10 easy steps to make Chrome faster and more secure
- 20 November, 2019 22:00
Gather 'round, kiddos — 'cause it's time for a story.
Once upon a time, Chrome was a lean, mean browsing machine. It was the scrappy lightweight kid in a block filled with clunky old blobs of blubber. People had never seen a browser so fast, so thoughtfully constructed! It stripped everything down to the essentials and made the act of browsing the web both pleasant and secure — qualities that were anything but standard back in that prehistoric era.
Chrome was "minimalist in the extreme," as The New York Times put it — with "extremely fast" page loads and a "snappy" user interface, in the words of Ars Technica. Its sandbox-centric setup and emphasis on supporting web-based applications made the program "the first true Web 2.0 browser," as some other tech website opined.
Well, fast-forward to today, and the fairy tale is over: Eleven years have passed since Chrome's debut, and the browser — just like that one college buddy of yours — has grown considerably less lithe. These days, in fact, Chrome has earned a bit of a reputation for being somewhat bloated and, thanks to all the third-party software associated with it, not always entirely secure. My, how things have changed.
Still, Chrome remains the de facto standard of modern web browsing, commanding a whopping 67% of the global market, according to recent data from analytics vendor Net Applications. And it has plenty of positives to offer, not least of all its tight integration with the rest of the Google ecosystem — a particular boon for G Suite users.
So whether Chrome's feeling slightly too sluggish or you simply want to tighten up its security, take the time to go through these 10 steps. They're all easy to pull off and free from any significant side effects — and together, they're practically guaranteed to give your browser a much-needed fitness boost.
(Note that, except where specified, these tips revolve around the Chrome desktop browser and should work the same regardless of your operating system — even with Chrome OS, where the browser is built into the system software.
1. Clean up your apps and extensions
Chrome is basically its own platform at this point, and the apps and extensions that run within it can work wonders in customizing the browser and expanding its capabilities. But every single one of those add-ons requires a certain amount of resources to operate — and the more of 'em you have installed, the more bogged down and slothful Chrome can become.
Not only that, but many Chrome apps and extensions require access to at least some of your web browsing activity. That's why periodically looking over your list of installed apps and extensions and clearing out any items you no longer need is one of the easiest and most effective ways to speed up your browser's performance while simultaneously strengthening its security.
So type chrome:extensions into your browser's address bar and carefully evaluate every app and extension you see. If there's anything you don't recognize or no longer need, click the Remove button within its box to get rid of it.
The more you can clear out, the better.
2. Put your remaining add-ons under the microscope
For any apps and extensions that you didn't uninstall, look closely at what sort of access they're claiming to your web browsing data — and whether they really need to be privy to that much of your activity.
Start once more by typing chrome:extensions into your browser's address bar — but this time, click the Details button associated with each remaining app and extension, then look for a line labeled "Site access." If you don't see such a line, the add-on in question isn't accessing any of your browsing data. Check it off your list and move onto the next one.
If an app or extension is listed as having access "on all sites," meanwhile, it's able to see and even modify what's in your browser all of the time — without any restrictions. Stop and ask yourself if it genuinely needs that ability. If it doesn't, switch its setting to either "on specific sites" or "on click," depending on which setup seems to make the most sense. (If you choose "on specific sites," you'll then have to designate which specific sites the extension is allowed to access. If it's an extension that modifies the Gmail interface, for instance, you might want to set it to operate only on mail.google.com.)
You may run into some extensions that stop working properly as a result of such a change, but it's worth giving it a whirl. And if an extension won't function with more limited access without any logical reason, well, it's worth considering whether it's really an extension you want to be using.
3. Step up your tab management smarts
If you're the type of person who keeps tons of tabs open, listen up: Your hoarding habit is bogging your browser down. The more tabs you keep active at once, the slower Chrome will run. It's inevitable.
The obvious solution is to stop leaving stuff open that you don't actually need open — but if you absolutely need to have more than a handful of tabs running at any given moment, think about snagging an extension that'll manage them more intelligently for you and prevent 'em from bringing your browser to a crawl:
- The Great Suspender runs in the background and automatically suspends any tabs you haven't looked at after a configurable amount of time. That way, your tabs remain readily available but don't needlessly eat up resources when they aren't actively in use.
- Toby for Chrome transforms Chrome's New Tab Page into a series of custom tab collections. The idea is that instead of leaving tabs open, you can save them there and then pick up where you left off later.
- Tab Snooze takes a cue from email and allows you to send any tab away and then have it return at a set date and time. So instead of keeping everything you'll ever need right in front of you, you can snooze tabs you aren't actively working with and then have 'em reappear when you're likely to need 'em.
One or more of those tools will go a long way in keeping both Chrome and your brain from getting overloaded.
4. Consider a script-blocking extension
You know what really slows the web down, more than anything connected to your own local browser? It's certain sites' overuse of scripts — tracking scripts, ad-loading scripts, video-playing scripts, you name it. (Not that, uh, we'd know anything about such matters 'round these parts. Insert awkward whistling here.)
A script-blocking extension like uBlock Origin will keep such scripts from running and make your web browsing experience feel infinitely faster as a result. You can even manually whitelist sites within the extension as you see fit — whether to keep legitimate scripts, such as video players you actually want to use, from being blocked, or maybe just to keep certain unnamed writers from being shackled in their publication's basement for having encouraged readers to block revenue-generating scripts.
Erm, let's move on, all right?
5. Put your mobile browser on a data diet
Here's one for the Android-owning folk among us: The Chrome Android browser has a handy hidden option that routes slow-loading pages through Google's servers in order to simplify their code and make them quicker to open. It all happens instantaneously, and nothing looks different as a result.
The feature's called Lite Mode, and you can flip it on by going into Chrome's settings on your phone, scrolling down toward the bottom of the list, tapping the line labeled "Lite Mode," and then flipping the toggle to the on position.
It won't make a night-and-day difference, but it's one of the few effective speed-enhancing options available in Chrome's mobile form — and hey, every little bit helps.
6. Let Chrome preload pages for you
Waiting for a page to load is the worst part of web browsing, but Chrome has an out-of-the-way feature that can take at least some of that pain away by selectively preloading pages you're likely to open.
It works by looking at every link within a page that you're viewing, using some Google voodoo magic to predict which links you're likely to click on, and then preloading the associated pages before you actually click 'em.
This one's available in both the desktop browser and within the Chrome app on both Android and iOS:
- On the desktop, type chrome:settings into your address bar, scroll down to the bottom of the screen and click "Advanced," then in the "Privacy and security" box look for the line labeled "Preload pages for faster browsing and searching" and activate the toggle alongside it.
- On Android, open the Chrome app's settings, tap "Privacy," then look for the line labeled "Preload pages for faster browsing and searching" and make sure the box next to it is checked.
- And on iOS, open the Chrome app's settings, tap "Bandwidth," then tap "Preload Webpages" and select either "Always" or "Only on Wi-Fi" from the options that pop up. (Going with "Always" will result in speedier browsing even when you're using mobile data, but it'll also burn through more mobile data as a result.)
If you want to take this same concept even further, the third-party FasterChrome extension will preload a page anytime you hover your mouse over its link for at least 65 milliseconds. That way, when you're about to click something, the loading starts in the background — and by the time you get there, the time-consuming work is finished and the page is ready to appear.
7. Switch to a better DNS provider
Every time you type a web address into Chrome, the browser relies on a Domain Name System server to look up that URL, find the IP address where the site is located, and then take you to the right place.
More often than not, your internet provider is the one responsible for doing that job — and suffice it to say, it doesn't tend to do it particularly well. By switching yourself to a third-party DNS provider, you can seriously speed up the time it takes for a web page to come up after you type in its address, and you can also keep your internet provider from collecting data about what websites you visit and then using that information to make even more money off of you.
Cloudflare and Google both offer DNS provider services for free, and both are generally considered to be among the fastest and most reliable options available — and, what's more, both promise not to store any identifiable info about you or to sell any of your data. You can switch to either of them as your DNS provider by changing a setting in your router's configuration or by adjusting your settings on a device-by-device basis. This easy-to-follow guide has specific steps for doing that on a variety of different products.
8. Fill in the web's security gaps
By now, you probably know that most websites should be using HTTPS — a secure protocol that puts a lock icon in your browser's address bar and lets you know (a) that a site actually is what it proclaims to be and (b) that everything you send to the site is encrypted.
But while most sites have come around to the standard, some still inexplicably cling onto the older and far less secure HTTP protocol.
Well, here's the fix: A Chrome extension called HTTPS Everywhere will switch insecure sites over to HTTPS for you and ensure anything you transmit to them remains safe from snooping eyes. It's developed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Tor Project, and it's completely free to use.
9. Clean up your computer
If you've tried all these steps and your Chrome browser is still struggling, it might be worth checking to see if something funky is going on with your computer that could be affecting Chrome's performance.
If you're using Windows, Chrome has its own simple-as-can-be tool for seeking out and removing any malware or other programs that might be interfering with Chrome's proper operation: Just type chrome:settings into your address bar, click "Advanced," and then scroll all the way to the bottom of the screen and click "Clean up computer." Click the Find button on the next screen, then wait while Chrome scans your system and walks you through the process of removing anything harmful it uncovers.
If you're using a Mac or Linux system, look through your list of installed applications and see if there's anything present that you don't recognize — or try a third-party malware checker if you want to dig deeper. (You can find some specific scanner recommendations for Mac here and for Linux here.)
On Chrome OS, meanwhile, malware isn't really an issue, thanks to the software's unusual architecture, but it can never hurt to take a look through your launcher and make sure nothing unusual or unexpected catches your eye.
10. Give yourself a fresh start
Last but not least, you can always reset Chrome to its default state — eliminating all apps and extensions, restoring all settings to their out-of-the-box defaults, and giving you a completely clean slate on which to start over.
This isn't something that's advisable for everyone, but if your browser is really poky or having other problems and nothing else is making a difference, it's a final step worth attempting. Type chrome:settings into your address bar, click "Advanced," and look for the "Restore settings to their original defaults" option at the bottom of the screen. Click it, confirm that you want to proceed, and then sit back and wait for the deed to be done.
With any luck, your need for speed will finally be fulfilled — and you can start getting around the web with optimal security and without all the waiting.