Google Chrome adds new Spectre fix, but uses more RAM in return

Google Chrome might be the most popular browser in the world, but it has historically been rather memory hungry, especially when you’ve got multiple tabs open. So you’re not going to be particularly happy to find that your favorite browser now consumes a lot more memory than before – about 10% more.

This is due to the fact that Google has enabled security technologies to safeguard against the Spectre vulnerabilities that were unearthed by the search giant’s own researchers at the start of 2018.

Google announced this week that Chrome 67 now has a Site Isolation feature turned on by default that "does cause Chrome to create more renderer processes, which comes with performance tradeoffs," according to software engineer Charlie Reis. "There is about a 10-13% total memory overhead in real workloads due to the larger number of processes."

Always a compromise

While it’s good news that Chrome has added protection against Spectre side-channel attacks, the browser’s increased memory usage won’t be welcomed by many Chrome users who often complain about the amount of RAM it consumes, especially those using devices with 4GB RAM or less. 

However, Google has  promised to work on reducing the impact of Site Isolation technology. "Our team continues to work hard to optimize this behavior to keep Chrome both fast and secure," Reis added.

Trial and error

Google claims to have enabled this safeguard for 99% of Chrome users on Windows, Mac, Linux, and Chrome OS. According to the company, the remaining 1% was held back to "monitor and improve performance".

When Chrome 68 launches later this month, users will be able to verify whether Site Isolation is on or not by typing chrome://process-internals into the address bar, however, this does not work on Chrome 67. 

Reis also promises that Site Isolation will be included in Chrome 68 for Android, and the desktop version will come with more functionality. "We're also working on additional security checks in the browser process, which will let Site Isolation mitigate not just Spectre attacks but also attacks from fully compromized renderer processes," he writes in the blog post. "Stay tuned for an update about these enforcements."

Sharmishta Sarkar
Managing Editor (APAC)

Sharmishta is TechRadar's APAC Managing Editor and loves all things photography, something she discovered while chasing monkeys in the wilds of India (she studied to be a primatologist but has since left monkey business behind). While she's happiest with a camera in her hand, she's also an avid reader and has become a passionate proponent of ereaders, having appeared on Singaporean radio to talk about the convenience of these underrated devices. When she's not testing camera kits or the latest in e-paper tablets, she's discovering the joys and foibles of smart home gizmos. She's also the Australian Managing Editor of Digital Camera World and, if that wasn't enough, she contributes to T3 and Tom's Guide, while also working on two of Future's photography print magazines Down Under.