It’s not just you: Google’s Chrome browser is using more memory than before. There’s a good reason why that happens, but unfortunately you can’t do anything about it short of ditching Google’s browser and using something else. Or you can always get more RAM.
That’s because Google had to put in place fixes for those Spectre vulnerabilities that were unearthed in early 2018. In case you forgot, that’s a security issue with a variety of chips, including Intel, AMD, and, yes, the one inside your current laptop or desktop. Those security issues had to be fixed via software updates.
Google explained in a blog post that Spectre mitigation is what may cause performance issues on your system:
Site Isolation is a significant change to Chrome’s behavior under the hood, but it generally shouldn’t cause visible changes for most users or web developers (beyond a few known issues). It simply offers more protection between websites behind the scenes. 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. Our team continues to work hard to optimize this behavior to keep Chrome both fast and secure.
Google says that Site Isolation is now enabled for 99% of users on Windows, Mac, Linux, and Chrome OS. The remaining 1% is held back as Google is monitoring performance.
Google explains that the purpose of the fix is to prevent an attacker from getting more data from the user. The Spectre (and Meltdown) vulnerabilities could allow hackers to steal user data from computers without the user’s knowledge. Google’s Site Isolation prevents data from multiple sites to be loaded in the same process. That way, if a malicious web page triggers a Spectre attack, the data in the other pages can’t be compromised.
While that’s great, the fact that Chrome now uses even more RAM isn’t great news to owners of older computers, which may not have enough RAM to spare. Upgrading RAM, if possible on your system, might be a way to fix this problem until Google figures out a way to reduce RAM use.