Spectre Mitigation Increases Chrome Memory Usage, Google Says

This week, Google said that the site isolation technologies it has had to add to its Chrome web browser to mitigate the Spectre processor vulnerability come with a 10 to 13 percent increase in memory usage. This is bad news, especially for those who feel that Chrome already uses too much RAM.

“Site Isolation is a significant change to Chrome’s behavior under the hood, but it generally shouldn’t cause visible changes,” Google’s Charlie Reis explains. “Site Isolation does cause Chrome to create more renderer processes, which comes with performance tradeoffs: There is about a 10-13 percent total memory overhead in real workloads due to the larger number of processes. Our team continues to work hard to optimize this behavior to keep Chrome both fast and secure.”

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As I’m sure you know, Intel belatedly disclosed—and understated the severity—of two major processor vulnerabilities called Spectre and Meltdown in January. In the ensuing mess that occurred, Microsoft and other software platform makers pledged to help Intel distribute patches for these vulnerabilities to users. And Intel claims that future generation chips will be “immune” to this kind of attack.

As a major platform maker in its own right, Google is likewise working to mitigate Spectre and Meltdown in its own products, including Chrome, which is the basis for Chrome OS. With Chrome 67, Google added a feature called site isolation that “improves security and helps mitigate the risks posed by Spectre,” and it is now enabled by default across Windows, Mac, Linux, and Chrome OS.

Google promises other improvements to site isolation that will help mitigate attacks beyond Spectre. But this marks the first time that the firm has admitted to the cost of its current fix.

“Site Isolation is a large change to Chrome’s architecture,” Reis says. “In Chrome 67 … even if a Spectre attack were to occur in a malicious web page, data from other websites would generally not be loaded into the same process, and so there would be much less data available to the attacker. This significantly reduces the threat posed by Spectre.”


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Conversation 14 comments

  • dontbe evil

    12 July, 2018 - 9:21 am

    <p>spectre mitigation… yes yes yes…sure sure sure</p>

  • Davor Radman

    12 July, 2018 - 9:52 am

    <p>This perfectly explains why Chrome on my 2GB RAM poor Asus t100 suddently started reloading every single tab, and I used to be able to have dozens opened. I guess impact is greatest on weakest machines.</p>

  • wright_is

    Premium Member
    12 July, 2018 - 9:54 am

    <p>Is this just for Intel processors? How does it affect ChromeOS on ARM or Android? Most ARM designs are also vulnerable to Spectre (but not Meltdown)?</p>

  • rameshthanikodi

    12 July, 2018 - 9:56 am

    <p>Browser memory usage is getting out of hand. Right now I have a youtube tab consuming 250+mb and this thurrott.com page consuming 150+mb. Everyone talks about software bloat on Windows/Android but no one talks about webpage bloat, which today is far more serious issue.</p>

    • lvthunder

      Premium Member
      12 July, 2018 - 10:33 am

      <blockquote><a href="#291022"><em>In reply to FalseAgent:</em></a></blockquote><p>You can expect streaming video to take up a lot of RAM. Part of that is the buffer so you don't get stuttering. Part of it is the work it has to do to uncompress that video.</p>

      • rameshthanikodi

        12 July, 2018 - 10:55 am

        <blockquote><a href="#291033"><em>In reply to lvthunder:</em></a></blockquote><p>Um…no. The video decoding happens in another process called "GPU Process" which is another separate process which takes up yet another 250mb of RAM. Video buffer itself takes up very little memory, it's the other assets/scripts being loaded that make up most of the memory usage.</p>

    • bluvg

      12 July, 2018 - 5:19 pm

      <blockquote><a href="#291022"><em>In reply to FalseAgent:</em></a></blockquote><p>Browser memory leaks are very serious and have been for a while. I often find Firefox using 6-7 GB (!)–for more than one process (!!)–typically for this site. Chrome isn't much better, sometimes with multiple 1-2 GB processes. Haven't gone back to Edge in a while, but it was worse than Chrome (but nowhere near as bad as Firefox).</p>

      • rameshthanikodi

        12 July, 2018 - 10:11 pm

        <blockquote><a href="#291245"><em>In reply to bluvg:</em></a></blockquote><p>Yeah, some webpages just run scripts over and over without ever ending them. The browser can do GC, but only to a certain extent. Eventually the result is ballooning memory usage even though the webpage was just sitting there. It's not so much of a memory leak as it is just web devs having poor code hygiene.</p><p><br></p><p>Anyway I just installed Ghostery and enabled tracker blocking on it, it slashed memory usage by nearly half! Crazy!</p>

      • YouWereWarned

        12 July, 2018 - 10:26 pm

        <blockquote><a href="#291245"><em>In reply to bluvg:</em></a></blockquote><p>FWIW — Firefox has allocated 640MB for this page. I never have issues with it, and wonder what people are doing who report otherwise. But if Gobble is your preference, it's America (or used to be). Not sure I'd characterize allocation and usage as "memory leaks" without some detailed analysis. And I would be disappointed if Windows + browser of choice didn't try to use what was available. Pages come and go. I regularly have 25 or more tabs, each with an active HD video-display process, running in a 16GB machine. Firefox reliably releases all resources at termination.</p><p><br></p><p>The biggest issue with thurrott.com is startup latency attributible to their overloaded "data partners".</p>

        • bluvg

          13 July, 2018 - 2:59 am

          <blockquote><a href="#291337"><em>In reply to YouWereWarned:</em></a></blockquote><p>No problems with this page at the moment, so I'm not exactly sure what triggers it. But it has happened many, many times, and this is really the only site I go to using Firefox. Hopefully a recent update resolved the issue. Thus far, though, I've seen no compelling reason to use Firefox over Chrome (and I'm hardly a Chrome fanboy).</p>

      • DavidH

        13 July, 2018 - 5:37 am

        <blockquote><a href="#291245"><em>In reply to bluvg:</em></a></blockquote><p>Are you sure you're using the most recent version for Firefox? I switched to it a few months ago precisely because it uses LESS RAM. Although that may also have to do with the way I use browsers. I currently have ~100 tabs open in Firefox that I plan on "eventually getting to". Since Firefox only actually loads tabs when you use them, that's fine.</p><p>Chrome would make my machine explode, since it would load ALL of those tabs at once.</p><p><br></p><p>And at least based on Firefox' about:memory and Chrome's task manager, this very article uses 45 MB in Firefox and 73 MB in Chrome.</p><p>There is something fishy about thurrott though. It causes about 25% CPU usage when I just look at it, while other sites hover around 0-5%.</p>

  • SRLRacing

    12 July, 2018 - 10:41 am

    <p>By the sounds of it is is also increasing the demand on the CPU by the same amount and this is on top of the performance hit Intel's patch gave older and dual core processors. </p>

  • madthinus

    Premium Member
    12 July, 2018 - 11:41 am

    <p><span style="color: rgb(20, 23, 26); background-color: transparent;">Thankfully Chrome had great memory usage before, so this is minor regression…?</span></p>

  • scd147

    Premium Member
    12 July, 2018 - 12:59 pm

    <p>Now surely Microsoft will swoop in and EDGE out the competition. Or… Now Microsoft will show everyone who is on the leading EDGE! </p>

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