If you’re a dedicated Chrome user and have noticed your Windows laptop plunging into an earlier death than normal, then you may very well blame a “feature” that was introduced way back in 2010. Though that feature made sense in a day and age when browser plugins, Java applets, and Flash dominated the Web, Chrome’s high-performance system tweaking has now become a liability that Google doesn’t seem to be keen on addressing quickly.
This is all related to CPU clock ticks, basically the number of times the CPU wakes up from a low-powered idle state to check if there is a job to be done. On Windows, the default and recommended number is 15.625 ms, meaning the CPU wakes up as much as 64 times per second. Windows, however, also allows apps to modify this value to boost the performance as needed, with a warning that higher rates (meaning, lower ms counts) could drain the battery faster by as much as 25 percent.
It is this option that Chrome has taken advantage of back in the days to pump up the CPU for its tasks. To be fair, other browsers like Firefox and Internet Explorer do it too, setting the clock tick to 1.000 ms whenever media is playing, for example. That practically means that the CPU is never asleep. The difference with Chrome, however, is that Firefox and IE dial it back down to 15.625 ms when the job is done. Chrome, on the other hand, cranks up the timer to 1.000 ms the moment the browser starts and never takes it down until it quits. And since the this clock tick setting is system-wide, it means that it affects everything even if you’re not actively using Chrome, as long as the browser is running, even in the background.
It may sound like an almost stupid feature with very little gain, but back in 2010, when the potential battery drain issue was first raised, it may have made sense. Google Chrome engineer Mike Belshe justified the decision back then by pointing out the common practice in the World Wide Web. Web pages, almost all of them, had one plugin or another, one multimedia feature of some sort that already pushes the clock tick to 1 ms. In Google’s mind, it wouldn’t matter if it made the change permanent. Unfortunately, the Web landscape has changed since then and such plugins, even Flash, have fallen out of popularity, leaving Chrome the only one left abusing and misusing that option. What’s even worse is that Google claimed that the 1 ms boost only happens when the laptop is plugged in, but, somewhere along the road, it seems that it has also been enabled even when on batteries.
The good news is that Google has finally acknowledged the problem, marking the original bug report as “Assigned”. Mac and Linux, and by extension, Chrome OS, are not affected by this issue since they use different operating system paradigms. But given how Google might want to wean Windows users off Internet Explorer and into Chrome, they shouldn’t take another 2 years to fix it.