Google’s Chrome Web Browser Is Killing Your Laptop Battery
So, why is Chrome eating through your battery quicker than other internet browsers? The problem is down to something called the “system clock tick rate”. This is something that Windows uses internally that you won’t hear about unless you go looking. What Chrome does, as soon as it is opened, is set the rate to 1.000ms. The idle, under Windows, should be 15.625ms. The numbers are a bit confusing, but it’s what’s happening that matters here rather than the figures themselves.
What is a clock tick anyway, and why does it matter? In an OS like Windows, events are often set to run at intervals. To save power, the processor sleeps when nothing needs attention, and wakes at predefined intervals. This interval is what Chrome adjusts in Windows, so reducing it to 1.000ms means that the system is waking far more often than at 15.625ms. In fact, at 1.000ms the processor is waking 1000 times per second. The default, of 15.625ms means the processor wakes just 64 times per second to check on events that need attention.
Microsoft itself says that tick rates of 1.000ms might increase power consumption by “as much as 25 per cent”. It’s also a problem because, by its very nature, the system tick rate is global, meaning that one application is able to spoil everything, and because regular users don’t care about tick rates, most of us would never know this was a problem.
So, what about other browsers? Well, when you open the most recent version of Internet Explorer, the rate stays at 15.625ms until the browser needs to do something where the rate must increase. If you go to YouTube, say, and play a video IE will increase the rate to 1.00ms. When you shut that tab, and carry on with normal browsing, it will return to 15.625ms. In Chrome though, it is increasing the rate as soon as the browser is opened, and it keeps it high until you shut the browser completely.
Many people – like me – will never shut the browser. For one, I use Gmail as my main email, so I need to have a browser open for that. My writing is usually done in Google GOOGL +4.06% Drive, so there’s almost no point where I don’t have my web browser open. This means, if I’m using Chrome that the browser is eating more than its fair share of battery power, and for no good reason.
Indeed, in a very casual test I did it made a noticeable difference to power consumption on my desktop PC. In my test, at idle, my computer uses between 15 and 20 Watts with Chrome running. If I shut Chrome, I can get the power consumption to drop to between 12 and 15 Watts. In this environment, ignoring the wasted electricity, it’s not a major problem. That’s not true on a laptop where power consumption is massively important. And if you want to consider the global impact, imagine how much power is just being wasted on the world’s PCs down to a problem like this.
It’s worth pointing out that Macs and Linux machines don’t have this problem, because they use something called “tickless timers”. Pointing that out doesn’t solve the problem for Windows users though, and the fact remains that IE and Firefox don’t exhibit this issue at all, instead they up the refresh when needed – to play media, say. Microsoft MSFT +0.36% might address this problem in the future, but it’s unlikely to be in a rush when other developers seem able to work around the problem.
So, what can be done? Well, not much. I found out about this bug a long time ago, and it’s been raised with Google via its Chromium bug tracker for a long time. It has, for the most part, been ignored. The first report was in 2010, but the last confirmed bug addition was made yesterday. If Google doesn’t take the problem seriously, then the bug will remain, and Windows laptops running Chrome will drain the battery faster than the same machine running Internet Explorer or Firefox. I’ve tested both of these myself, using a tiny utility called Clockres, and I can confirm Chrome is the only one that increases the rate on startup. Both IE and Firefox only do so when content like video demands it.
The best possible option for Chrome users now is to “star” the issue on the bug tracker. This adds a vote for the issue to be looked at, and will also send you updates about the bug, including if it actually gets fixed. Perhaps if enough people do this, Google will actually take note and look into fixing the problem.
The other option is to stop using Chrome and move to IE or Firefox. I have considered both of these options, but I despise that memory hog Firefox and IE just doesn’t offer the same functionality that I love about Chrome. So for now, I’m going to have to deal with reduced battery and a slightly slower machine. But I really hope a fix can be developed, as Chrome is my browser of choice for a reason – I really like it.
UPDATE: I’ve made a slight addition to this article to clarify what’s happening and what the problem is. Google has also assigned this bug internally now, so it is getting some attention. For that reason, the bug is locked for new comments. It should still be possible to “star” it though, and thus vote for its resolution.