Chrome is big and bloated so trim the fat for speed

Chrome used to be a lightweight and fast web browser, but it has grown and is showing middle-aged spread - that extra weight we put on as we get older. Put it on a diet, lose some of the fat and boost performance.

Chrome’s bloat came to a head the other day when I had the browser open and several tabs on my MacBook. I then started VirtualBox on the Mac to run a copy of Windows. It took a really long time to load, the memory usage was pretty much everything the Mac had, and the disk drive was working furiously to try and cope.

It was clearly a memory problem and starting Activity Monitor and selecting the Memory tab showed lots of red in the Memory Pressure live scrolling chart in the bottom left corner. If you see red in this chart, it means you need more RAM in your Mac because what you have got is all used up.

The MacBook has only 4GB and if it were a PC I would have upgraded the RAM ages ago, but being a MacBook upgrading is twice as difficult as it should be and I haven’t bothered.

The curious thing is that I had not noticed the problem before, so what had changed and where had all the memory disappeared to. A quick look at the Memory tab in Activity Monitor showed how bloated Chrome had got.

Activity Monitor in OS X

Chrome was using almost 2GB of memory, which is a crazy amount! I know I had half a dozen tabs open, but this is ridiculous. Add in Google Drive and the total memory usage was well over 2GB. No wonder the MacBook was running short and the memory pressure chart had turned red. Why?

All the tabs did not help, but closing Chrome and reopening it with just one tab showing the Google home page still showed quite high memory usage - over 600MB just to start it up in fact.

Disable Chrome extensions

So what is the problem? In a nutshell it is Chrome extensions. There are lots of great extensions for Google’s web browser and in this respect it is vasty superior to Safari. It is easy to browse the Chrome Web Store and install all manner of extensions that do clever things, save time and effort and so on.

Each extension you add increases the amount of memory required by the browser. See all those Google Chrome Helper entries in the Activity Monitor screen show above? Most of them are extensions.

You don’t need to get rid of the extensions and stopping them from starting is sufficient to reduce the memory usage. Start Chrome, click the menu button and select More tools, Extensions. Clear the tick boxes to the right of each extension to disable them. If you ever need one, you can return here and enable it.

Chrome extensions

Remove Chrome apps

Another thing you can do to slim Chrome is to go to chrome://apps and right click any item you do not want. Select Remove from Chrome. These Chrome apps are not the same as extensions, but trimming everything helps restore lost memory.

Chrome apps

Quit Chrome, wait a few seconds, start it again and look at Activity Monitor. The result of reducing the number of extensions to the bare minimum I need resulted in around a 50% reduction in memory usage. Chrome is now starting up using around 370MB.

That is still around three times what Safari needs, but when you work on multiple computers and devices with different operating systems, Chrome has a clear advantage because it is everywhere - Mac, Windows, Linux, Android and iOS. My bookmarks, browsing history, and extensions (on computers, not mobiles) follow me.

Chrome Task Manager

Without the extensions running, Chrome is now slimmer, lighter and faster. Have you checked your browser? Although I have been using Activity Monitor to check on memory usage, Chrome has a built in tool that can do the job. Go to the menu, More tools, Task Manager.

Chrome Task Manager

This works on Windows as well as OS X and it tells you how much memory, CPU and network bandwidth Chrome is using.

One final thing I did to reduce memory usage, was to stop Google Drive auto-running on startup. It is a great way to sync files across multiple compters and operating systems, but it requires lots of memory to run. Click the Google Drive icon in the menu bar, click the three dots menu and select preferences. In there you can tell it not to auto-start when you boot up the Mac. Now I just run it from the Applications folder when I need it, saving another couple of hundred megabytes.

The result is a faster, cleaner Mac, and a better browsing experience. Chrome is fast, but a memory hog, but apparently Google is apparently working on a better version. I just wish they would hurry up. Much more of this and I'll be switching to Safari.



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