The One (very) Disappointing Part of the iPad Air Spec: RAM

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iPad Air Chips

I posted about the highlights of the full tech specs for the iPad Air a couple of days back. There are some very impressive specs – none more so than the powerful new 64-bit A7 chip. I also mentioned at that time that the one important spec detail we didn’t yet know, and that Apple is never very forthcoming on, was RAM.

Now thanks to the lovely and talented folks at iFixit, we have a complete teardown – or thorough dissection – of the iPad air. And it reveals the, very disappointing, amount of RAM for the iPad Air: just 1GB.

- 1GB of Elpida DDR3 SDRAM is found within the device but is now housed on one chip, compared to the two Elpida chips that housed the RAM on the fourth-generation iPad.

I just don’t see how 1GB of RAM for the iPad Air can be viewed as anything other than very unimpressive – especially now with iOS 7 offering real multitasking and a 64-bit chip which should bring more and more powerful apps to the iPad.

This could be the one spec that drags down performance on the iPad Air, and presumably on the Retina iPad mini too – since it’s just about a certainty that the smaller iPad won’t have more RAM than its bigger sibling.

Heck, there are numerous smartphones these days that have 2GB of RAM, and phablet devices that have 3GB. I’ve always been one to say that it is never all about specs when it comes to iDevices, but this is one occasion where a spec seems like it may leave the new generation of iPads noticeably underpowered.

What do you all think? Will other specs make up for the low amount of RAM on the new iPads?

Patrick Jordan

Founder and Editor in Chief of iPad Insight. Husband, father to a lovely daughter, Commander of the Armies of the North, dog lover (especially Labs), Austinite, former Londoner, IT consultant, huge sports nut, iPad and mobile tech blogger, mobile apps junkie.

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22 thoughts on “The One (very) Disappointing Part of the iPad Air Spec: RAM

  1. The original iPad is hampered by it’s lack of RAM and would possibly be able to run iOS 7 (or at least iOS 6) if it came with 512MB instead of 256MB. This isn’t a numbers game (bigger is better), and thankfully Apple doesn’t play into that like the others do, but I agree that the latest flagship iPad should have a little more than 1GB of RAM. Even if it caused a $20 price bump, the usability improvement would be worth it.

    Is this planned obsolescence on Apple’s part?

  2. This article is incorrect in stating that iOS 7 brings true multitasking. Suspended apps are simply being “refreshed” at some undisclosed intervals. So, the lack of RAM isn’t as big of a problem as it otherwise would be. However, I would still like to see more RAM so Safari doesn’t constantly reload web pages every time I switch tabs…

    • Seems like a bug in safari. It should be saving it’s tabs to disk if it gets shutdown by the OS and then reload them when you start it back up. RAM should be irrelevant.

  3. I guess this is similar to the iPhones still running dual-core CPUs clocked at comparatively low speeds – yet, their performance tops pretty much anything that is out there in comparable device-categories. As Mike said, it’s not numbers game – Apple has never really tried to impress with specs alone, and is probably not going to do so anytime soon.

    Am I arguing that more RAM would be better – no, certainly not. My Mini runs on 512Mb – which is a bit horrifying compared to other devices’ specs, but then again looking at the overall performance calms me down.

  4. This article is disregarding one very important elwment: optimization. Apple optimizes their software to run on hardware that will never win a specs war. Specs used to matter a great deal but as software evolves and adapts, specs become less and less relevant. It really comes down to user experience, Apple has always offered fantastic customer experience without the need for major specs.

  5. You know, I’ve seen everyone, or what appears to be everyone, compare the iPad Air to all other iDevices; but not to Samsung phablets, or for that matter tablets. Or the Nexus tablets or god forbid, the Kindle. Why not ? Are the bloggers afraid to reveal the big performance difference? Why I ask!

  6. Honestly, who let this guy write articles? Does he not know that Apple has a knack in optimizing their hardware?

  7. How much RAM does an Xbox 360 have? Oh yea…512 MB

    What a useless article. But congrats, it is getting you page visits and Phandroids will love it.

    • The problem about lack of RAM does exist in iPad Air. Apps are crashing, Safari tabs are reloading all the time … so the article isn’t a complete rubbish.

  8. Pingback: Lo "Peor" del iPad Air: La Memoria RAM

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  10. Alex Nguyen – You can say all you like about Apple optimizing performance on their devices; but the fact is memory is still a critical resource. When Safari has to reload every tab when you go out of it and back in – that’s a memory issue. When an app starts freezing up, general performance on the iPad slows down, that is often a memory issue too.

    And both of those things happened prior to iOS 7. Now we have an iPad with a 64-bit chip which will end up running far more powerful apps and games. We also get the ability to run in the background for all apps in iOS 7. For my money, at least double the RAM would be far better at handling these new features in the latest version of iOS.

    Alex Klett – Thanks, I write all my articles focusing on how the Phandroid community will respond. Take a look at this site, from the name on down for the last 3.5 years. I’m about as big an iPad supporter as you could find. Attacking me because I point out a weakness in its spec makes you sound an awful lot like an Apple equivalent of a Phandroid.

  11. Their is one big drawback of large RAM, battery. To keep the Memory alive it drains battery power, bigger RAM need ps bigger battery.
    I’m sure Apple did it to keep iPad light.

    • Sachin, while RAM does require energy to keep it refreshed, it only requires a fraction of the power that the CPU or screen need and the battery is there to accommodate. If the RAM in the iPad air was doubled I doubt there would be any noticeable reduction in battery life; Apple was very plainly trying to maximize profits as always. This article points out that this time they may have tried to save to much on specifications(whereas they saved just the right amount in the past by optimizing how the RAM is managed), and the amount of RAM the iPad air has is going to limit its full potential with a new generation of 64-bit applications coming its way.

  12. I am disappointed in 1gb of RAM as well. I wonder how much of this has to do with trying to keep the specs in line with older devices. This way developers can’t exceed the 1gb limit that is there for iPads 3 & 4. The main concern I have is that folks report that the true 64bit architecture and OS working together consume more memory so 1gb in this case could be a step backward from the iPads 3 & 4.

    Also, agree with the poster that referenced the idiocy of only putting 256mb in the iPad 1. There was just no reason for it as going to 512mb at that time would still have been below industry standards. iPad 1 with more memory would dramatically improve its usefulness today.

    Note that I love my iPad Air and have not noticed much of a difference from my iPad 3 regarding memory so far – both anoy the heck out of me in Safari with reloading of tabs.

  13. Very disappointing. Did you know that you can NOT view a JPEG with more than 5 megapixels inside a Safari webpage, on any iOS device? How crazy is that (when compared to the competition that easily does that).

    On iOS, the JPEG is internally scaled down by a power of 2 (/2, /4, /8, etc) in EACH direction until the size is under 5MP.

    It really sucks how poor Apple is at this. Try to display a 5.1MP photo inside a web page — and all of a sudden, you will be looking at a 1.275 MP photo. Yes, that IS how it works — Apple throws away 75% of the photo.

    Now, with more memory, Apple would not need to do that — and could keep up with their competition that can display photos, no problem.

  14. Apple kept it for iPad Air 2, so they will have somethings to cover. And What will we see in iPad Air 2 is no major re-design of course, 2 GB RAM (Apple double RAM every 2 years in phone and it will be use on iPad, I think), Wireless AC, better Camera, maybe Touch-ID and I don’t see any other. So if they add 2 GB now, Apple will have less to add for iPad Air 2.

  15. I am totally with Patrick on this one – RAM is *critical* for many, many applications. Here are my thoughts:
    – If I cannot open a review I wrote in one tab in order to copy & paste text into a discussion in the other tab (i.e. I only have 2 tabs open) more than once (i.e. go back to snag a second quote) … that is an unacceptable behavior.
    – 1GB of RAM is an incredible limit when using the iPad for music production – and the iPad is an INCREDIBLE music production tool (it is amazing to compare this to million dollar studio I got to do student project work back in engineering school in the early 80s) … and one of the biggest limits right now is stability due to limited RAM.
    – Games – last year we saw games stop really moving forward. Why? iPad Mini lowered the ‘spec bar’. Now we have amazing screens and A7 chipsets yet the forward progress will be AGAIN limited. Why? Because high-res textures take space – and limited memory limits your overall zone loads …and therefore limits what developers can do.

    So it is a real shame … I am living with it, but have already bumped against the limits several times. Best tablet available, but for a $10 part could have been SO much more …

  16. Coming from the iPad 3 the Air was a must upgrade especially after the poor performance of iOS 7 on its weak CPU and GPU getting taxed heavily by the retina display. Surprisingly it had 1 gb of DDR2 Ram. 6 months later along came iPad 4 and a faster 1.4GHz CPU and a GPU more capable of doubling the performance that of the iPad 3 but again only 1gb of Ram.

    So after purchasing the iPad Air, Safari is still crashing. Several times a day. I don’t have many tabs open either. Sometimes I lose all the tabs altogether. I checked the diagnostics logs and low and behold MobileSafari is the largest process. One classic sign of low memory is constant app refreshing reloading when you return to the app in the foreground like Safari does when it has to reload the tab you are on. Super annoying. I left my HTC One X behind for this very reason.

    I just don’t get it. $500+ and almost 2014 and not 2gb of ram.

    The king of tablets should raise the bar higher. 32gb standard storage, ( since there is a 128gb model ) 4gb of ram since it has an awesome 64-bit processor to support the higher amount of RAM!

    I’m not an engineer, but it shouldn’t be a shocker that more ram require more power, however I would love it if this otherwise awesome device would have came with at least 2gb of Ram. It would make sense with all the 64-bits requiring double the registers than 32-bit processors. It would have been a decent compromise to include 2gb of ram but they want to keep costs low and if it’s good enough for the iPhone 5s it’s good enough for the iPad.

  17. I am also very surprised that Apple did not increase the amount of ram in the iPad Air. This is actually the main reason that I am not getting it. The iPad 4 has the same amount and it is only running the 32-bit processor so I’m guessing that the iPad Air would actually be much more glitchy. I will more than likely get the iPad Air 2 when it comes out because that is more than likely will either double or even triple the ram.