Android 4.3's TRIM support will breathe new life into old, bogged-down Nexus 7 tablets

A simple software fix will clear up the biggest headache associated with Google's Nexus 7

Google's Jelly Bean refresh, Android 4.3, doesn't have a ton of new goodies to entice users other than multi-user account profiles, improved graphics, and Bluetooth LE support. Nevertheless, the new Android update promises to be a boon for longtime Nexus 7 users plagued by the crippling slowdown the slate runs into after months of use.

Android 4.3 will crank up the responsiveness of the original Nexus tablet--and all Nexus devices--thanks to the addition of a system-level TRIM utility that will keep your slate's onboard storage organised, optimised, and clean.

Life in the slow lane

We liked the original Nexus 7 when it first came out, and our review for the latest version says it's the best 7-inch tablet that money can buy.

But while the original Nexus 7 was a great tablet out of the box, after a few months of use many users noticed the device became slow. Really slow; "Windows XP with a full disk" slow. After months of use, response times for calling up the keyboard or launching an app can feel like an eternity, and the Chrome browser is horrifically laggy.

Just this morning, I was trying to open a simple, text-centric Webpage on my Nexus 7 and Chrome just kept hanging as I waited for the page to come up. Not content to wait for the Nexus 7, I turned to my trusty PC. In the time it took the Nexus 7 to open the page, I was able to boot my Windows 8 PC from a cold start, navigate to the desktop, fire up Chrome and then access the page I was looking for.

Slim and TRIM

The problem with my Nexus 7 isn't a misbehaving app or maxed out storage capacity, but the way the tablet handles deleted data. Every time you install something on a Nexus 7, the data takes up physical location on the tablet's built-in flash storage. To keep track of where everything is, the operating system creates a mapped index so it knows where to fetch the data when it's needed.

The problem is that the Nexus 7 currently doesn't have a way of cleaning up that index once you delete an app, video file, photo, or document. So the device's storage map becomes more and more complex, ultimately bogging down response times as the OS sorts through all this extraneous data.

But in Android 4.3 that problem will disappear thanks to the inclusion of fstrim, a tool that can tell the OS when blocks of data are no longer in use and should be wiped out. Once that happens, the device's map becomes simpler and the slate should become much more responsive. (PC-based solid state drives employ similar "junk collection" methods.)

That's the basic gist of what's going on. For a fuller, more technical explanation, check out AnandTech's post on the matter.

I haven't personally tried salvaging my Nexus 7 by actively seeking out the new Android 4.3 update. But many have, including Dan Seifert over at The Verge, who says Android 4.3 saved his Nexus 7. So if you're a Nexus 7 owner with similar problems, now you have one more reason to look forward to Android 4.3: Your tablet should actually become usable again.

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Ian Paul

TechHive (US)
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