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Samsung chip advance paves way for phones with 4GB memory

The Korean electronics giant's low-power DDR4 memory chips, due to ship in 2014, will help lift a key performance bottleneck in today's mobile devices. Samsung says the new chips are faster and use less power, too.

Samsung's 8-gigabit low-power DDR4 memory chips for mobile devices.
Samsung's 8-gigabit low-power DDR4 memory chips for mobile devices.

In a move that should help fix a key performance bottleneck in mobile devices, Samsung announced Monday it's developed a new 8Gb DRAM memory chip for high-end phones and tablets.

The chip uses a low-power DDR4 (Double Data Rate 4) interface that can transmit 3.2Gbps over each of its electrical connections, twice that of today's DDR3 memory, Samsung said. And it consumes 40 percent less power.

When the new memory chips ship in 2014, they'll pave the way for premium devices with 4GB of memory. Today, Samsung sells 4Gb and 6Gb DDR3 memory chips used in devices with 2GB and 3GB of memory, respectively.

Yes, it's confusing: memory chip capacity is measured in gigabits, but device memory is measured in gigabytes. Mobile memory chips are typically packaged in groups, so four 8Gb chips would give a device 4GB of memory.

DRAM (dynamic random access memory) is a significant constraint in mobile devices, both in the cost of components and in battery-flattening power consumption. But more memory is tremendously useful, particularly as operating systems and apps get bigger and as mobile OSes move toward multitasking, in which multiple apps are active at the same time.

As apps get bigger, they leave less free memory, which means the operating system is forced to suspend them when they're in the background. That slows people down when they're trying to switch among tasks, for example copying text from one program and pasting it into another.

Samsung's advance means the current push to 64-bit mobile processors will make more sense. Apple's A7 processor, used in new iPhone and iPad models, is the first such processor on the market. The chip offers an improved foundation for software, but as more RAM arrives on mobile devices, a 64-bit chip is needed to easily tap into more than 4GB of memory.