processor speed. But Smartphone One will handle switching between apps or running multiple apps better. However, it will run slower than Smartphone Two. The more powerful device – Smartphone Two – will run smoother.

If we add Smartphone Three with 2.2 GHz processor and 3 GB RAM, it will blow both of the above examples out of the water in terms of performance because it has both the higher clock speed and higher amount of RAM.

Quick Tips For Android Users

  1. If you are an Android OS person, a 1.3 GHz processor is bottom of the barrel. It is low-end. For really good speeds, get 1.8 GHz and above.
  2. As for RAM, if you can afford it, 3 GB is the least you should opt for on Android OS in order to enjoy decent multi-tasking.
  3. Also, note that the more cores a processor has, the more efficient it can run. So an octa-core processor is more efficient than a quad-core processor. See another article of mine, How smartphone processors work, for more details.
  4. Lastly, note that the bigger and sharper the display of your smartphone, the more powerful you need your processor to be, because the processor has more work to do than with a smaller screen. Display size and resolution are some of the factors we refer to when we say “all other things being equal“.
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I hope that you understand better the factors that determine smartphone performance, so you can make better purchasing decisions.

Do use the comment section below to let me know if you have any questions or areas you need more light shed on. And do not forget to share this post with your network using the share buttons below.

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Mister Mobility

I started blogging about mobile in 2004 as a fun way to share my passion for gadgets and mobile services. My other interests include digital media, speaking and teaching, photography, travelling, and dancing.

14 thoughts on “Smartphone Performance: Is RAM size or processor speed more important?

  • September 1, 2017 at 7:42 pm

    I love this piece. Very easy to understand. Kudos.

    • September 2, 2017 at 5:18 pm

      Gracias. Do share with your network.

  • September 1, 2017 at 10:14 pm

    I’m in love with this write up, you now open my eyes to some of the things I don’t know in a smartphone. I now know what to look out for anytime I need to purchase any phone. Thanks for these tips, Mister Mo

  • September 2, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    The state of the economy isn’t helping matters when it comes to getting a desired phone with the right specs. The phone I use at the moment, Infinix Note 3, seems to have reached its maturity stage and is calling for a replacement, but when I hear the prices of high end phones, I just take a chill.

    Hopefully, I should lay my hands on a decent smartphone with the preferred specs as highlighted by Mr Mo. Nice piece bro.

    • September 2, 2017 at 5:17 pm

      Thank you. Glad you find it useful.

      but when I hear the prices of high end phones, I just take a chill.

      You can say that again. Cost is a major factor for most consumers. And that is the key reason why brands like Gionee, TECNO, Infinix, Xiaomi and others like them are selling in droves. Good value for the cost of their devices.

  • September 2, 2017 at 10:13 pm

    Excellent write up. And very easy to understand for all. Thanks and please keep them coming.

  • September 3, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    You just confirmed to me what someone made me to understand before I bought my last smartphone. Being an app junkie and heavy user I made the right choice. Thanks Mr mo.

  • September 3, 2017 at 9:05 pm

    Brilliant article. I would like to see something on mtk and snapdragon processors. like which mtk is the lowest up to the highest rated (same for snapdragon). And if possible which ones have almost the same performance(like SD abc can be said to have its equivalent in MTK xyz)

    • September 4, 2017 at 4:12 am

      Thank you for the kind words, Deji. Glad you like the article.

      You requested:

      I would like to see something on mtk and snapdragon processors. like which mtk is the lowest up to the highest rated (same for snapdragon).

      This is not something that can be done in one article, because both brands are constantly introducing new processors and chipsets.

      This other request is something we can add to our work schedule:

      And if possible which ones have almost the same performance(like SD abc can be said to have its equivalent in MTK xyz)

  • September 4, 2017 at 7:25 am

    Nice article… But this write up is mainly for Android. My question what about window phone and iOS that run on low Ram n all but never really hang.

    • September 4, 2017 at 7:30 am

      iOS handles resources differently (more efficiently) than Android does. That’s why a 2 GB RAM iPhone runs far more smoothly and faster than a 2 GB RAM Android smartphone does. To a different degree, same can be said for Windows Phone.

  • September 4, 2017 at 5:08 pm

    Alright Mister Mo, thank you for your reply. I will be looking forward to the “workable part” of my request in future.

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