Google’s latest Chrome update delivers ‘largest performance gain in years’

Google is wrapping up 2020 with what it claims are major performance enhancements to the company’s Google Chrome browser. “This month’s update represents the largest gain in Chrome performance in years,” Matt Waddell, Chrome’s director of product, wrote in a blog post. Sounds pretty exciting on the surface, no? Waddell says a slew of under-the-hood changes and optimizations have led to boosts to Chrome on several fronts.

The first has to do with tabs. Chrome now will prioritize your active tab over the others in the background, “reducing CPU usage by up to 5x and extending battery life by up to 1.25 hours (based on our internal benchmarks).” Google goes into greater detail on just what it’s doing to keep tabs in check (hint: it involves throttling JavaScript) at the Chromium blog. “We’ve done this without sacrificing the background features that users care about, like playing music and getting notifications.”

But even opening Chrome should feel faster. The browser now launches 25 percent faster — hopefully to where you’ll notice the difference. It loads pages up to 7 percent faster, “and does all of this using less power and RAM than before.”

Google is also adding tab search, which is exactly what it sounds like and could be a godsend for those of us buried under an avalanche of them. “You’ll now be able to see a list of your open tabs — regardless of the window they’re in — then quickly type to find the one you need.” This feature is debuting on Chromebooks first and then expanding to other desktop versions of Chrome.

The address bar is getting a bit more useful with something Google calls Chrome Actions, “a faster way to get things done with just a few keystrokes.”

For example: when you type “edit passwords,” or “delete history,” you can now take action directly from the bar. Our first set of actions — available initially on desktop — focuses on privacy and security, so you can increase your peace of mind in a few clicks.

And last, you might soon notice “cards” when you open a new tab in Chrome.

To help you jump back into activities like planning a meal, researching a holiday gift, or winding down with a video, we’ll soon add cards to your new tab page in Chrome. Clicking on them will take you to recently-visited and related content on the web, and save you time in the process.”

For now, cards will only appear “for some users” beneath the shortcuts area; Google says it’s planning to add entertainment-focused cards in 2021.

All these things together add up to a significant update for the world’s most popular web browser. And they come on the very day that Apple is being lauded for the speed and efficiency of its new M1 Mac computers. Speaking of which, Chrome for macOS also gets a new icon that’s a better fit for the latest Big Sur release. But if the optimizations actually meet Google’s claims, I’m way more excited about the improved efficiency. The update to Chrome 87 is rolling out beginning today.

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