Chrome is known to be a RAM hog, but most Chromebooks only have 4GB of RAM. Chrome OS handles RAM differently than Windows or Macs, so it can do more with less.
Chromebooks don't need much RAM
First of all, just because Chrome is a RAM glutton on your Windows machine or Mac, that doesn't mean it's a Chrome problem across the board. Chrome OS is very different from a regular computer, and it is also the way to manage RAM.
If we don't get too complicated (which is easy to do with such a subject), we can see how Chrome OS handles RAM. Because it is based on Linux and uses the Linux kernel, it handles RAM in a very similar way. Google has tweaked the process a little to better fit Chrome OS needs, but the general idea is the same.
zRAM keeps things Snappy
Chrome OS uses something called "zRAM" to keep things snappier than a Windows machine or Mac with less RAM. This compressed virtual memory goes a long way to doing the best with lower RAM by creating a compressed block in RAM and using it instead of virtual memory, which is usually stored on the hard disk (and thus slower).
The data is then transferred in and out of the compressed space as needed until it is full, at which time the switching point (virtual RAM on the hard disk) is used. The result is a much faster and more efficient use of RAM. Because the compression is on the fly in zRAM and RAM is generally faster than switching, Chrome OS can do much more with less.
The "dual wall" memories keep things nice
Google also does most of the RAM in Chrome OS by using something called a "dual wall" low memory mode. The basic feature is that a "soft wall" is set in RAM, where, once reached, the OS begins to clear older activities. It starts with tabs that were opened but has not been seen, then moved to background tabs that have not been clicked / written / browsed, then background tabs and finally the foreground tab. In other words, the system tries to systematically shut down processes as it assumes users are not interested first, before they become increasingly aggressive.
The second wall of this "double wall" system is the "hard wall". This is when the system is completely idle, and the core memory killer (OOM) is triggered. When that happens, Chrome will generally crash. The good news is that this rarely happens anymore ̵1; when the soft wall is hit, background articles usually clear the trick to prevent the hard wall from ever coming here. If that happens, it is generally due to some other type of error, such as a quick memory leak.
Of course it is not that there is no such thing as "too little RAM" on a Chromebook – it is absolute. It's about how to use your book.
How much RAM do you need?
Some Chromebooks come with as little as 2 GB of RAM while others come with as much as 16 GB. The standard of most systems has been at most 4 GB, but we are also starting to see an uptick in "8 GB books. When it comes to getting what works best for you, you'll need to see how you plan to use your Chromebook.
If this will be a complementary machine – something you use in tandem with your "main" computers – then you may not need a workhorse for a system, if this will be a coffee machine you plan to use for Easy scrolling, emailing, social networking and the like, go all for the 4GB model, it's probably cheaper than anything with smoother specifications.
But if you plan to get a Chromebook to use as your primary work machine school, play and more, you will probably want to run for more RAM, while 8GB is generally more than enough for almost every user, perhaps the heaviest users are also looking at 16GB systems, which still are few and far from now (but they do exist!)
It's also worth thinking about how long you plan to have your Chromebook. As more and more features roll out to Chrome OS-like Linux apps and virtual desktops, your applications can begin to get heavier. As Chrome OS continues to grow and mature, you can find yourself in a position to start using it for more heavy lifting. If that time comes, you want more RAM!
Finally, a little anecdotal evidence. I have a Google Pixelbook with 8 GB of RAM and a Core i5 processor. When reviewing the IOGEAR USB-C docking station, I used my Pixelbook together for two external screens for a complete work week. Everything I usually do on my Windows desktop – from photo editing to research – I did instead on my Chromebook with a display installation. This means that I even had up to 30 tabs across multiple windows, along with at least six or seven programs running for different tasks. For the most part, it managed everything without a single hiccup but at the end of each working day I could say that it started to get a little sluggish and I needed to close some things that had probably been run for 10+ hours. 19659006] In other words, there were only a few cases where I thought "man, I really wish this Chromebook had 16 GB of RAM." Still thought it was at least once or twice. 😉
Ultimately, it's up to you to decide how to use your Chromebook and how much RAM works best for you. The affordable Chromebooks come with 4GB of RAM these days, so you can save some coins if you think it will work for you. If you need more, however, you have to fold out the money to get it – 8 GB (and higher) of Chromebooks, while becoming more common, are still a bit of a rarity, and you have to pony up cash money for luxury.