Chrome may be the best browser around, but it eats up your PC’s RAM like turkey on Thanksgiving. If you’ve ever looked at your task manager, you’ve probably flipped out at the sheer number of Chrome processes and the memory they hog. Here’s why Chrome uses so much RAM, and how to curb its gluttony.
What Chrome Uses All That RAM For
Web browsing has become more complex than people give it credit for. Think about it: When you’re using a computer, most of what you do takes place in your browser, from opening tabs to watching videos and using webapps or extensions that integrate with the rest of your machine. That’s a lot of stuff.
Chrome splits every tab, plugin, and extension into its own process, so that if one thing crashes—like Flash—it doesn’t bring down the whole web page, or all your tabs at once. This can lead to higher memory (aka RAM) usage, since it has to duplicate some tasks for every tab. But it also makes things a lot more convenient.
There are other things going on behind the scenes, too. Chrome’s prerendering feature, for example, can cause higher memory usage, but it also means your web pages load faster. Certain extensions or web sites may also leak memory, which won’t get “cleaned up” when you’re done with it, causing higher RAM usage over time.
And, of course, the more tabs, extensions, and plugins you have open, installed, and running, the more memory Chrome is going to use.
So yes, Chrome uses a lot of RAM, but it (mostly) does so with reason: your convenience. Most of us have become accustomed to lots of tabs and fast page loading, and the price we pay is measured in gigabytes of RAM. That’s not to say Chrome couldn’t use some memory optimization—it probably could—but this is likely the future of web browsing.
High RAM Usage Is Good (Usually)
Seeing that huge number in Task Manager’s Memory column may be shocking, but it’s also important to remember that free RAM is useless RAM. RAM exists for a reason: if your computer can store lots of stuff in its short-term memory, then it can recall those things quickly later on. And if your computer doesn’t end up needing that stuff, it will toss it away to make room for other programs that need those resources.
So, by that logic, having your RAM almost full can be a good thing. It becomes a bad thing when your RAM is constantly full and slowing down your system. If what you’re doing needs more RAM than your computer has to offer, it’ll start swapping some of that short-term memory to your computer’s hard drive, which is much slower.
In a nutshell: Don’t flip out just because Chrome is using lots of RAM. That means its doing its job. If it’s taking up so much RAM that things are noticeably slowing down, however, you do indeed have a problem.
How to Curb Chrome’s Gluttonous Appetite
So you know why Chrome uses lots of RAM, and you know that sometimes that’s okay. But if it’s causing slowdowns, you have two solutions: lower Chrome’s RAM usage or buy more RAM for your computer.
The latter is very easy to do on a desktop computer (provided you have the money), but much more difficult on laptops, where memory is often not upgradable. So, you’ll have to fall back on plan B: sacrifice some conveniences in order to save some RAM.
Find Out What’s Hogging RAM, and Close It
To start, open Chrome and press Shift+Esc (or, on a Mac, go to Windows > Task Manager). This will open Chrome’s own Task Manager, which will give you a more accurate look into how much memory each tab, plugin, and extension is taking up. You can click the top of the “Memory” column to sort it by highest RAM usage to lowest.
Once you do so, you should have a good idea where to start. Maybe you need to close those pinned Gmail tabs, or maybe that convenient extension isn’t really worth the RAM usage. If that’s the case, uninstall it from Chrome’s extensions page.
Keep Your Plug-Ins In Check with Click-to-Play
If plugins like Flash are taking up too much RAM, you may want to turn on Click-to-Play, which stops those plugins (which play videos, games, and ads) from loading until you click on them. To do this, head to Chrome’s settings page, click Content Settings, and select ”Let me choose when to run plugin content”. You can also set exceptions for certain sites (like YouTube, you probably always want Flash running) or certain plug-ins (like Chrome’s PDF viewer).
Curb Your Tab Usage with Memory-Freeing Extensions
Of course, some of us are just too darn addicted to tabs (our support group meets Tuesdays and Thursdays). If that sounds like you, there are a few extensions that can help. Installing more extensions to curb your RAM usage may seem counterintuitive, but trust me, it can make a significant dent.
The Great Suspender is a very cool extension that “unloads” tabs after being inactive for a certain amount of time. They’ll still be there, in your tab bar, they’ll just take a little longer to load when you click on them, since Chrome’s reloading them from scratch. If you keep a lot of tabs open to come back to later in the day, this can be helpful.
Some folks also like OneTab, which performs a similar function, but without the automation. When you have a group of tabs you know you won’t need until later, you can click the OneTab button to close them all and open a single tab with links to each. That way, when you want to come back to them later, you can reopen them at will. This also reduces tab clutter, which is nice.
Play around with all of the above solutions and you’ll figure out which ones fit best into your workflow. Just know that, no matter what, you’ll have to make some sacrifices. Whether that means closing tabs, uninstalling extensions, or buying a new laptop is up to you.
Title illustration by Jim Cooke.