Feb 272013
 

The Great Suspender is an aptly named Chrome extension which can suspend inactive tabs – saving RAM (memory) and freeing up CPU resources.

Despite Chrome’s reputation for speed and lightness, the way that it opens each tab in a new process does use up a lot of RAM (although it is good for stability). Chrome was second best in our last tests of browser memory usage – Firefox was the clear winner whilst IE9 was third.

Those with little RAM (2GB or less) may benefit by drastically minimizing RAM usage – and, as the next section explains, also lower CPU usage. Even if you have lots of RAM (e.g. 4GB+) you may still gain some benefit from lower CPU usage – plus, some misbehaving sites/extensions can cause excessive RAM usage or leaks.

Inactive Tabs Can Affect RAM and CPU – Keeping lots of inactive tabs open doesn’t just use up more RAM, they can also burn up CPU cycles even though they are in the background and you’re not actively using them… The Great Suspender can help by suspending inactive tabs – this not only frees up RAM but may also reduce CPU usage, which in turn may prolong battery life.

Test Results – In my own tests, with multiple tabs open, RAM usage was typically reduced by around 50% when all inactive tabs were suspended – the more open tabs you have the more benefit you should see. E.g. I opened 15 tabs using 550MB – reduced to 300MB after all except the current tab were automatically suspended.

Tip: to check how much RAM Chrome uses, type chrome://memory-redirect/ into the address bar and press Enter – the ‘About Memory’ tab shows the total memory used per browser. The totals do not change dynamically – you must Press F5 to refresh the page and recalculate the totals.

MainFeatures

  • Manual suspending – you can choose to manually suspend either the current tab or all other tabs – click the extension’s icon in the top right of the menu bar as shown below:

suspender1

  • Automatic suspending – you can also set a length of inactivity after which to automatically suspend all inactive tabs. This is where the extension comes into its own – you can choose between 5 minutes and 12 hours. Configure this in the extension’s Settings tab (accessed from the icon):

suspender2

  • Reload all tabs – a quick way to reload all tabs at once (i.e. un-suspend them) is also provided from the icon.
  • Whitelisting – you can whitelist individual websites (i.e. sites that you want to never be suspended). Whitelisting can be useful for Pinned sites and sites which continuously update in the background e.g. Twitter. There are 2 ways to whitelist a site:

1. Type/paste it into the Whitelist section of the extension Settings tab (shown above).
2. Even easier, suspend the tab first – the Tab Suspended notification includes a link to automatically add that site to the whitelist as shown below:

suspender3

A suspended tab is restored back to its original state (i.e. reloaded) when you click on this Tab Suspended notification message (or anywhere else within the tab), or you can choose to ‘Reload all tabs’ or just press F5 to refresh the page.

After Chrome Restarts – if you have set Chrome ‘On Start-up’ Settings to ‘Continue where I left off’ – the extension will still keep suspended tabs suspended, even if you restart Chrome.

This is a great way to minimize RAM usage if you keep the same tabs open from day to day in the hope that one day you’ll get around to reading them 😉 Ideally you’d just bookmark them for later and close them but I’m certainly guilty of keeping loads of tabs open, just in case…

Download – install the extension from Chrome Web Store here then configure the Settings for automatic suspending if required.

Conclusion

The Great Suspender is a really useful Chrome performance extension. It succeeded in reducing RAM usage by around 50% on my systems when multiple tabs were open and it could help prevented intermittent CPU spikes caused by supposedly inactive background tabs.

Not only does it offer whitelisting but, crucially, it adds the ability to automatically suspend tabs which are already open to maximize performance gains.