Boost Chrome performance, reduce memory usage on PC and Mac

When you have dozens of tabs open in Chrome browser, they use a lot of memory, which can slow down the computer. Boost Chrome performance with high efficiency mode, which reduces RAM usage.

Tabs are the best invention ever and it is hard to imagine browsing the web without them. It is so useful to be able to open different sites or even different pages on the same site on different tabs in the browser.

Some people take tab usage to the extreme and they have dozens of tabs open. A few people have 50, 60 or even 100+ tabs open. If you ask me, that is crazy, but if you want to work like that, browsers like Chrome will let you do it.

The problem is that every tab you open uses memory. Often hundreds of megabytes of memory. The amount of memory required by a tab depends on the contents of the web page being viewed and some need more memory than others.

Open a couple of dozen tabs and memory usage could be as much as 5 GB or more. If you are running other apps at the same time, such as editing large photos in Photoshop, your computer could easily use up all the available memory. The computer won’t stop because it can use the drive as an extension to memory, however, drive storage, even an SSD, is very slow compared to RAM.

Open too many tabs and Chrome will slow down. The whole computer might even slow down because it is trying to juggle memory between RAM and disk (SSD or HDD).

If only there was some way to reduce the amount of memory used by tabs in Chrome. Well, there is! There is a hidden setting in Chrome that enables you to drastically cut memory usage. Basically, only the tab you are looking at uses memory, even though dozens are open.

When Chrome uses little memory it won’t bog down the computer. Browsing and using other apps at the same time will be faster and smoother. Let’s take a look. This works on Windows PC, Apple Mac and Linux, probably Chromebooks too. It is a Chrome feature and is independent of the operating system.

How much memory does Chrome use?

Open Task Manager if you have a Windows PC (right click the taskbar). Open Activity Monitor if you have an Apple Mac (in the Applications/Utilities folder). Look for Chrome among the list of running apps.

Task Manager in Windows showing memory usage by Chrome browser.
Windows Task Manager showing Chrome memory usage

Open a lot of tabs and look at the memory usage. In the screenshot above, a folder of bookmarked sites was opened and Chrome is using 2,745 MB. That’s 2.7 GB of memory and some of the tabs are quite lightweight. Graphics and media-rich sites would use even more memory than this.

Task Manager in Windows showing Chrome browser memory usage.
Windows Task Manager showing Chrome memory usage

The second screenshot is Chrome with the exact same collection of tabs open. This time the memory usage is just 344 MB. Same tabs, but a fraction of the memory. This is a huge benefit when you want to run other apps at the same time as Chrome. Instead of slowing your computer to a crawl as it pages memory in and out of the disk, it will remain fast.

So how is this achieved? How do we boost Chrome performance?

Enable Chrome high efficiency mode

Chrome flags in Chrome browser
Enable high efficiency mode in Chrome flags
  1. Type chrome://flags into the address box of Chrome browser.
  2. Type ‘high efficiency’ into the search box at the top.
  3. Click the Default button and select one of the Enabled… options.
  4. Restart Chrome by clicking the button at the bottom.

When high efficiency mode is enabled, Chrome sort of suspends unused tabs. When you switch to a suspended tab, it is restored. This takes slightly longer than it normally would to switch browser tabs, but you may not notice the difference.

The options on the menu are: Enabled and Enabled With… 5 seconds, 30 seconds, 2 minutes, or 1 hour. This is the length of time before a tab is suspended. I would not select 5 seconds. If you switch tabs and switch back a few seconds later it will need to be reloaded, which could be frustrating.

The best option is Enabled With 2 Minute Discard. After 2 minutes inactivity a tab is suspended and the memory it is using is recovered. This enables you to switch between tabs, but those you haven’t used for two minutes or more don’t use any memory.

Turn on Chrome memory saver

The flags setting enables the efficiency mode feature, but it does not turn it on. You must now turn on Memory Saver in Chrome Settings.

The Performance section in Chrome browser settings.
Chrome browser performance settings
  1. Click the three dots at the top right corner to open the menu and select Settings.
  2. Select the new Performance section in Chrome Settings.
  3. Turn on the Memory Saver switch in the Performance settings.
The Performance section in Chrome browser settings.
Chrome browser performance settings

It can mean the difference between using several gigabytes of memory and using a few hundred megabytes. This is a brilliant feature, but discarding unused tabs could have unintended consequences. News or social sites that frequently update could load a different set of stories for example, or maybe entries into a form you part filled would be lost.

For this reason, there is an Always keep these sites active list. For sites you never want to suspend, click the Add button and enter the domain. It remains an active tab and you can switch back and forth without it needing to be reloaded. That tab will use memory of course.

This is a great way to boost Chrome performance.

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