Chromebook Mobile: April 2015

Cloud Computing and Blogging w/ Chromebooks, Chrome, and the Google Chrome OS: - Simplify your life!

Make Chromebooks and Chrome Faster!

The Basics: Chromebook optimizations, tweaks, and settings for fast & smooth performance in the cloud

Chrome is comparatively very fast already, however, if you're like us and on your never-ending quest in the need for speed, you'll likely not leave well enough alone. Much of this article is simply a quick guide on how to adjust the performance parameters in the Chrome browser and Chrome OS. You'll probably find yourself using these to make system adjustments now, and for as long as you're involved with Google's Chrome OS, the Chromebook, and (or) the Chrome web browser.

NASA image or a lightning storm on earth from outer space
Lightning Image Credit: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center via NASA 

An overall theme in this article is to just stick close to the stock system optimizations already in place because Google has generally tuned the system to be as quick and responsive as it's going to be for the average user who also desires rock solid reliability and security, but, you'll want to at least fine tune it with your personal preferences and a tweak here and there. It's so easy to get carried away tweaking things until you're finally at the point where you're spending more time trying to re-stabilize things than you are actually getting down to business with what you're on Chrome for in the first place, unless perhaps you're a developer or tweakster. At some point though, nearly everyone is going to want to make adjustments, so let's familiarize ourselves with some of the basic controls and settings.

Note: We use the Google Chrome operating system exclusively and it comes with the Chrome web browser (which doubles as your control panel for the Chrome OS system settings), but, if you're simply using the Chrome web browser by itself on Apple, Linux (though remember the Chrome OS is Linux-based itself) or Windows, nearly all the settings discussed in this article will still be relevant to you outside of a few Google Chrome OS specific settings. Many think of the Google Chrome OS as simply the Google OS, but Google has more than Chrome, like the Android OS which is designed mainly for compact mobile devices. Both Chrome and Android are Linux-based. In fact, Google has brought Linux into the mainstream for the average user because before, generally, only the tech types knowingly used it (Linux).

Main Chrome performance parameters to consider:

  • Network Speed
  • Hardware Performance
  • Software: apps, extensions and plugins 
  • Browsing Data
  • Operating System settings (Google Chrome OS)

◊ Network:

The first and by far most important thing to consider is your Internet connection speed. If it's available and you can afford it, consider upgrading to a faster plan or moving over to another ISP that has better connection speeds. Maybe you'll even find the Verizon FiOS (Fiber Optic Service) has made it to your area without your knowledge, and, if you're super fortunate and have Google Fiber available, OMG... it's just not going to get any faster! The FCC and NTIA have created the US National Broadband Map for you to verify the speediest ISP services in your area, and, if you want to test your speed most people recommend Ookla (you can also sign-in, or create an account, to save your results over time for comparison against any changes you're making).

Also, consider the other strains on your network performance. Physically, things like poor wiring connections and outdated or unnecessary hardware appliances can rob performance from your data stream. Then, also think about what software you have fiddling with your connection; VPNs (Virtual Private Networks), antivirus, firewalls, automatic backup programs, and automatic updates take bandwidth and (or) can route your connection through slow, distant, or overstressed servers. If you're running a wireless connection (router) make sure you've password protected it, because if not, outside of security concerns, you might have your whole neighborhood streaming Netflix on the bandwidth allocated to your wireless connection.

Side note: An interesting fact is that Netflix accounts for almost a third of the total downstream bandwidth in the US. Add YouTube to that and you've accounted for half of the total internet downstream traffic in the United States.

◊ Hardware:

With Chrome you're never going to need anywhere near the RAM or processing power you would need with an Apple or Microsoft setup, and fortunately for our wallets (but unfortunately for those that love to upgrade things), the Chromebooks are pretty much sealed non-upgradeable units that are generally OEM designed to meet the requirements of the times that Google prescribes in order to license the installation of the Chrome OS on any particular PC offered to the public. The Google Chrome OS is a manufacturer pre-installed operating system and is not available on disc or for download: read the details. You can download the experimental "Chromium OS", but that's another story. There is no reason to speculate on the minimum hardware requirements because they change continuously. Just Google "fastest chromebooks" when it's your turn to buy or upgrade to see what you can afford and what hardware configurations are available at the time.

Long story short, pick your preferred Chromebook and there is nothing to upgrade until you are ready purchase a newer (or more powerful secondhand) one. On the other hand, if you're wondering about the minimum requirements for the Chrome web browser only (without the Chrome OS) on your Windows, Mac, or Linux machine: go here.

Also, in case you don't know, Chromebooks (other than the upscale "Pixel" model perhaps) are very inexpensive and that's the number one reason they're taking the world by storm. Most Internet connections are now fast enough to run the big software programs in the cloud that are either free or priced at a point where most people can actually afford to use them.

◊ Software (apps, extensions, and plugins):

First of all, if you're disabling or uninstalling apps, extensions or plug-ins, make a note about it (or bookmark its Web Store or home page) before doing so. You'll be surprised how many times you do away with a program to later find out just how helpful it actually was and didn't really notice it doing anything because it ran seamlessly in the background. Conversely, you will also be surprised by the new responsiveness of Chrome when you've removed or deactivated conflicting or excessive software installations from it. Review your add-ons closely to see what you can or can't do without.

To uninstall apps: go the "App Launcher" Rubik's Cube icon on the lower left of your screen in the Chrome OS (where the Start button would be in Windows), open it, then right-click (or 2 finger tap in Chrome) the app you wish to do away with and select "Remove from Chrome" from the drop-down list. The apps are usually not much more than fancy bookmarks (some with added functionality), but, if you want to use them as shortcuts on your shelf (or taskbar) at the bottom of your screen, leave them alone because uninstalling the app will also remove it from the shelf. -or- To make a new shortcut on your shelf, just go back inside the App Launcher (on the lower left of your screen), then, again, right-click (or 2 finger tap) an icon inside the launcher and choose "pin to shelf" from the drop-down list.

How many "apps" is too many? Basically, install all you want, because they are really just simple Internet shortcuts for the most part. Read about how apps and extensions differ.

To uninstall extensions: go to [ chrome://extensions/ ]. To use these Chrome URLs just type, or copy & paste, the bold URL that's between the brackets into your omnibox or address bar (like pictured below) and hit "enter". You can also get to the same place by clicking the 3-horizontal-bar "Customize and control Google Chrome" icon (which used to be a wrench icon) on the top right of your Chrome browser window (under the "X" for close browser button), then in the drop-down list go to "More tools" > "Extensions". From there you can either uncheck the "Enabled" box (to disable them), or click the trash can icon beside each extension listing to uninstall them completely.

Tip: Again, don't forget to make a list of anything you uninstall in case you want it back later. Also, the "Extensions Manager (aka Switcher)" extension will put you in full control of your apps, extensions, and themes via a new icon which will appear to the right of your omnibox or address bar after you install it.

How many "extensions" is too many? There is really no universal number, but we generally keep about 15 enabled (at minimum) and another dozen disabled ready for usage when needed. Just be on the alert for conflicts between them causing problems.

Picture of the Chrome web browser omnibox with system command
Chrome web browser omnibox or address bar
To disable plug-ins: go to [ chrome://plugins/ ]. This is where you'll find the Adobe Flash Player, Google Talk, Netflix, or other plug-ins you have installed. Generally, on the Chrome OS you'll want to keep nearly everything in there "as is" for full functionality (but Windows will be more likely to have excessive plugins you could easily do away with). An exception might be the "Chrome Remote Desktop Viewer" which we disable as an added security step, but if you even think you might be interested in the Chrome Remote Desktop one day, just leave it alone, because if you disable it and then later try to use something that depends on it, you'll never remember you disabled it and won't know why your newly dependent program isn't working while you're ripping your hair out in the meantime. Most plugins can be disabled but not uninstalled (they'll just get a gray background to show when they are inactive).

Nearly every developer is going to claim minimal impacts or even increased speeds with their extensions (or apps), but once you start piling them up they're going to have a negative impact on system speed at some point. On top of that, you'll likely encounter a few conflicts with the various programs if you're adding dozens and dozens of extensions.

Task Manager: If you want to have a look at what's running on your Chromebook tap the "Customize and control" button (the one with 3 horizontal bars) on the top far right of your Chrome browser, then in the drop down menu click "More tools" at the bottom, then "Task manager". Here you can view all the processes running on your system. Also, to view even more detailed information on the Chrome system processes click the "Stats for nerds" link at the very bottom of that Task manager window. You can also go straight to Stats for nerds by putting [ chrome://memory/ ] in the omnibox (address bar). Note: if you keep many tabs open there will seem to be a lot listed in the Task manager, but every tab is listed as a separate process, so take that into consideration.

◊ Browsing Data:

Many people worry about scrubbing or cleaning their browser far more than necessary. The reason why nearly all this "temporary" information is being stored on your computer is to streamline and speed up your overall computing and web browsing experience. However, if you need to erase your tracks or want to be assured everything is loading with a clean slate you can click the "Customize and control" button (again, on the upper right of your browser), go to "History", and then hit the "Clear browsing data..." button to make your choices on what you want gone. You can also type [ chrome://history/ ] in the omnibox (or address bar) to get to the same place.

Personally, we recommend the "Click&Clean" browser extension to clear your tracks (and a lot more), but be sure and take your time to review all the Click&Clean settings because if you decide to wipe everything you'll end up having to reset many of your personal settings afterwards. Generally, there's no reason to do much more than to check the "Clear your browsing history", "Empty the cache", and "Clear download history" to keep the browser running efficiently while at the same time forcing your favorite web pages to refresh themselves with the most current revisions.

Cookies are, for the most part, designed to hold certain website settings and preferences you've saved (like remembering your user-names and page setup) for the sites you frequent. Passwords will not be stored in the browser unless you specify to do so. Check this by going to [ chrome://settings/ ], scroll to the bottom and click "Show advanced settings...", and down again to "Passwords and forms", and finally check or uncheck "Offer to save you web passwords". We recommend you use something like LastPass or Roboform to save passwords while leaving Chrome's option unchecked (no save). Companies also use cookies to adjust advertisements to things they think you'll find interesting, but many users feel violated by cookies, so the choice is yours on whether to keep them or not. We keep all cookies because of the convenience of saved website settings, plus, we like looking at ads sometimes and prefer them targeting towards our interests.

◊ Operating System:

Google Chrome is one of the most streamlined operating systems in existence and the Chrome browser is fast under any measure, plus it automatically updates itself with the latest and greatest proven features and security fixes with no intervention necessary on your part except for maybe to reboot the system after an upgrade.

Now, many are going to recommend trying out the Chrome experimental features or flags by entering [ chrome://flags/ ] in the omnibox or address bar, and you can search Google for "best chrome flags" if you want to tinker with that stuff. Here again, generally, unless you are certain you want to apply a certain tweak, leave it alone because the good ones will show up automatically in your updates when they're thoroughly proven and the problematic ones will stay in the experimental state (away from you).

There is also the Chrome "stable", beta, and development channels [read more from Google] and the Chromium development builds that come even before them. For the purposes of this site we're all on the "stable" or standard channel everyone at least starts out with. If you really want to be at the leading edge of what "might" end up working very well one day you can opt into the "beta" and "development" channels. However, we again recommend against it unless tweaking is one of your main pleasures with computing. You're compromising a near bulletproof operating system and browser for minimal performance gains. Plus, if you decide you'd rather not take the risk after switching off the stable channel, you'll need to "powerwash" or reset your system to get back to it. Not really as big a deal as it would seem because you'll still retain "most" of your Google data on the next login, but, you will be screwing around with the system for a considerable amount of time getting certain things back to just the way you like them. Why not let the daredevils and developers smooth things out with the crashes and bug fixes while you're going about your business in a robust, safe, and secure environment on the regular old stable channel? As mentioned, all the stuff that's prime time on the experimental channels will be pushed out to you in the next stable version update anyhow.

If interested, verify your Chrome OS version (and if it's updated) by typing or cutting and pasting [ chrome://chrome/ ] into your omnibox (or address bar), press enter, and then click the "more info..." link. Alternatively, for even more detailed information about the version you're running go here [ chrome://version/ ].

While we're on it, if you want to see a full list of the Chrome URLs or destinations that are available (when added to the chrome:// URL prefix) go to [ chrome://chrome-urls/ ]. Note: we just bookmark our favorite Chrome URLs for quick access. No matter what you do, it's good to have a basic understanding of "what's going on under the hood" in Chrome.

In future articles we'll be targeting many of these performance characteristics individually with proven and popular tips, tricks and performance tweaks and for now we're at least refreshed on how to get to all the important stuff. Don't forget to check out [ chrome://keyboardoverlay ] to familiarize yourself with all the Chromebook keyboard settings as well.