2GB vs 4GB RAM on a Chromebook – The difference is minimal, in 2014.

Posted on 03 November 2014, Last updated on 30 September 2020 by

I’ve been testing Windows TabletPCs with 1GB RAM recently. It’s a truly poor experience if you plan to use all the features on a Windows PC. With 2GB RAM you can hit limits and start seeing swap usage rise and performance hit the floor. The performance degradation isn’t ‘graceful’ at all. Chromebooks face similar issues of RAM availability but in my tests with 2GB RAM I see it matching Chromebook usage scenarios well and don’t see performance degrading as quickly as it does on a Windows PC. If you’re switching between 10 HTML5 pages then 2GB is enough and if you’re prepared to accept a sub 1-second delay in switching tabs, you can go to 20 tabs without a problem. 4GB could, however, be a requirement in the near future. Watch the video demo below…

ChromeOS swap space has been enabled by default since version 27 (we’re on V37 now) and it doesn’t work like traditional swap space configurations. It continues to use RAM but starts to compress data into it. The process uses compcache / zram and it seems to do it quite intelligently. Recent tabs stay available while older tabs and HTML5 apps that are idle are compressed into the memory-based swap. The result is a graceful, gradual reduction in performance and because there are few processes on ChromeOS that will pop up and start taking large amounts of resource (anti-virus, file indexing, software and system updates) there’s less to cause more problems.

2GB today. 4GB tomorrow.

We’re still at the start-line when it comes to HTML5 software development. If HTML5 really takes hold then expect memory requirements to rise quickly as applications request more and more local storage. Tweetdeck, Facebook, Google Plus and Google Play Music are already taking hundreds of MB of data and the database and persistent storage capabilities of HTML5 are feeding onto normal web pages.  Offline capabilities take even more RAM. The 15 tabs you see in 3GB below may require 4GB in 2015. The user should have to do their own tab management and 2GB RAM would force them to do that. 4GB provides barrier-free HTML5 usage, especially when coupled with high performance CPUs, touch capabilities (responsiveness is critical,) extensions, Native Client and other ChromeOS features.

The local storage test I used can be found here. Local storage speed (to memory and disk) is an important benchmark for the speed of a Chromebook application.

What’s your experience of 2GB Chromebooks? Have you seen other issues? What’s the biggest memory-hogging HTML5 app out there? Got further questions? Add your comments below.

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