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How to decrease the amount of RAM your browser uses

Posted by Nik on December 15, 2017

One of the biggest problems with modern browsers is just how much memory or RAM they consume. Google Chrome, for example, might not be that efficient at all, taking up almost 2.5-3GB with just a couple of tabs open. For most people, that is around 3/4 of the total RAM their computer has. As you might already know, that can really slow down your computer and make programs all that less responsive.

Today, we’re going to show you some tricks to reduce the amount of RAM your browser takes up or possibly make it easier for your computer to handle it.

Why browsers use so much RAM

All browsers these days seem to use quite a bit of RAM. Google Chrome is the most notable one, and most recently, even Firefox Quantum. It’s not all bad though. It’s important to remember that any RAM that isn’t being used is free, useless RAM not really doing anything. For Chrome to take up a substantial amount isn’t necessarily a bad thing and is to be expected.

It does this so that it can deliver you pages almost instantly. Chrome isn’t just showing you a page, but it’s loading HTML, CSS, JavaScript, media containers and so much more in the background. It could be loading elements for 3D games, a movie, etc — it’s basically an operating system in itself. There’s a lot of media to load in 2017, and that’s just one of the reasons why RAM consumption is so much.

On top of that, Chrome handles its tab in a unique way. When you open Task Manager, you might see a whole bunch of Chrome processes open. This is because Chrome treats each tab as a process. The way, Chrome uses less memory in the background, but on top of that, if a tab were to crash, you would only lose that tab, and not have to close your entire browser, losing some of the websites you might’ve had open.

Chrome using more RAM to display elements faster to you is ultimately a good thing. The bad thing is when tabs or external plugins begin to leak memory. Often, even closing Chrome won’t clean that up — it usually requires a full computer reboot. That’s generally what slows your PC to a crawl — when your RAM is always full, your computer begins to act sluggish. This is because you’re using more RAM than your PC has to offer, and so it starts sending some of that short-term memory to your hard drive, which is a whole lot slower than short-term memory. This is where the sluggishness kicks in. While browsers using more RAM is a good thing, it isn’t that great for computers that are already low on memory (i.e. only equipped with a meager 4GB).

Thankfully, it’s a fairly easy problem to resolve.

Extensions

As we earlier mentioned, a big problem with Chrome’s memory usage is that each tab is treated as an individual process, so each tab is a separate process that takes up a certain amount of memory. The more tabs you have open, and depending on how media-heavy the website is, the more RAM it takes to keep those tabs open.

One way to curb Chrome’s RAM appetite in this area is by downloading and installing an extension called The Great Suspender. The idea is that, after a certain amount of inactivity in a tab, it dumps the data from that tab, freeing up RAM on your PC. The tab stays open, but when you click on it, Chrome has to reload the site. It takes a little longer to load when you go back to that tab since the extension dumps the data, but it’s a small price to pay for more memory space, especially on computers that don’t have much RAM to offer. You can download The Great Suspender for free here.

You can find a similar extension for Firefox here.

In addition, you might consider getting rid of extensions and add-ons you just don’t use anymore. These can needlessly take up system resources in the background, so if you don’t use them, you’d be better off uninstalling them out of your browser. Depending on the add-on you’re using, you could save yourself a ton of memory usage, especially if that plugin is known for memory leaking problems.

Hardware Acceleration

One way to decrease RAM usage is to turn on your browser’s Hardware Acceleration feature. This can help with things like idle processes, which can ease RAM usage, but it will especially help when you’re loading media-heavy content — hardware acceleration will use the GPU to load that content, freeing up your system RAM for other tasks.

You can turn this on pretty easily in both Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. For Chrome, simply open your Settings menu. Alternatively, you can simply type in chrome://settings in the Chrome address bar.

From there, scroll to the bottom of the page and select the “Advanced” button. Next, scroll down to the section called System, and simply tick the box that says Use hardware acceleration when available.

It’s easy to do in Firefox, too. Open the Preferences menu, and under the General tab, select Use recommended performance settings. With this enabled, you’ll be able to alter hardware acceleration settings now. Simply tick the box that says Use hardware acceleration when available.

Hardware acceleration seems to work a lot better in Firefox — at least there’s a more noticeable difference. Keep in mind that, for you to notice a difference in Firefox or Chrome, you’ll have to restart your browser.

Use less tabs

You might not be able to change how the internals of Chrome and Firefox work, but one way to improve RAM performance is to simply use less tabs at a time. You might be saving them to go back to for later, but remember, you can always “bookmark” these sites on either browser, allowing you to save that website without having to keep the tab open.

Upgrade your RAM

If you have a lot of RAM, the memory Firefox, Chrome and other browsers take isn’t too much of an issue. But, if you have a budget or work laptop, many of these only come with a base amount — which is about 4GB. This can get used up fast. Luckily, it’s fairly easy to upgrade your RAM, and on the cheap, too. In most laptops and computers, it’s easy to replace them as well.

Be sure to read up on our guide on buying the right memory for your PC and laptop, and then how to install that RAM in your machine. You can learn about this in more detail in our Build Your Own PC guide.

Click-to-Play

Adobe Flash Player can take up a ton of system RAM. Google Chrome has, by default, blocked content without user permission that uses Flash Player; however, Google has made quite a few exceptions for major sites. With that in mind, you’ll want to go into Chrome’s Settings, scroll all the way to the bottom and click on “Advanced.” Under Privacy & Security, select Content Settings. Under the “Flash” section, make sure it’s selected as “Ask First.

It’s a somewhat similar process. In new versions of Firefox, Flash is set as “Click to Play” by default. If you’re on an earlier version, or maybe something changed, you can easily set it back to default under the Add-ons tab. Look for Shockwave Flash, and to the right, you’ll see a dropdown box. Make sure it’s selected as “Ask to Activate.

With Adobe Flash Player enabled as Click to Play, your browser won’t load Flash content, saving you a ton of memory usage. Flash content will still be displayed, but you’ll have to physically click it and give it permission to load. At that point, it’ll obviously use your system resources, but it won’t be using them automatically anymore when you visit a webpage.

As a security measure, keep in mind that you should only enable Flash for well known, trusted sites. Adobe has had many problems with malware and the like being transferred through the plugin.

Closing

And that’s all there is to it! Sure, you might not be able to change the internals of how a browser takes advantage of memory, there are some things you can reduce it to a minimum, as we outlined above.

Ultimately, a browser using RAM is a good thing — it makes things run all that quicker, smoother and efficiently. It can be counterproductive with computers low on RAM, but if you follow the steps above, you should be able to easily minimize even the biggest memory hogs, such as Google Chrome. If not, the alternative would be to find a more minimalist browser.

Got a favorite browser? Be sure to leave us a comment in the comments section below!

6 thoughts on “How to decrease the amount of RAM your browser uses”

connect error 10060 says:
The thing is that the usage of the RAM depends on the browser as the Chrome uses the ram on each of the tabs that have been open and the Mozilla uses ram once only when the browser is being used.
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Gates says:
Is this a techJoke?
If you want to decrease the memory usage, close the program?
Ridiculous.
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Steven says:
The only issue I have had is streaming video. I have 20gig of RAM and streaming live video is kept in memory. Sometimes I leave the news channel on for hours and there it is, hours later using 5gig of RAM.

You can’t justify it. There is no legit reason to keep gigs of video in RAM. Your TV doesn’t do it, its never been needed before, there is no reason it can’t be saved to a TEMP file. The player itself only lets you go back so far, not hours before so it is wasted RAM.

RAM also aids in multi-tasking, so you can have more apps open. If useless data is hogging RAM, then you are limited in what you can do.

The only thing that should use RAM is what’s needed, nothing else.

Funny thing is, before I added 16gig of extra RAM, that same feed didn’t keep so much data, it was in the hundred of MB/s not GB/s. If everything ran smooth with limit RAM (and it did), then it shouldn’t be using more RAM just because I added more.

I also think its ignorant when people say buy more RAM or a new computer as if money grows on trees. Not everyone has the funds to keep upgrading or buying stuff because billionaires (Google, Mircrosoft) who own a browser can’t be bothered to limit how much data is save in RAM or more preferable, give the user an option to restrict RAM usage to a certain size in the way that the Internet Options in Win10 lets you limit the disk space for TEMP files.

Telling people to close out apps or TABs is too cliché. It doesn’t even warrant a reply beyond that.

Trying to justify hogging RAM for anything other than what’s needed is arrogant and clueless. You are basically telling people to not multi-task because browser vendors are too lazy to implement a RAM limit mechanism.

A webpage doesn’t need a lot of RAM, it can and does use less if your computer has less. Sure it maybe saved to a TEMP file but that’s how it should be. There is no reason for a webpage to use more resources than it needs just because there is more.

I do wonder one thing about the lack of constraints on RAM usage, on whether it could be exploited by placing a hidden video file on a website and have it play without the user knowing and have it download to the point of flooding the RAM and crashing the browser.

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pro says:
I am not convinced brrowsers should use that much RAM even after reading all of the above. In 2010 the web was not that far behind, still I managed to have 20+ tabs open + pdfs, + word and powerpoint sheets for a grand total of 2 gigabytes. Me thinks someone is not doing their job properly.

P.S. If speed is the concern then all this “preloading” should be optional instead of shoving it up our throats. Another thing. Having that many “windows” open did not reduce speed at least noticeably or making it slower than it is today.

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George says:
Firefox quantom? Am I missing something?
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Timo says:
Hi George – we were referring to the latest Firefox browser from Mozilla:

https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/

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George says:
I don’t know how I hadn’t hear of this yet. I’m gonna check it out for sure. Thanks for the information.
Peter O'Brien says:
Re: The Great Suspender
User review …
“piyush guptaModified Aug 6, 2017

2 bugs I found, which made me hate it.
1. when i restarted chrome session, the tabs which were suspended in earlier session, start taking up memory, though they are still suspended.
2. when uninstalling the extension, the tabs which were suspended were closed instead of being restored.”

– sort of puts me off !

Reply

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