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Why Is Google Chrome Using So Much RAM? Here’s How to Fix It

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Gavin Phillips
2020-12-30 12:20:18

If you’ve done any research at all into different browsers, you’re familiar with the fact that Chrome can be a bit of a resource hog. Glance at your Task Manager or Activity Monitor, and you’ll often see Chrome at the top of the list.

But why does Chrome use so much RAM, especially compared to other browsers? And what can you do to keep it in check? Here’s how to make Chrome use less RAM.

Does Google Chrome Really Use More RAM?

Several years ago, the only answer was Yes. Google Chrome’s RAM-hungry reputation was well known.

However, changes to Google Chrome have improved browsers’ memory usage, especially compared to other popular browsers. At times, Mozilla, Edge, Opera, and Safari all use more RAM than Chrome. How do I know this? I ran a short test, opening a Facebook page, a YouTube video, the BBC Sport website, and Twitter in a clean browser.

The results will interest you.

popular browsers ram use

There is Google Chrome, sitting happily in the middle of the other browsers. Sure, this is anecdotal, and there is more than enough evidence that Chrome eats more RAM than other browsers. If you have ever run your own browser RAM-use test, there’s a strong chance you found Chrome using more RAM than other browsers.

Google Chrome is absolutely one of the fastest browsers, but it needs a lot of RAM to take that title.

Why Does Google Chrome Use So Much RAM?

“Aw, Snap! Google Chrome ran out of memory while trying to display this webpage.”

That’s the message you see when Chrome runs out of memory. To understand why Chrome uses so much memory, you need to understand how most modern browsers operate.

Every app on your computer runs processes in your computer’s RAM, where the hard work of running your computer takes place. RAM is temporary storage for all kinds of data, and it is very fast. Your CPU can access data held in your system RAM much faster than a hard drive or even an SSD.

windows task manager chrome processes

Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Microsoft Edge all store every tab, plugin, and extension in a different RAM process. This process is called isolation and prevents one process from writing to another one.

Hence, when you open your Task Manager or Activity Monitor, Google Chrome displays multiple entries. If you look closely, you can see that each process only uses a small amount of RAM, but the load is very high when you add them up.

How Does Google Chrome Manage RAM?

Browsers like Chrome manage RAM this way to offer better stability and faster speeds. But Chrome still uses a lot of RAM. At least, in many cases, it appears to be using more RAM than other browsers. Here’s a short explanation as to how Chrome handles RAM.

The main reason for running each process separately is stability. By running each process separately, if one crashes, the entire browser remains stable. Sometimes, a plugin or extension will fail, requiring you to refresh the tab. If every tab and extension was run in the same process, you might have to restart the whole browser instead of a single tab.

The downside is that some processes that single-process browsers can share between tabs must be replicated for each tab in Chrome. Splitting into multiple processes comes with security benefits, too, similar to sandboxing or using a virtual machine.

single process browser vs multi process browser

For example, if a JavaScript attack takes place in one tab, there is no way to cross into another tab within Chrome, whereas that may well happen in a single-process browser.

Adding the amount of RAM usage in Chrome are plugins and extensions. Each plugin or extension you add to Google Chrome requires resources to run. The more extensions you have installed, the more RAM Chrome needs to run.

Pre-rendering is a notable example. Pre-rendering lets Chrome start loading up a webpage that it predicts you’ll go to next (it might be the top search result from Google or the “next page” link on a news site). The pre-rendering process requires resources and so uses more RAM. But it also speeds up your browsing experience, especially for frequently visited sites.

The flip side is that if there is a bug with the pre-rendering process, it can use more RAM than you might expect, slowing down other areas of your computer or making the browser tab unresponsive.

Chrome RAM Use on Limited Hardware Devices

Chrome has some answers for RAM use on low power devices or devices with limited hardware. The general rule is that when Chrome is running on capable hardware, it will operate using the processes model explained previously.

Whereas, when Chrome runs on a device with fewer resources, Chrome will consolidate into single processes to reduce the overall memory footprint. Using a single process allows for a reduction in resources but comes at the risk of browser instability.

Also, Chrome is aware of how much memory it is using. It isn’t mindlessly eating every bit of RAM it can find. Chrome limits the number of processes it can start depending on your system hardware. It is an internal limit, but when reached, Chrome switches to running tabs from the same site in a single process.

Updates Attempt to Stop Chrome Taking Up Memory

In late 2020, Google Chrome developers announced they would introduce a RAM-saving feature known as “PartitionAlloc Fast Malloc.” Without delving too far into the feature’s technicalities, PartitionAlloc should stop any single process consuming more than 10 percent of the total system memory.

The improvement comes after Microsoft managed to reduce RAM use in the Chromium-based Edge browser using “Segment Heap,” another improvement dedicated to reducing browser memory usage.

Related: These Features Make Edge More Productive Than Chrome

Is Google Chrome’s RAM Usage a Problem?

How much RAM does Chrome need? Is there a limit of RAM Chrome will use before it becomes a problem? The answer lies with your system hardware.

Just because Chrome is using a lot of RAM doesn’t mean that it is necessarily causing a problem. If your system isn’t using the available RAM, it isn’t doing you any good; your computer only uses RAM to access data quickly and speed up processing. If you’re keeping your RAM as clear as possible, you’re not taking advantage of the power of your computer.

windows 10 chrome services task manager

Just like on a smartphone, clearing out your running processes and the RAM might slow things down in the long run. That’s why RAM cleaners and boosters are bad for your smartphone.

Chrome Using Too Much Memory

However, if Chrome is using too much memory, it could turn into a problem. When Chrome uses too much memory, it limits the amount available for other programs. Chrome could even begin to struggle to keep the important information from your browser available for quick access, negating the use of the RAM to begin with.

When it comes down to it, Chrome’s RAM usage is only a problem if it slows your computer down, be that your browser or your entire system. If you see Chrome is using a lot of memory, but there are no negative performance consequences, it is not worth worrying about.

For instance, I sometimes have 50 or more Chrome tabs open, using 2.5GB RAM or more. It sounds like a huge amount, but my system has 16GB RAM to use, so it isn’t an issue. Try the same on a laptop with 4GB RAM, and you’re going to have a bad time.

If Chrome’s memory use is slowing things down, it is time to take action.

How to Make Chrome Use Less RAM

There are several ways you can speed up your browsing experience and reduce the amount of RAM Chrome uses. The most important tool at your disposal is the Chrome Task Manager.

chrome task manager

Similar to the Windows Task Manager, the Chrome Task Manager shows the performance and consumption of each tab and extension within the browser. You can use the Chrome Task Manager to figure out what is using the most memory, then close them to free up space.

In Windows, just hit Shift + Esc to access the Task Manager; on a Mac, you’ll need to open it from the Window menu. Select the process, then hit End process.

Look out for tabs and extensions that have ballooned in size. Sometimes, a single Chrome tab can use lots of memory due to a bug or poor configuration. Sometimes, a Chrome memory leak will cause your browser to freeze (or even your whole system).

Once you’ve killed off the resource-heavy processes, there are some other things you can do to fix frequent Chrome crashes.

Manage Plugins and Extensions to Save Chrome Memory

You can disable extensions that are using a lot of power. Alternatively, you can set them to activate only when using a specific site.

Right-click the extension and select Manage extensions. Change the “Allow this extension to read and change all your data on websites that you visit” to either On click or On specific sites.

If you have a lot of extensions that you use for different things, consider installing a quick extension manager. SimpleExtManager adds a small dropdown box alongside your extension tray. Then it is one click on and off for all extensions.

Install Chrome Tab Management Extensions to Reduce Memory Use

Installing more extensions to manage Chrome’s RAM use problems sounds counterintuitive, especially after all of the issues you just read about.

Some extensions are designed specifically with RAM management in mind, helping you customize how Chrome handles and discards tabs you are no longer using.

For example, The Great Suspender allows you to suspend processes on all but one tab, instantly reducing how much memory Chrome is consuming. The Great Suspender has a bunch of other options, too, including the handy Unsuspend all tabs button for when you want to activate everything again.

chrome extension the great discarder

Another option is The Great Discarder, which allows you to customize the frequency Chrome discards unused tabs. Chrome discards tabs when they’re not in use to save memory. With The Great Discarder, you can change the length of time, specify tabs not to discard, and so on.

Is Google Chrome Using Too Much Memory?

Chrome is the dominant browser, globally. Alternative browsers like Firefox and Opera can use a similar amount of memory as Chrome, so switching isn’t always the best option.

There are other issues at play, too. For example, YouTube was using an outdated library that made the service run up to five times slower on Firefox and Opera, using vastly more resources than necessary. This particular issue is now rectified but provides an example as to how the browser market leader and owner of major online services can affect resource use across the market.

If you want to keep going with Chrome, do so. It is a secure, fast browser with thousands of excellent extensions and one that is actively attempting to reduce memory use.

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