Mobile Technology News & Innovations

Smartphone Storage Technologies and Differences

Storage technologies such as UFS, eMMC and other NAND, which we often hear in smartphone market. And their differences, development process, comparison of the read/write speeds and more.

When you think of storage technologies, the first thing that will come to your mind will be SSDs, which have been very popular in recent years. But what if it’s the same with phones? Of course, every smartphone/tablet needs a storage unit. But is the storage unit same on every phone? Just like old HDDs and new SSDs, are there speed differences?

Evolution of Storage Technologies

Of course, there are speed differences among the storage units on the phones. Over the years, technological developments have given us more advanced storage units and higher read/write speeds. Then let’s examine the storage technologies used in Android devices and their development in a chronological manner.

eMMC – First Smartphone Storage Technology

First type of storage technologies used in smartphones is eMMC. Existence of eMMC technology, which is quite old, is even older than first smartphones. The first eMMC standard was developed by JEDEC and the MultiMediaCard Association in 2006. eMMC (embedded-MMC) is embedded version of the multi-media card (MMC) memory standard.

eMMC acts as primary storage for portable devices such as smartphones or tablets. eMMC architecture is distinctly different from other versions of MMC. Because it’s a permanent addition to the chipset, not a user-removable card. So in case of memory or controller problem, the PCB (printed circuit board) needs to be replaced or repaired.

Speaking of eMMC storage capacity, in 2009 the average eMMC capacity ranged from 2GB to 8GB. And in 2014, average eMMC capacity reached 32GB and above, with the current maximum capacity being 128GB. It’s an old technology, higher dimensions weren’t reached, as they were replaced by new ones.

Read and write speeds vary by eMMC versions. First eMMC protocol used on smartphones was eMMC 4.5. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 (MSM8974-AB) chipset is considered one of first chipsets to use eMMC 4.5. Mi 3 (cancro) is first device to use this chipset and storage technology on the Xiaomi side. eMMC 4.5 has 140MB/s read and 50MB/s write speed. That’s even faster than a HDD.

 

Then a new version of it, eMMC 5.0, was introduced. This storage technology, which was first introduced to users with the Snapdragon 801 chipset, is much faster than its predecessor, reaching 250MB/s read and 90MB/s write speed. Actually, this is the difference between Snapdragon 800 and Snapdragon 801. The updated Snapdragon 800 (MSM8974-AB) chipset with the new eMMC version has been relaunched as Snapdragon 801 (MSM8974-AC).

Likewise, Xiaomi’s Mi 3 device, which was updated with the new chipset and new eMMC, was re-introduced as Mi 4 LTE. Mi 4 LTE, Xiaomi’s first device using eMMC 5.0, is also Xiaomi’s first LTE device. Other specifications of device are available here. And eMMC 5.1 is the final version of this storage technology.

Latest eMMC version is eMMC 5.1. Difference from its predecessor version is increased write speed. eMMC 5.1 has a 250MB/s read speed and 125MB/s write speed, it’s almost as fast an SSD. eMMC 5.1 protocol is final storage technology because it has been replaced by a faster and larger capacity storage technology, UFS!

UFS – New Era in Smartphone Storage Technologies

Creation of UFS dates back to 2010, but it was introduced with smartphones in 2015, with UFS 2.0 release. Like eMMC, UFS uses NAND flash. Already UFS is positioned to replace eMMCs and SD cards. UFS has higher bandwidths than the 8-lane parallel and half-duplex interface of eMMCs. And unlike eMMC, is based on SCSI architectural model. In short, it was much more advanced and had higher read/write speeds than eMMC.

In February 2013, semiconductor Toshiba Memory (currently Kioxia) company began shipping samples of 64GB NAND flash chip, which was the first chip to support the UFS standard at the time. In April 2015, Samsung Galaxy S6 series released as first phones to use UFS 2.0 standard.

Of course, Xiaomi was a company that followed the developments. Next Xiaomi devices, Mi 5 series came with UFS 2.0 storage technology. It owes this to Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 (MSM8996) chipset. UFS 2.0 had 350MB/s read speed and 150MB/s write speed.

Later on November 17, 2016, Qualcomm announced Snapdragon 835 (MSM8998) chipset with UFS 2.1. This chipset, which came with more advanced UFS 2.1, had a much higher read/write speed than its predecessor. First device to have this Mi 6 on Xiaomi side. UFS 2.1 was able to reach 860 MB/s read speed and 250 MB/s write speed. These read/write speeds, which have increased over time, have led to real performance devices in Android market.

UFS storage technology, which has now really started to develop and continued on its way with UFS 3.0. This protocol, which comes with Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 (SM8250) chipset, met users with assertive promotions by Samsung and Xiaomi. Samsung Galaxy S20 series introduced on February 11, 2020 and Xiaomi Mi 10 series introduced on February 13, 2020. Both device series have this storage technology. UFS 3.0 has a massive read speed of up to 2100 MB/s and a write speed of 410 MB/s. It’s a huge leap forward compared to its predecessor.

 

Current UFS version is UFS 3.1. Latest storage technology comes with Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+, Snapdragon 888 and after chipsets, still in use today. Most important difference of UFS 3.1 is huge increase in write speed. Reaching a reading speed of 2100MB/s like UFS 3.0, but UFS 3.1 has an extraordinary write speed of 1200MB/s. Faster than most SSDs today. Xiaomi was also first used in Mi 10T series. Today, it has become a standard even mid-range devices.

NVMe – The Secret of iPhone’s Speed

NVMe refers to next generation storage technology. If you think of NVMe used in today’s computers, you guessed it right. NVMe is to iPhone devices what UFS is to Android devices. But unlike Android UFS, NVMe on iPhone devices is more advanced as it’s a somewhat scaled down computer storage as opposed to mobile based UFS. Unlike UFS 3.1, NVMe, Apple is completely fixated on this technology, which provides much faster response time for its devices. In short, wider the UFS used on Android devices, more iPhone-specific NVMe is.

 

Both UFS and NVMe are storage devices; therefore, it has close dynamics when it comes to production. But it took Apple some time to develop it. Pre-iPhone 11 devices were far below UFS 2.1 speed. Apple was able to catch this momentum on post-iPhone 11 devices. After 2019, it meant start of competition for Apple.

NVMe storage technology in iPhone 11 device had 800MB/s read and 500MB/s write speed. In terms of read speed, it’s on par with UFS 2.1. And write speed is comparable to UFS 3.0. Now, latest Apple device, the iPhone 13 Pro, has 1600MB/s read and 1000MB/s write speed, in competition with UFS 3.1. Other specifications of iPhone 13 Pro is here.

Comparison of Storage Technologies

Wrap the whole article together, a broad comparison can be made, from first eMMC release to today’s UFS 3.1 and NVMe speeds. In this way, the development of storage technologies will be better understood.

Storage UnitSequential Read (MB/s)Sequential Write (MB/s)
eMMC 4.5140 MB/s50 MB/s
eMMC 5.0250 MB/s90 MB/s
eMMC 5.1250 MB/s125 MB/s
UFS 2.0350 MB/s150 MB/s
UFS 2.1860 MB/s250 MB/s
UFS 3.02100 MB/s410 MB/s
Apple NVMe1800 MB/s1100 MB/s
UFS 3.12100 MB/s1200 MB/s

Storage technologies that have developed from past to the present are in this situation. Although NVMe is stuck between UFS 3.0 and UFS 3.1, user performance may vary depending on stability of the device. Smartphones, which have reached from the cumbersome speed of eMMC to gigantic speeds of UFS, will reach higher speeds in the future, UFS 4.0 can be proof of that. So, Stay tuned to keep up to date with developments.

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