Chrome is known to be a RAM battery, but most Chromebooks have only 4 GB of RAM. The Chrome operating system handles RAM differently from Windows or Mac computers, so you can do more with less.
Chromebooks don’t need RAM
First of all, just because Chrome is a mouthpiece of RAM on your Windows or Mac computer, that doesn’t mean Chrome is a problem everywhere. The Chrome operating system is very different from a traditional computer, as is the way it handles RAM.
Without becoming too complicated (that is easy to do with a topic like this), let’s take a closer look at how the Chrome operating system handles RAM. Because it is based on Linux and uses the Linux kernel, it manages RAM in a very similar way. Google has slightly modified the process to better suit the needs of the Chrome operating system, but the general idea is the same.
zRAM keeps things in shape
The Chrome OS uses something called «zRAM» to keep things faster than a Windows or Mac computer with less RAM. This compressed virtual memory is a long way to make the most of less RAM, creating a compressed block in RAM and using it instead of virtual memory, which is usually stored on your hard drive (and therefore slower). .
The data is then transferred to and from this compressed space as needed until it is full, at which point the swap space (virtual hard disk RAM) is used. The result is much faster and more efficient use of RAM. Because compression happens on the fly in zRAM and RAM is generally faster than swap, the Chrome operating system can do much more with less.
The low state of «double-walled» memory keeps things in order
Google also takes full advantage of the RAM in the Chrome operating system by using a reduced «double-walled» memory state. The bottom line is that a «soft wall» is established in RAM, where, once hit, the operating system begins to eliminate older activities. It starts with tabs that were opened but were not seen, then moves to background tabs that were not clicked / typed / scrolled, then background tabs, and finally the foreground tab. In other words, it tries to systematically shut down processes that it assumes users are not interested in first, before they become increasingly aggressive.
The second wall of this «double wall» system is the «hard wall». This is when the system is completely devoid of RAM and the Out of Memory Killer (OOM) kernel is triggered. When this happens, Chrome will generally crash. The good news is that this never happens again – once the soft wall is hit, purging the background elements is often the trick to prevent hitting the hard wall. If this happens, it is usually due to another type of error, such as a fast memory leak.
Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t «very little RAM» in a Chromebook, it really is. It’s about how you use your «book».
How much RAM do you need?
Some Chromebooks have only 2 GB of RAM, while others have up to 16 GB. The standard for most systems has been 4 GB for the longest time, but we are also starting to see an increase in books to 8 GB. However, when it comes to getting what works best for you, you need to take a look at how you plan to use your Chromebook.
For example, if it is an accompanying machine, something you use with your «main» computers, then you may not need a workhorse from a system. If this is a coffee table device that you intend to use for easy browsing, email, social media and the like, then of course choose the 4 GB model. It’s probably cheaper than something with more robust specs anyway.
But if you’re planning on getting a Chromebook to use as your main machine for work, school, play, and more, you’ll probably want more RAM. While 8 GB is generally more than enough for almost all users, the heaviest of users might want to see even all 16 systems – which GB are still few and far away at the moment (but they do there is!)
It’s also worth thinking about how long you plan to have your Chromebook. As more and more features are implemented in the Chrome operating system, such as Linux applications and virtual desktops, their use may become more intense. As the Chrome operating system continues to grow and mature, you may be in a position to start using it for heavier tasks. If that time comes, you will want more RAM!
Finally, a little anecdotal evidence. I have a Google Pixelbook with 8 GB of RAM and a Core i5 processor. On examination USB-C IOGEAR docking station, I used my Pixelbook paired with two external displays for a full business week. Everything I normally do on my Windows desktop, from photo editing to research, I’ve done on my Chromebook with a multi-display setup. This means that at any given time, you typically have more than 30 tabs in multiple windows, along with at least six or seven applications running for different tasks. For the most part, it solved everything without a single hiccup, but at the end of each working day I realized that it was starting to get a little slow and that it had to stop some things that had probably worked for more than 10 hours.
In other words, there were only a few cases where I thought «man, I really wish this Chromebook had 16 GB of RAM». Even so, This one I thought, at least once or twice. 😉
Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide how you’ll use your Chromebook and how much RAM will work best for you. More affordable Chromebooks come with 4GB of RAM these days, so you can save some money if you think it will work for you. If you need more, though, you’ll have to shell out the funds to get them – 8GB (or more) Chromebooks, although becoming more common, are still a bit scarce and you’ll have to pay for the luxury.