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Taming Google Chrome's Memory Thirst

Posted 30th January, 2015 by Aliysa

I use Google Chrome for 60 hours a week, and I love it because it offers me everything I demand from a web browser: simplicity, speed and the ability to add custom features.

That doesn't mean it's perfect; I frequently find my temper flared by issues with RAM usage. In fact, Chrome has become infamous for being the most memory inefficient of all the major web browsers, which can impact heavily on browsing performance. But what causes this RAM thirst, how do you quench it and is it possible to turn your Chrome into a slick and efficient browser? Here's our quickfire guide to Chrome RAM management:

What is RAM?

For any non-techies, RAM (Random-Access Memory) is a type of computer chip that can hold information (like programs and files) and instantly access random pieces of it. This means your computer doesn't need to scan through all the data in its memory just to get a single piece of information, it goes directly to the bytes it requires. When you run a program, your computer copies the program into RAM temporarily so that it can run very fast -- much faster than the disk or flash-memory card where programs and files are stored.

What Makes Chrome so Memory Inefficient

There's two main causes for Chrome consuming more memory than other browsers: for one thing every open tab in Chrome requires memory, even when you aren't actually viewing it. Tabs can have such a strong effect on memory that some users see sluggish performance even when 7-8 tabs are open.

The second cause is Chrome's extensions. Extensions might be fantastic for customising your browsing experience but having too many will send your memory usage through the roof and damage your browsing performance.

Task Manager

When investigating your memory usage the best place to start is the Chrome Task Manager, which you can find by hitting 'Shift + Escape' when Chrome is open. This manager clearly lays out how much RAM you're using at any one point and also breaks down your memory usage to a per-tab level, helping you identify those sites which are causing issues.

Chrome Task Manager

This Task Manager screenshot shows just how much of a problem Chrome's memory can be.


Becoming a Lightweight Browser

Having blamed extensions for memory issues, you might be surprised to hear me say that extensions can also be the solution to these problems, and that a good memory-saving extension can make a massive difference to your browser performance. There's several free extensions dedicated to this cause in the Chrome store, and I took time to test a couple:

OneTab

As the name suggests, OneTab closes all of your open tabs and stores links to them within one tab, slashing your memory usage. You can then reload pages individually as and when you need them, or all at once. It's simple to set up and use, and it did give me a notable RAM improvements; throughout the test was frequently seeing a 70% cut from my typical memory usage.


OneTab


The only drawback for me was that it was a little fiddly to hop between reference articles, as I needed repeat the stages below:

  1. Click on the 'OneTab' tab
  2. Find the page I needed within the list provided
  3. Click on the page I required
  4. Visit the page and reread the information I needed
  5. Hide the tab again in 'OneTab' (which squashed all my open tabs, including Google Docs)
  6. Reopen my Google Docs tab and carry on blogging

You can avoid this drawback by pinning your most important tabs, as OneTab won't squash pinned tabs by default. There's also several more customisable options to give you total control over the extension's behaviour.

Tabs Outliner

OneTab is great for '20 tab' Chrome users like me, but what if you're an absolute 'tab-aholic' who regularly hits 50-60 open tabs? Well, then Tabs Outliner could be the tool for you. This extension lets you easily see and control all your tabs across all your open Chrome windows, all within the handy 'manager' feature.

OneTab


It may not have a great UI but Tabs Outliner is still an easy extension to get your head around, especially as it comes with several helpful guides within the manager pop-up. I really like the fact that when you close tabs or sessions through this tool it remembers them for you. They can then be relaunched from the manager pop-up at any time.


Overall Chrome has many great features, which is why it's so frustrating when it hogs your memory. These extensions will help give you a more streamlined experience, but if you feel I've missed anything vital I'd love to hear from you in the comments.

Categories: Tips

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