Google promises speed, security with 64-bit Chrome on Windows

The newest Chrome for Windows is faster at some tasks, better at thwarting attacks, and renders fonts better. The 64-bit Chrome for Mac still is a work in progress, though.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
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Stephen Shankland
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Only those who specifically download the 64-bit Chrome version will get it. Stephen Shankland/CNET

Google on Tuesday pushed its Chrome browser into the 64-bit software era -- on Windows, at least, and only for those who specifically download it.

The new version, Chrome 37, takes advantage of the transition over the last decade to PCs with 64-bit processors, which can handle vastly larger amounts of memory and that offer more data-storage slots called registers that can improve performance. Because of plug-in compatibility problems, though, only those who specifically download the 64-bit Chrome version will get it. And 64-bit Chrome for Macs remains a work in progress.

The new Chrome is 15 percent faster at decoding HD videos on YouTube as a result, said Chrome team programmer Will Harris in a blog post.

It also is less prone to crashes in the renderer -- the core part of the browser that interprets Web site programming instructions and paints the appropriate pixels on a screen. And the software can thwart some types of hack attacks.

Faster browsers are important -- people watch more videos, buy more products, and spend more time on Web sites -- so performance is a top Chrome priority along with security and ease of use. The recipe has worked so far: Chrome has seen steadily increasing usage since its launch nearly six years ago.

The new version, though, drops support for 32-bit plug-ins -- software like Microsoft's Silverlight or Adobe Systems' Flash Player that extend a browser's abilities. Chrome has its own version of Adobe's Flash Player built in, which means the most-used plug-in isn't a problem, but others won't work. And the plug-in problem is mitigated by the fact that Chrome is scrapping support for most of them anyway by ditching the older NPAPI interface in favor its the company's own newer PPAPI.

Chrome 37 also brings a substantial change to text display, adopting Windows' DirectWrite technology that permits higher image quality and hardware-accelerated rendering. And another thing for Windows users: support for HiDPI, which means screens such as Apple's Retina models that have high pixel density, measured in dots per inch. It's increasingly common to find Windows machines that use this technology for crisp images and text, but adding support has been more complicated than it was for Macs, which feature a narrower range of models and simply quadrupled the number of pixels during the transition to simplify programming challenges.

And Chrome 37 also closes several security holes -- work for which Google paid $51,000 in bounties to security testers. More than half of that -- $30,000 -- was "a special reward to lokihardt@asrt for a combination of bugs" that could let an attacker run software that evades Chrome's protective "sandbox" system. It was a complicated attack though, using several Chrome subsystems: the V8 JavaScript engine, interprocess communications, the tool for synchronizing personal settings, and Chrome's extensions system.

Updated at 10:41 p.m. PT to add that HiDPI support also has arrived for Windows.