Support for external RAM


The ESP32 has a few hundred KiB of internal RAM, residing on the same die as the rest of the ESP32. For some purposes, this is insufficient, and therefore the ESP32 incorporates the ability to also use up to 4MiB of external SPI RAM memory as memory. The external memory is incorporated in the memory map and is, within certain restrictions, usable in the same way internal data RAM is.


The ESP32 supports SPI (P)SRAM connected in parallel with the SPI flash chip. While the ESP32 is capable of supporting several types of RAM chips, the ESP32 SDK at the moment only supports the ESP-PSRAM32 chip.

The ESP-PSRAM32 chip is an 1.8V device, and can only be used in parallel with an 1.8V flash part. Make sure to either set the MTDI pin to a high signal level on bootup, or program the fuses in the ESP32 to always use a VDD_SIO level of 1.8V. Not doing this risks damaging the PSRAM and/or flash chip.

To connect the ESP-PSRAM chip to the ESP32D0W*, connect the following signals:
  • PSRAM /CE (pin 1) - ESP32 GPIO 16
  • PSRAM SO (pin 2) - flash DO
  • PSRAM SIO[2] (pin 3) - flash WP
  • PSRAM SI (pin 5) - flash DI
  • PSRAM SCLK (pin 6) - ESP32 GPIO 17
  • PSRAM SIO[3] (pin 7) - flash HOLD
  • PSRAM Vcc (pin 8) - ESP32 VCC_SDIO

Connections for the ESP32D2W* chips are TBD.


Espressif sells an ESP-WROVER module which contains an ESP32, 1.8V flash and the ESP-PSRAM32 integrated in a module, ready for inclusion on an end product PCB.


ESP-IDF fully supports integrating external memory use into your applications. ESP-IDF can be configured to handle external RAM in several ways:
  • Only initialize RAM. This allows the application to manually place data here by dereferencing pointers pointed at the external RAM memory region (0x3F800000 and up).
  • Initialize RAM and add it to the capability allocator. This allows a program to specifically allocate a chunk of external RAM using heap_caps_malloc(size, MALLOC_CAP_SPIRAM). This memory can be used and subsequently freed using a normal free() call.
  • Initialize RAM, add it to the capability allocator and add memory to the pool of RAM that can be returned by malloc(). This allows any application to use the external RAM without having to rewrite the code to use heap_caps_malloc.

All these options can be selected from the menuconfig menu.


The use of external RAM has a few restrictions:
  • When disabling flash cache (for example, because the flash is being written to), the external RAM also becomes inaccessible; any reads from or writes to it will lead to an illegal cache access exception. This is also the reason that ESP-IDF will never allocate a tasks stack in external RAM.
  • External RAM cannot be used as a place to store DMA transaction descriptors or as a buffer for a DMA transfer to read from or write into. Any buffers that will be used in combination with DMA must be allocated using heap_caps_malloc(size, MALLOC_CAP_DMA) (and can be freed using a standard free() call.)
  • External RAM uses the same cache region as the external flash. This means that often accessed variables in external RAM can be read and modified almost as quickly as in internal ram. However, when accessing large chunks of data (>32K), the cache can be insufficient and speeds will fall back to the access speed of the external RAM. Moreover, accessing large chunks of data can ‘push out’ cached flash, possibly making execution of code afterwards slower.
  • External RAM cannot be used as task stack memory; because of this, xTaskCreate and similar functions will always allocate internal memory for stack and task TCBs and xTaskCreateStatic-type functions will check if the buffers passed are internal. However, for tasks not calling on code in ROM in any way, directly or indirectly, the menuconfig option SPIRAM_ALLOW_STACK_EXTERNAL_MEMORY will eliminate the check in xTaskCreateStatic, allowing task stack in external RAM. Using this is not advised, however.

Because there are a fair few situations that have a specific need for internal memory, but it is also possible to use malloc() to exhaust internal memory, there is a pool reserved specifically for requests that cannot be resolved from external memory; allocating task stack, DMA buffers and memory that stays accessible when cache is disabled is drawn from this pool. The size of this pool is configurable in menuconfig.

Chip revisions

There are some issues with certain revisions of the ESP32 that have repercussions for use with external RAM. These are documented in the ESP32 ECO document. In particular, ESP-IDF handles the bugs mentioned in the following ways:

ESP32 rev v0

ESP-IDF has no workaround for the bugs in this revision of silicon, and it cannot be used to map external PSRAM into the ESP32s main memory map.

ESP32 rev v1

The bugs in this silicon revision introduce a hazard when certain sequences of machine instructions operate on external memory locations (ESP32 ECO 3.2). To work around this, the gcc compiler to compile ESP-IDF has been expanded with a flag: -mfix-esp32-psram-cache-issue. With this flag passed to gcc on the command line, the compiler works around these sequences and only outputs code that can safely be executed.

In ESP-IDF, this flag is enabled when you select SPIRAM_CACHE_WORKAROUND. ESP-IDF also takes other measures to make sure no combination of PSRAM access plus the offending instruction sets are used: it links to a version of Newlib recompiled with the gcc flag, doesn’t use some ROM functions and allocates static memory for the WiFi stack.