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Chrome's newest update throttles your tabs for faster performance

Available Tuesday, Google's newest version of Chrome promises to load faster while using less of your system's memory.

The newest version of Google's Chrome web browser promises to speed up performance while using less memory.
Jason Pepper/CNET

Google's Chrome web browser is a notorious resource hog, but now Chrome 87, the browser's final software update of 2020, is promising to speed things up.

"Starting in this release, Chrome is actively managing your computer's resources to make the tabs you care about fast -- while allowing you to keep hundreds of tabs open -- so you can pick up where you left off," Chrome Product Manager Mark Chang said in a post on Google's Chromium blog.

The key upgrade is better tab throttling, with a promise of "significant improvements by preventing background tabs from waking up your CPU too often, and no longer rendering tabs you can't see." Specifically, Google found that JavaScript timers were accounting for roughly 40% of the memory load caused by each tab you leave open. Limiting the number of those background wake-ups to one per minute reduced CPU usage and extended battery life in Google's internal tests -- now that approach will be the standard in Chrome 87.

Occlusion tracking is another new upgrade, at least for Windows users. Previously available only in Chrome OS and on Macs, occlusion tracking lets Chrome know which browser tabs are actually visible and in use -- from there, it can allocate resources more effectively to the tabs you're actually trying to use. Google says this helps Chrome start up and load new pages faster, all while using less memory.

Chrome's back/forward cache, or bfcache, is another feature that's getting a boost with the 87 release. With bfcache, your browser stores a complete record of pages as you navigate away from them. Then, if you decide to click the back button, the page loads instantly. 

Google says Chrome's bfcache will make 20% of back and forward navigations in Chrome 87 instantaneous, with a goal of getting that up to 50% through further developments and developer outreach. Additionally, Google is rolling the feature out to Chrome for Android users, as well.

"Starting in version 86, Chrome has enabled bfcache for cross-site navigations on Android for a small percentage of users," wrote Philip Walton, an engineer with Google's Chrome team. "In Chrome 87, bfcache support will be rolled out to all Android users for cross-site navigation, with the intent to support same-site navigation as well in the near future."

Chrome 87 is available now as a software update -- you can download the latest version of the browser here.