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It may confuse readers to know that the solid state memory in Android devices naturally slow down with use. Before Android 4.3 released, many believed cheap flash memory modules contributed to bad performance. It shocked everyone that both cheap memory and a little-known bug in Android were culprits.

All Android and iOS devices use primitive, compared to desktop SSDs, solid state storage devices. Within the Android storage device ecosystem, most storage devices utilize eMMC technology, of which multiple versions exist.  Newer smartphones tend to use the more refined eMMC version 4.4 and above, whereas older devices use eMMC (among other, less common technologies).

Virtually all of these slow down rapidly over time as data gets transferred and deleted. That’s because of a lack of fstrim (or TRIM) implementation in Android. TRIM allows solid state drives to recover from performance degradation, which naturally occurs over time with flash-based solid state memory.

I’ve written about Android’s lack of TRIM How to Fix Android’s Bad Performance and Awful Design How to Fix Android’s Bad Performance and Awful Design Got a laggy Android device? There's a fix for you out there, but it requires root access. Read More before, and several device specific methods of speeding your device up. This article continues along this path, addressing three general tips for improving the performance of solid state memory on Android mobile devices that everyone should know.

But before explaining further let’s talk about what goes into one of these storage modules.

What are these devices composed of?

The average solid state storage device contains three primary, interrelated features: A controller, memory and TRIM technology. The controller manages how your smartphone or tablet writes data to or reads data from memory. The memory module actually stores the information that you’re either reading or writing. TRIM is a firmware-contained method of keeping the drive functioning at optimal speeds, native to each controller.

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Controller

The kind of controller that manages your device also determines how it’s maintained and the extent of performance degradation over time. In desktop SSDs, the 400 MHz ARM CPU-powered controllers (possibly ASIC or FPGA) oftentimes possess processing power on par with low-end smartphones. They cost quite a bit more, as well. The additional processing power permits these expensive controllers to perform extensive self-optimization routines.

The eMMC drives in Smartphones and tablets are very low cost and of much lower quality than desktop SSDs. Consequently, even when they work properly, their function is minimally sufficient.

ssd controller

NAND Memory

There’s one kind of storage memory technology used in your phone: NAND flash memory. NAND flash memory is the most common storage medium used by all consumer devices. It stores data in a way that makes it difficult to write data over used blocks, or chunks of memory. NAND requires that a secondary erase operation occur before a block can be overwritten.

And that’s where TRIM technology takes over.

nand memory

TRIM Technology

TRIM helps overwrite used memory blocks Why TRIM is Important to Solid State Hard Drives? [Technology Explained] Why TRIM is Important to Solid State Hard Drives? [Technology Explained] Read More .

Of the various versions of eMMC, only newer models include support for TRIM. There are varying kinds of eMMC devices on the market — of these only eMMC 4.4 (PDF link) and on include TRIM support. Fortunately, the vast majority of devices use some form of eMMC drive. If older than eMMC 4.4, there normally exists some kind of alternative to TRIM, which allows for drive optimization.

For many devices, there’s at least some degree of automatic drive optimization. If so, then you can likely optimize its performance by following three easy steps.

TRIM

How Do I Keep My Device From Slowing Down?

#1: Keep Your Drive Half Filled

eMMC, and really any flash storage device, needs to keep 50% of its space empty, for optimal performance. The more free space, the more the controller can optimize the drive. When there’s less space to work with, the controller must work extra hard to write data. Consequently, whenever you use most apps, they will feel sluggish and suffer from “stutter”. The conventional wisdom holds that the less data stored on your device, the better, you can get away with keeping 25% of the drive empty. However, for those of you seeking to improve their device’s performance, you can manually run TRIM command with LagFix How to Fix Android’s Bad Performance and Awful Design How to Fix Android’s Bad Performance and Awful Design Got a laggy Android device? There's a fix for you out there, but it requires root access. Read More .

The consumer SSD industry went through the same initial teething issues as the mobile devices industry. Early SSDs did not properly implement TRIM and thus their controllers worked extra hard to write information to mostly filled disks. Manufacturers even developed the same half-measures that were implemented before Android 4.3 brought official TRIM.

#2: Uninstall Crappy Software

Don’t be a digital pack rat. Keeping a minimal number of installed software and media remains one of the cornerstones of a fast device. As already mentioned, keep at least a quarter of your drive’s space empty. Fewer apps also means fewer demands on data and a longer battery life.

For removing unused apps, dead folders and caches, try using SD Maid, or another clutter-eliminating app How to Free Storage Space on Your Android Device How to Free Storage Space on Your Android Device If you've run out of storage space on your Android phone or tablet, we can help you free it up. Read More .

#3: Leave the Device Idle While Plugged In For 24 Hours

Many devices, but certainly not all, came up with alternative solutions to TRIM. Unfortunately, the implementation of these custom half-measures varied by manufacturer and oftentimes didn’t work properly. Additionally, TRIM in Android 4.3 requires uninterrupted idle time. That means you cannot use the device during this time period. Similarly, the majority of optimization workarounds in older handsets require uninterrupted idle time, combined with a full battery.

On the downside, charging your battery for extended periods of time will cause some battery wear. However, provided you don’t charge overnight on a regular basis, you shouldn’t cause any battery issues.

Conclusion

The state of Android SSD implementation remained poor up until 4.3 released. Unfortunately, most of today’s devices won’t get an update. Fortunately, on most older Android devices you can restore performance using three steps: First, avoid filling the drive beyond 50% capacity (you can get away with 25% free space). Second, keep the drive clean of unneeded files. Third, let the device sit idle for 24 hours. If you’re lucky, this should activate its internal optimization feature.

Anyone got a slow Android device that used to be faster? Let us know in the comments.

Image Credits: Android via MorgueFile.com

  1. Gregori G
    October 29, 2013 at 5:01 am

    -How do i know if my device supports performance improving via idling? I use Galaxy Note 2 running stock Android 4.1
    -I didn't understand well. So you mean from Android 4.3 the problem is fixed?

    Awesome information. Thanks a lot!

    • Kannon Y
      October 29, 2013 at 5:26 am

      Hey Gregori, that's a good question.

      Unfortunately, there's no easy way to tell if idling will fix the issue other than actually idling the device. There's also LagFix, but I wouldn't try that on a Samsung device, because of the possibility it might destroy your device.

      4.3 definitely enables TRIM - it's the same function that some devices manually implemented. So yes, the problem is fixed if you ever get the 4.3 upgrade, but you still need to idle it in order to restore performance. I had the chance to test this out on my Nexus 4 and it does work.

  2. Nana
    October 11, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    What if I have an older tablet? I have a Samsung Galaxy (SCH-1800 (verizon)) though I do not have a Cell/data plan for it (using the wifi)
    I got it used, and it had been reset to factory defaults.

    • Kannon Y
      October 11, 2013 at 8:27 pm

      If it's sluggish immediately following a factory reset, it's likely for reasons other than dysfunctional TRIM.

      Are there a large number of apps already on the phone? It may not have been factory reset.

  3. suzy
    October 3, 2013 at 8:18 am

    How often would you recommend leaving the device charging for 24 hours? (preferably idle)

    • Kannon Y
      October 3, 2013 at 7:50 pm

      Great question.

      Whenever it begins feeling sluggish. This depends on how much data you transfer between the internal memory. If you're constantly moving media files around, then probably once a week.

      If you are only using the phone for apps, then it will require substantially less idle time. Probably around once a month or even less than that. Just remember to keep internal memory somewhere around 50% full. You can use up to 75% of your total capacity and still get good results from idling the phone overnight while charging.

      Another thing to do is turn off syncing while it's idling. I use so few apps that I've never needed to turn off sync, but I would imagine constant email and SMS notifications would interrupt the phone's idle time.

      Most devices include some kind of TRIM alternative or, in rare cases, actual TRIM. However, keep in mind that this won't work in all cases.

    • suzy
      October 4, 2013 at 2:53 am

      Awesome information. Thank you!

  4. Gary
    October 3, 2013 at 5:41 am

    Low end Android phones can become fairly sluggish but the beauty of Android is that there is a plethora of options available to tweak and improve performance on your device. From fairly simple apps to more complex scripts like v6 supercharger and even custom lightweight roms if your device has dev support. One of the main reason's I stick with Android over the alternatives

  5. Phil
    October 3, 2013 at 1:41 am

    Sluggish? Haven't really seen that from Android.

  6. Seth
    October 2, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    So if I just updated to 4.3 do I have to worry about TRIM?

    • Kannon Y
      October 2, 2013 at 10:17 pm

      That's a good question: Yes, even if you do have TRIM, activating it oftentimes requires uninterrupted idle time. So you'll need to leave the device charging for 24 hours.

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