The smartphone is the most important consumer device today. It has transitioned from being a phone to ... well, being just about everything else. A recent study showed that making calls was the least common use for a smartphone — it came in 11th out of 11 options.
What it is increasingly used for is computational photography, real-time mobile gaming and 4K live video streaming — all of which, at their core, require powerful, efficient memory to ensure a seamless user experience. Top phone manufacturers around the world are looking for next-generation memory to power these growing data-intensive use cases.
They found it with Micron’s low-power (LP) DDR5 DRAM, which provides premium performance for flagship and midrange smartphones. Since the start of this year alone, Micron’s LPDDR5 has had massive momentum, debuting in a wide range of phones from Asus, Motorola, Xiaomi and more. This builds upon Micron’s 2020 milestone of its memory debuting in Xiaomi Mi 10, the world’s first smartphone to use LPDDR5.
Using Micron LPDDR5 to deliver performance and power efficiency
Micron LPDDR5 is uniquely flexible, delivering not only fast performance and power efficiency for premium devices but also seamless experiences for midrange phones. An excellent user experience depends on feeding massive amounts of image, video, gaming and 5G data to increasingly complex processors while leaving enough space in memory for the operating system to buffer applications for multitasking and smooth switching between applications.
Every last bit of this data passes through memory, making it a crucial part of your smartphone. Previously, top-tier user experiences were reserved for top-tier phones, and midrange phones traditionally used previous-generation LPDDR4X. But the flexibility of Micron LPDDR5 has removed these barriers, bringing advanced smartphone experiences to a wider range of phones.
Micron’s industry-leading LPDDR5 delivers bandwidth of up to 6,400 Mb/s — a 50% increase in performance — and 20% better power efficiency than LPDDR4X. And LPDDR5 offers the speed and capacity (up to 16GB) needed to feed artificial intelligence (AI) engines built directly into mobile processors. To avoid 5G bottlenecks, LPDDR5 allows 5G smartphones to process data at peak bandwidths of 51.2 GB/s in a four-channel system.
When smartphone manufacturers list hardware specs, memory type/capacity is often in the top three listed. While users understand that more and faster are better, it’s also key to understand the crucial role memory plays in computational photography, real-time mobile gaming and live 4K video streaming. These use cases depend on feeding data to processors quickly and efficiently while buffering apps for a lag-free transition when switching between them. Let’s look at how memory works in these common applications.
Computational photography requires significant memory to make your shot perfect. Even before you click, the camera is already taking dozens of images that are stored in a memory buffer. And as you click, allocated memory feeds images into AI engines built into a system on chip (SoC), a process that merges images from the memory buffer to create the perfect shot. Memory also stores images while image processers enhance them using image stabilization, light correction, focus and other techniques.
Computational photography data flow
Phones like the Xiaomi Mi MIX FOLD are equipped with multiple cameras that include wide-angle and telephoto lenses. LPPDR5 provides the high bandwidth and capacity necessary to feed images from multiple distinct image sensors to AI engines fast enough to provide real-time image processing. Enabling these cameras with more memory bandwidth is essential to taking the perfect shot. Every time the shutter is clicked, the data pipeline starts: Sensors move raw images into memory, and then image signal processors (ISPs) process the raw image from memory with the help of the AI engines’ image and scene recognition capabilities, followed by image compression and encoding. Bottom line: The data fueling these engines is accelerated by LPDDR5 memory.
According to Xiaomi, their phones arm users with sophisticated photography and AI capabilities to optimize and uplevel amateur shots into high-quality, professional images, and these rich computational photography features are only made possible by LPDDR5 memory, which makes heavy-duty processing possible within milliseconds of a single click.
Live 4K video streaming
As 5G networks grow, live 4K video streaming is becoming ubiquitous. And all the new 4K video content requires the bandwidth that LPDDR5 provides for decoding multiple video streams. High capacity is also necessary to handle large video files and allow space in memory for the operating system and buffered applications. Finally, 5G data streams demand ultralow latency to prevent any lag in the user experience.
Streaming from a phone is similar to computational photography where sensors, encoders and AI engines all require a high-bandwidth pipeline. At every stage, every last bit of video data flows through memory.
Live 4K video streaming data flow
Some phones can deliver 4K/8K streaming capabilities while previewing the feed in real time at full resolution on high-refresh-rate displays. Delivering live video streams for concerts, video podcasts and sporting events requires maximum memory bandwidth. And resolution, features and software complexity continue to increase, demanding even more memory bandwidth and capacity.
Today, mobile gamers are increasingly playing graphic-intensive games on their phones. For these games, LPDDR5 strikes the right balance between power efficiency for battery life and high bandwidth for high refresh-rate displays, custom controls, high-resolution audio and multiplayer gaming.
When you launch a graphics-intensive game, data for immediate use is loaded into memory from either storage or downloaded from the network. Next, the SoC processes game data for enhanced visual and audio experiences. Player input is processed by the SoC and stored into the memory buffer. In real-time gaming, information is sent and received through cellular networks and the memory buffer is continually updated. Increasingly intensive games with higher resolution graphics will require the speed of 5G networks – and more memory bandwidth and low latency – to achieve an enhanced user experience.
Mobile gaming data flow
Complex mobile games require high memory capacities for loading active game levels. And before anything even makes it to the phone’s display, game data is running through multiple GPU pipeline stages — vertex shading, rasterization, fragment shading and more — all of which are accelerated by LPDDR5 memory.
Performance-hungry, gamer-focused phones like the ASUS ROG Phone 5 can use as much bandwidth as you can give them to feed game data to processors and deliver incredibly fine screen resolution and high frame rates. These devices boast displays with a 144Hz refresh rate and 300Hz touch sample rate. These capabilities demand ample bandwidth for processing game data in memory for an optimal visual and audio experience. And multiplayer gaming over 5G networks requires ultralow latency for real-time action. Overall, these advanced workloads require higher memory performance and lower energy consumption. LPDDR5 offers both, avoiding 5G bottlenecks by processing data at peak speeds of up to 6.4 Gb/s.
“Today’s mobile gamers are incredibly discerning when it comes to technology, requiring the lowest latency, seamless rendering and utmost responsiveness,” said Bryan Chang, general manager of the ASUS Smartphone Business Unit. “Tapping Micron LPPDR5’s topline performance, our ROG Phone 5 gives mobile gamers an edge on the competition with ultrafast speeds and cinematic graphics to feed bandwidth-hungry, real-time multiplayer gaming.”
Bringing premium features to affordable phones
Balancing performance and cost, LPDDR5 also helps bring premium photography, gaming and video experiences to affordable phones like the Motorola’s moto g100. The g100 is equipped with forward- and rear-facing cameras that are ideal for capturing the perfect shots for social media feeds and recording 4K video at up to 60 frames per second or 6K at up to 30 frames per second. The display has a 90Hz refresh rate for smooth mobile-gaming graphics. LPDDR5 performance in a cost-effective package accelerates these features once reserved for flagship phones.
“Supported by LPDDR5’s flagship-level performance, our Motorola moto g100 makes emerging technologies such as best-in-class gaming, multicamera support and 5G connectivity more accessible for the masses,” said Thomas Milner, head of product marketing at Motorola. “Micron LPDDR5’s superior power efficiency enables multitasking across data-intensive apps with sustained battery life — offering versatility and endurance across work, life and play.”
Balancing power efficiency and performance
Micron’s industry-leading LPDDR5 extends the rich portfolio of mobile products that balance performance and power efficiency to match workload and system requirements for a wide variety of smartphones.
So next time you turn on your phone, say “thanks for the memory.”