As wireless networks and mobile CPUs become faster, the speed of the RAM used in portable devices can actually become a performance bottleneck, preventing them from processing data at peak speeds. Samsung is doing its part today to accelerate the performance of next-generation mobile devices, as it announced that it has started mass production of 12-Gigabit LPDDR5 DRAM modules designed to enable “5G and AI features in future smartphones.”
Though the announcement is important for a number of reasons, the most significant is Samsung’s major role in providing memory to other mobile device makers — its DRAM can be found in not only its own Galaxy phones and tablets, but also in Apple’s iPhones and rival Android devices. An improvement to Samsung memory therefore impacts flagships from multiple companies, not just Samsung’s, and signals the general direction that everyone will be taking in the near future.
The new LPDDR5 modules deliver data rates of 5,500Mbps, a roughly 30% improvement over the 4,266Mbps LPDDR4X memory used in top-end smartphones today — including the first round of 5G smartphones based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 processor, which peaks at LPDDR4X support. By comparison with those phones, Samsung says that the new DRAM will enable ultra high-definition video recording and AI-powered machine learning features with substantially improved device battery life, drawing 30% less power compared with prior DRAM.
LPDDR5’s higher speed will depend upon the next generation of mobile processors, conceivably enabling the transfer of 44GB of data — enough to store 12 1080p movies — in one second. That speed is based on eight 12-Gigabit LPDDR5 chips being bundled together as a 12-Gigabyte (GB) package, a process Samsung says that it will begin later this month, following the start of 6GB module production last month. The company plans to create 16-Gigabit LPDDR5 chips next year.
In other words, users of next-generation mobile devices should expect to see not only speed and battery life increases, but dramatic jumps in the quantity of memory. Today’s top smartphones commonly have fewer than 8GB of RAM, and in some cases — such as the iPhone XR and iPhone XS — only 3-4GB. The next rounds of 5G phones powered by Samsung LPDDR5 RAM will typically ship with 6GB or 12GB configurations, followed next year by 8GB and 16GB configurations.
“With mass production of the 12Gb LPDDR5 built on Samsung’s latest second-generation 10-nanometer class process,” said Samsung DRAM EVP Jung-bae Lee, “we are thrilled to be supporting the timely launch of 5G flagship smartphones for our customers worldwide. Samsung remains committed to rapidly introducing next-generation mobile memory technologies that deliver greater performance and higher capacity, as we continue to aggressively drive growth of the premium memory market.”
Samsung originally announced 8GB LPDDR5 modules last year, targeting a peak speed of 6,400Mbps, enough to transfer 14 1080p movies in a second, but they apparently didn’t enter mass production. As the new 6GB and 12GB modules are both specified at 5,500Mbps, it’s possible that next year will see mass-produced 8GB and 16GB modules at even faster speeds.