Chrome is about to start eating more RAM, and we have Spectre to thank

Eric Abent - Jul 13, 2018, 12:37pm CDT
Chrome is about to start eating more RAM, and we have Spectre to thank

While Chrome is a pretty solid browser, it’s known for its tendency to be a bit of a resource hog. Its well-known appetite for all the RAM you’ve got is about to get worse, and we’ve all got Spectre to thank for it. The good news, however, is that this increase in RAM usage comes along with a new feature that should help keep Chrome users safe from Spectre’s rather scary threats while browsing the web.

Over on the Google Security Blog, the company details a new feature called Site Isolation that will be rolling out in Chrome 67. Site Isolation has actually been in small-scale testing since Chrome 63, but now Google is confident enough to roll it out to 99% of users on Windows, Mac, Linux, and ChromeOS. Google says it’s holding back that final 1% so it can continue monitoring performance.

So, what is Site Isolation? Put simply, it’s a change to Chrome’s architecture that keeps each render process limited to a single site. This, in turn, can potentially keep a malicious website from executing a Spectre attack and stealing data loaded from other sites, since they’ll now be separated into different processes.

Google says that while this is a significant change to the way Chrome operates under the hood, there shouldn’t be any major changes for developers and end-users outside of a few known issues that it’s working to fix. The tradeoff, of course, comes in overall RAM consumption.

“Site Isolation does cause Chrome to create more renderer processes, which comes with performance tradeoffs: on the plus side, each renderer process is smaller, shorter-lived, and has less contention internally, but there is about a 10-13% total memory overhead in real workloads due to the larger number of processes,” writes Google’s Charlie Reis. “Our team continues to work hard to optimize this behavior to keep Chrome both fast and secure.”

So, it sounds like Google will be working to decrease the RAM impact Site Isolation has on Chrome, but there are some things you can do to make sure that the impact isn’t so great. You can, of course, increase the amount of RAM in your PC, but barring that, a good way to ensure that RAM usage stays low is to keep a limited number of tabs open. That’s good advice for using Chrome in general, but it’s also easier said than done when you’ve got the entirely of the internet at your fingertips.


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