Xiaomi introduces RAM drives to smartphones so games load faster

Matt Haldane, South China Morning Post

Posted at Oct 06 2020 08:33 PM

Xiaomi is introducing a RAM drive feature on the Mi 10 Ultra, which can already be used on games like

Peacekeeper Elite, Honour of Kings and QQ Speed

RAM drives, once the sole domain of PCs, allow RAM to be used like regular internal storage, greatly improving software speeds.

Xiaomi says it has a way for gamers to get a significant speed boost on the Mi 10 Ultra by installing games directly to RAM instead of the internal storage. It is the kind of thing that was once the sole domain of PCs, but modern smartphone hardware is finally making it possible on mobile devices.

One of the pesky things about modern gaming is that massive, sprawling titles can take a little bit to load. That is why some people cannot wait to get their hands on this year’s new generation of consoles, Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and Sony’s PlayStation 5. One immediate benefit of upgrading, even before buying any new games, is the big improvement in load times owing to the included solid state drives (SSDs) that come installed, instead of the hard disk drives (HDDs) in the older consoles.

This is the kind of speed improvement that Xiaomi appears to be trying to bring to smartphones in China, where mobile gaming is the norm. To do this, Xiaomi is introducing RAM drives to mobile devices, said Zeng Xuezhong, Xiaomi’s head of smartphones, in a Weibo post on Sunday.

A RAM drive, or RAM disk, allows a computer to use a portion of RAM as storage, offering a huge improvement in software speeds by utilising memory normally reserved for quick tasks. On RAM, games could install and load between 40 and 60 per cent faster, Zeng said. He added that for Peacekeeper Elite, the Chinese version of PUBG Mobile that is also known as Game for Peace, installation time is just 10 seconds on RAM instead of 19 seconds on internal storage.

In his post, Zeng calls the new feature “RAMDISK”, saying it is being trialed on the Mi 10 Ultra, a collector’s edition phone designed to commemorate Xiaomi’s 10th anniversary. The phone was not released outside China.

Xiaomi did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

As Zeng notes in his post, the Mi 10 Ultra uses LPDDR5 DRAM. For this phone, Xiaomi uses RAM from US chip firm Micron Technology that can reach speeds of 44 gigabytes (GB) per second. By comparison, the phone’s UFS 3.1 internal storage has read and write speeds rated at 1,700 megabytes (MB) per second and 750MB per second respectively, although real world benchmarks are a little lower.

Installation times are not the only improvement. Even if players do not mind waiting 19 seconds for Peacekeeper Elite to install, running a game on RAM also means faster load times once they are in the game. The faster a game can load all the elements it needs to run, the sooner it starts and the faster players can access new areas or levels.

RAM drives are not a new concept. They have existed on computers for decades. It is not even new to Android, which has long supported RAM drives as a Linux-based operating system. The feature is used in Android for initial boot up, but there has never been a user-friendly way for average smartphone owners to take advantage of this feature.

One of the problems with allowing users to create RAM drives has been the limited resources available on smartphones, which could possibly lead to poor performance. This is now changing with high-end smartphones. The Mi 10 Ultra tops out at 16GB of RAM. The new Pixel 5 that Google just unveiled only has 8GB of RAM. So a Mi 10 Ultra owner could use 8GB of RAM as storage and still have the same amount of memory for other tasks that other flagship phones have.

Xiaomi’s RAM drive feature isn’t yet ready for all games, though. It remains a trial mode that is accessible under the “Speed Installation” section in the Xiaomi Game Center, Zeng said.

Currently “more than 10 major mainstream games” can take advantage of this feature, according to Zeng. In addition to Peacekeeper Elite, Zeng listed QQ Speed and Honour of Kings as compatible. All three games are produced by Tencent Holdings.

If you do use this route to play games, though, there is one major downside: RAM is cleared when you reboot your phone. This means if you are playing a game and run out of battery, you lose everything. So games installed in this mode come with a lightning icon on the home screen, letting you know what you will lose when you reboot. Of course any progress you make that is saved in the cloud will be reloaded the next time you install the game and log in.

Currently most users are not likely to see a big advantage to using a RAM drive on mobile. Any game loaded from RAM would have to be reinstalled after every reboot, and the speed improvements might not make up for that inconvenience. But those speed improvements might be worthwhile in the future for certain types of users, such as competitive gamers.

Even with the better speeds from the device, though, there is a more challenging bottleneck that some users will still have to face: internet speeds.

Internet bandwidth is perhaps the most important factor in response time for online games. Casual gamers are probably more concerned with the amount of time that it will take to download the installation file for Peacekeeper Elite, which is 1.8 gigabytes on Android. And that is before any necessary updates and patches. And all the games Zeng listed are online multiplayer games, which means internet lag is a more pressing concern than storage speed.