Google Experimenting With New Battery-Saving Feature For Chromebooks

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Google’s Chrome browser has always been a notorious RAM hog. Reducing resource consumption has a myriad of benefits, and Google’s engineers are claiming to have reduced the browser’s overall footprint. This could be very beneficial for the company’s Chromebooks. In a new blog post, the company discusses one weird trick it’s experimenting with in Chrome to reduce CPU activity for improved battery life. Though the blog discusses its behavior on Chromebooks, one would expect it to be available to any Chrome user if it’s successful long-term.

What Google is doing is testing out a new method for dealing with hidden tabs. These are tabs in the browser that are not being looked at by the user. If you’re like us, this could be in the range of 20-40 tabs (at least) sitting there patiently. Currently, Google lets those tabs sit for five minutes before it throttles down Javascript on those tabs. After the five minutes are up, it then checks on the tab every minute. This ensures it’s ready for the user to look at it when they get around to it. It calls this Intensive Wake Up Throttling, and it originally shipped in Chrome 86.

The experimental feature seen here in Chrome 105. (Image: Aboutchromebooks)

The website Aboutchromebooks noticed a change in Chrome OS 105 though. It’s a dev channel build, so this is for testing new features. In this version of the OS, Chrome’s five minute timer has been changed to a 10 second timer. That means before it would let Javascript run for five minutes on any hidden tab before throttling it. You can imagine if you have a lot of hidden tabs, this could appreciably impact battery life. The documentation explains the reason for the change. It notes, “the 5 minutes timeout is very conservative and was chosen to allow a launch of Intensive Wake Up Throttling with minimal regression risk. So now we’re considering reducing the timeout to 10 seconds, only for pages considered loaded when they are hidden.” It calls this feature “Quick intensive timer throttling of loaded background pages.”

The document also says that so far it’s seen positive results in its testing. “This is expected to extend battery life. An experiment on the Canary and Dev channels did not reveal any regression to our guiding metrics and there are significant improvement (~10%) to CPU time when all tabs are hidden and silent.” A 10 percent reduction in overall CPU time is not the same thing as a 10 percent improvement in battery life — any lifespan improvements will be a fraction of this amount.

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