In 2005, I remember being called for a press briefing about a new gaming notebook. I won’t name the brand, but suffice to say that it was among the leading players in the business (and is still around). I was still relatively new when it came to writing about notebooks, and I remember the gasps of surprise that went around the room when it was announced that the device would have 4 GB RAM. That was a staggering amount of RAM at that time, and I remember a lot of people getting impressed by that number, especially in a notebook in India (gaming notebooks were relatively rare at that time).
One of my colleagues, however, was less than impressed. His point was simple: that Windows XP (remember it? It ran on almost ninety per cent of notebooks at that time, if not more) did not recognize more than 3 GB RAM. And even if it could be tricked into doing so with some geek wizardry, most developers knew that Windows XP would not play nice in normal conditions with that amount of RAM and would therefore design most apps to run with 2-3 GB of RAM.
So I did get a feeling of deja vu when I heard Asus announcing 6 GB of RAM on the Deluxe version of the ZenFone 3. Now, this is no criticism of Asus, a company that has done some significant innovation in smartphones, being the first to get us a phone with 4 GB RAM and also managing to squeeze in a 3x optical zoom into a device without making the lens protrude. To be fair to them, they were not the first off the mark with the 6 GB RAM line either – credit for that goes to Vivo with the Xplay 5. But we think that given the attention the ZenFone range attracts (again, a tribute to its reputation for innovation), 6 GB RAM might just become the new benchmark for flagship devices.
Which is excellent in spec sheet terms, where “the more the merrier” rule tends to be followed, be it in terms of processor speed, storage, camera megapixels, display pixel density or battery mAh. But in terms of consumer experience? Well, we are not too sure, for let’s face it, we are not too sure if there are too many apps that even make the most of 4 GB of RAM, leave alone 6 GB. Yes, there will always be more RAM to spare for the insane multi-taskers, but honestly, at the time of writing, we found ourselves scratching our heads as to the times when we actually felt that using 4 GB RAM was a significant advantage over 3 GB – in fact many of our friends are able to run a dozen apps comfortably even on their 2 GB RAM endowed older Nexus 5 devices. As we had pointed out in our piece on how much RAM a user needs in April:
When in doubt, we will still ask you to opt for the device with the greater amount of RAM. Just remember that you do not ALWAYS have to. Speaking for ourselves, we tend to go with 2 GB for basic tasks and 3 GB for high-end ones. No, we have not seen any compelling benefit from 4 GB or 6 GB devices that we have not seen on a 3 GB one. Not yet, anyways.
Not much has happened since to change our minds. Technically, it does seem to make sense to have more RAM on a device, but then we have seen 3 GB RAM on the Nexus 6P and the Vibe X3 turn in a far smoother performance than 4 GB on the likes of a Vivo V3 Max, YU Yutopia, OnePlus 2 or even an Asus ZenFone Zoom. Adding another 2 GB to the equation does make for a greater sum, but we are not really too sure about what difference it will really make to the user, for, just as in the case of Windows XP, most developers would design apps to utilize lesser rather than more RAM as most devices tend to have lesser than 4 GB RAM. It is simple math, really.
All of which seems to switch the onus right back on the manufacturers, for after all, they are the ones peddling insane amounts of RAM. Perhaps it is time they started giving us something to do with it as