Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge and in general all Chromium-based browsers are usually associated with a high consumption of resources and, specifically, of RAM, and that is why tests such as opening 6,000 tabs with 1.5 TB are made. Although most of the criticisms that are made are substantiated, in this article we will explain how in some cases these browsers can help save a lot of RAM.
One of those has to do with the use of Electron-based applications. As we already know, some applications that work like this are Slack, Discord, WhatsApp Desktop, Dropbox or Microsoft Teams, which implies that, when they are running, they all need to open an instance of Chromium. Spotify doesn’t use Electron, but it does use something similar like Chromium Embedded Framework. That is every time we open WhatsApp Desktop, for example, it is as if we open a different browser than Chrome or Edge that we may already be running. If we add Spotify to WhatsApp Desktop, we would have two open browsers, and so on.
This, as we shall see, assumes that, in addition to the fact that the performance of the applications will not be as good as if they were native, they will have a huge consumption of RAM. If we also need to have a few open at the same time, as is our case, things skyrocket. Let’s take a look at how each large Electron app affects separately, and how using Microsoft Edge has helped us mitigate huge resource consumption.
Electron, that bottomless pit of resources
If the machine with which we have done the analysis, a MacBook Air M1 with 8 GB of RAM, had more resources we would probably never have worried about consumption at this level. But no matter how much unified memory there is with the new Apple chips, magic does not exist, and 8 GB of RAM are enough for what they give.
In this context, and requiring that WhatsApp, Spotify and Slack be open for almost the entire working day, the image is RAM consumption reported by Activity Monitor in macOS. In Windows 10 with the Task Manager the thing is equivalent.
As we can see, all Spotify processes add 770 MB of RAM, those of WhatsApp 781 MB and those of Slack 696.5. In total, 2.2 GB of RAM for three applications that could take up much less as browser tabs. And all this considering that we do not use Teams, Dropbox (it was uninstalled precisely because of its consumption of resources, in its place is Maestral, a native and open source client) or Discord. With those active simultaneously, consumption would skyrocket even more.
Since not everything can be solved with native clients like that of Dropbox, since they do not exist, we began to think about alternatives to lighten the RAM load on the computer, because in this team it has come to scratch the pagination. And the conclusion, in the absence of testing, seemed clear: stop using Safari as a browser, use Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome and, with them, make use of the progressive web applications (PWA) of Spotify, Slack and WhatsApp Desktop, which one Once installed with the method that these browsers provide, they open as one more system application.
Microsoft Edge (or Chrome) and PWAs to the rescue
The next step was clear. “Install” the web versions of those three web applications. To do so, we must go to the Edge Settings (the three points … side). There we will see the option “Applications”, and if we do not have the website we want installed, we will be offered the option “Install this site as an application”. In the example in the image we have done it with Microsoft Teams.
The next is study your RAM consumption in Activity Monitor and Task Manager of the browser, once we have logged in and all the services are working. Edge has a minimum RAM consumption even when nothing is open, which obviously must be taken into account when calculating the total consumption, and if we want to divide by application.
Looking for “Edge” in Activity Monitor, the system tells us that the browser and its three webapps consume 1,655 MB, counting 30 MB per webapp that are not included but that the monitor collects by searching for the names of the apps separately. The Edge Task Manager indicates 1,620 MB, which includes 120 MB of two extensions.
That is, without the extensions we are talking about 1,500 MB, approximately. Compared to Electron applications, the RAM consumption in this equipment is 1.5-1.62 GB versus 2.2 GB. That is to say, about 600-700 MB of savings, and all this without taking into account another part.
The other part is that 1.62 GB is a consumption of RAM that already includes the main process of the browser. That is, if we open more tabs, there will be a base consumption that will no longer rise. Against this, each Electron application has its own consumption, and we will continue to need to open Edge or Chrome to navigate. In our case, with only the Genbeta tab open, that means 696 MB more in Edge (or 626 MB in Safari if we choose that browser). Namely, actually the total consumption if we choose the Electron applications plus a browser tab is 2.2 GB plus 0.696 GB, which is 2.89 GB.
The saving of resources is so great that, in computers with little RAM, it can compensate a lot despite what is lost
If we only use Edge with PWAs and one tab, Genbeta, the Edge Task Manager reports 1.75 GB. In total, then, we save 1.14 GB of RAM in a more or less controlled scenario and with two extensions. That saving compared to Electron applications, in a limited team of 8 GB of RAM, gives us life to dedicate resources to other tasks and not have to resort to exchange space. The more Electron applications we can replace, the greater the savings.
What do we lose with PWAs compared to Electron applications
Evidently, with this transition not everything is rosy, and in some cases relevant things are lost. As I said before, with Dropbox the browsers did not offer any alternative, and I had to resort to a third-party client. In WhatsApp, for example, shortcuts are lost, since the version used to create the installation with Edge or Chrome is WhatsApp Desktop, which does not have them.
Even so, both with her and with Slack I do not feel that I lose anything beyond the generic of having a more dedicated application in front of a browser, and that means that, although we can continue to receive notifications, they will all arrive with the browser logo, and the Dock icons, in the case of macOS, will not reflect that there are new messages.
According to Microsoft, Edge already supports such functionality, but it is the developers who must implement it. Another shortcoming is that now, if I close a tab like Spotify or Slack, the service closes, in contrast to the native functionality of macOS or Windows, where these services continue to run and notify without active windows. Now, therefore, you have to control much better when you close tabs.
By last, Spotify is the service that does get a little lame, because although its web application now supports control with multimedia buttons, the service changes slightly and, for example, premium users are not allowed to choose playback quality or offline download. In that sense, since this Mac allows it, what I’m probably going to try is to install the version of Spotify for iPad, which will work as native and allows what I miss. Even so, for the saving of RAM, for now it compensates.