For most people, the only time we think about the storage on our smartphones or tablets is when we’re running low on space. Some very clever engineers are quietly improving the performance of this vital component.

The result of these toils is Universal Flash Storage (UFS), and you’re already using it if you have a recent high-end Android phone such as the Samsung Galaxy S8, HTC U11+, or OnePlus 5T.

But why is this standard so important? We explain how it could add significant speed and battery-life improvements in the near future.

What makes UFS so special?

Since its introduction in 2011 by standards body JEDEC, the aim of UFS has been to provide ultra-fast read and write speeds for mobile devices, using less energy in the process. The upshot of these two principles is that devices employing the standard will be pretty nippy and have batteries that last longer when you’re shooting video, taking pictures, or generally accessing data on your internal storage.

The ultimate aim is for UFS to ultimately replace the existing eMMC Flash storage units found in many smartphone, tablet, cameras, Chromebooks, and automotive technology.

There are a couple UFS variants on offer; embedded internal storage (also called eUFS) and removable cards that resemble microSD. The former was adopted first by the Samsung Galaxy S6 and has gone on to appear in all subsequent premium Samsung devices, alongside many other Android flagships.

Apple is yet to adopt the standard, opting instead to use a bespoke variant of NVMe technology in its iPhone and iPad.

The removable UFS storage options remain a much rarer sight, even though Samsung again pushed the technology by releasing 32GB, 64GB, 128GB, and 256GB cards in 2016.  

what is UFS

How much faster is UFS than eMMC?

Compared to eMMC storage, UFS is much faster. This can be attributed in a large part to the way information is exchanged with its host device.

‘The UFS standard adopts the well-known SCSI Architecture Model and command protocols supporting multiple commands with command queuing features and enabling a multi-thread programming paradigm’ states JEDEC. ‘This differs from conventional Flash-based memory cards and embedded Flash solutions which process one command at a time, limiting random read/write access performance.’

So, essentially, UFS can handle multiple requests for reading and writing at once while poor old eMMC has to sit there playing with its virtual crayons. Oh, that’s a very pretty rainbow. Good job eMMC!

Seriously, though, if you've bought a cheap Windows laptop with limited storage (typically 32 or 64GB) it'll probably be eMMC storage and it's one of the reasons these laptops seem so sluggish.

Samsung states its newly announced eUFS storage will be based on the existing UFS 2.1 standard, and ‘can read data at up to 850MB/s, which is approximately 3.4 times faster than the 250MB/s read speed of today’s eMMC 5.0 solutions. It also offers about 6.3 times faster random reading than eMMC at 45,000 IOPS’.

The company also revealed that it was increasing the maximum capacity from 256GB to 512GB, which could potentially be good news for the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S9 and Samsung Galaxy Note 9.

what is UFS

What is UFS 3.0?

In January 2018, JEDEC unveiled a new UFS 3.0 standard, which further enhances the technology. This update increases bandwidth, seeing transfer speeds double.

‘UFS 3.0 is the first standard to introduce MIPI M-PHY HS-Gear4,’ states JEDEC, ‘with a data rate of up to 11.6Gb/s per lane, a 2x performance increase over prior versions of the specification.’

By utilising this two-lane approach it means maximum speeds could be as high as 23.2Gb/s.

The new update also expands the temperatures at which the technology can work, as well as reducing the power demands on a system to 2.5v (down from 2.7v in the 2.1 version).

One of the intended markets for UFS is automotive technology, so expect to see the technology at the heart of in-car systems in the near future. Well, don't expect to actually see it, though.

As the 3.0 standard has just been announced, it will be a while before manufacturers can utilise it in new devices. But, by the end of the year your smartphone or tablet could be a lot faster than the model you retire. Even more good reason to justify that upgrade! Hurrah!