The latest version of Google Chrome (which is available now) will finally do something to prevent background tabs from killing your laptop’s battery.
Google Chrome is the world’s most popular web browser, but anyone who uses it heavily on a laptop knows that with a lot of tabs open in the background, your battery life — as well as your computer’s performance — can come to a grinding halt. Web pages now contain so much data — and are often complex apps themselves — that they suck power and CPU time, even when not actively used. Sure, there are workarounds, but it would be much better for everyone if Google Chrome could just handle background processes and tabs more efficiently
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Way back in September, the Google Chrome team promised to do just that. And now, in the latest version of Chrome (version 57), we’re starting to see the fruits of some of that labour.
As the official Chromium blog explains, Chrome 57 introduces a new “throttling policy” for dealing with tabs in the background. Chrome has actually had processes for throttling background tabs for years, but the new policy is based on how much CPU consumption a tab takes up, rather than simply how often a function on the page runs.
Here’s how it works: Each background tab is given a time budget for running processes in the background. After being in the background for 10 seconds, a tab is subject to limits based on how much CPU wall time can be utilised. And Chrome will limit background tabs to using just one per cent of a CPU core when a tab runs in the background.
The Chromium team says that in its tests, it’s found that “this throttling mechanism leads to 25 per cent fewer busy background tabs”. That means 25 per cent fewer tabs sucking up power and battery life.
There are exceptions to what types of tabs Chrome will throttle, however. Tabs that are playing music in the background won’t be throttled, and neither will tabs that use WebSockets or WebRTC — think video chat apps and persistent messaging apps like Slack. That’s a good thing, because as web developer Samuel Reed noted back in January, if background throttling isn’t handled in a smart way, stuff users expect to work in the background could break.
Ultimately, the Chrome team hopes to make it so that background tabs are suspended completely. That would obviously be a boon for power consumption, but could have very real-world consequences on web developers and apps that users have come to rely on. For example, if you’re trying to monitor real-time stock alerts, not having pages active in the background could be a very real problem. The Chrome team has to give web developers time to rebuild their apps and sites so that background tasks are handled the right way. As a result, don’t expect to see total background tab avoidance until sometime in 2020.
But for now, web pages should be less aggressive in the background. To manually get the latest version of Chrome, just go to Settings > About and check your latest version number; you’ll need to relaunch your web browser to install the latest version.