Chrome gobbles much more RAM due to Google's 'Site Isolation' protection for Spectre CPU flaws

But it's a worthwhile trade-off.

Credit: Image: Michael Homnick

The critical Meltdown and Spectre bugs baked deep into modern computer processors will have ramifications on the entire industry for years to come, and Chrome just became collateral damage. Google 67 enabled “Site Isolation” Spectre protection for most users, and the browser now uses 10 to 13 percent more RAM due to how the fix behaves.

“Site Isolation does cause Chrome to create more renderer processes, which comes with performance tradeoffs,” Google’s Charlie Reis says. “On the plus side, each renderer process is smaller, shorter-lived, and has less contention internally, but there is about a 10-13% 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.”

It’s a significant performance hit, especially for a browser battling a reputation for being a memory hog, but a worthwhile one nonetheless. Spectre lets attackers access protected information in your PC’s kernel memory, potentially revealing sensitive details like passwords, cryptographic keys, personal photos, or anything else you’ve used on your computer. It’s bad.

Site Isolation guards against Spectre and has been available as an experimental option since Chrome 63, which released around the time of the Meltdown and Spectre disclosures, but it’s now enabled by default for 99 percent of Chrome users on all platforms.

“Site Isolation is a large change to Chrome’s architecture that limits each renderer process to documents from a single site,” Reis says. “…This means that even if a Spectre attack were to occur in a malicious webpage, 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.”

Google promises further mitigations and memory optimizations in future Chrome updates.

The impact on you at home: Chrome’s Site Isolation is a welcome protection despite the painful RAM hit, but updating your browser is just a small part of safeguarding against Meltdown and Spectre. These complex flaws touch every aspect of your system—CPU firmware, the operating system, software, you name it.

Check out PCWorld’s guide to protecting your PC against Meltdown and Spectre for step-by-step instructions on how to stay as safe as possible, and be sure to keep your security software active to protect against potential attacks trying to leverage the CPU exploits. Our guide to the best antivirus for Windows PCs can help you find the best solution to fit your needs.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Brad Chacos

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Father’s Day Gift Guide

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?