How to see and manage your Chromebook System Resources: RAM & Storage

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Operating on Google's hyper-efficient, sandboxed Chrome OS, a Chromebook is not the first device users often think of when it comes to managing resources such as RAM, storage, and CPU loads. But its built-in efficiency doesn't mean there aren't ever any issues with the gadgets. And, even if things are running smoothly now, that doesn't make having the knowledge of how to accomplish that is any less valuable.

Here, we'll go over how to view and manage Chromebook system resources from RAM through storage. And, to an extent, CPU loads.

Do you really need to worry about your Chromebook resources such as RAM, Storage, and CPU usage?

Now, it bears pointing out that a Chromebook doesn't quite handle RAM or other resources in the same way as other computers do. That's true even with just 4GB RAM. It's often possible to keep dozens of tabs running at once and all the time. That won't necessarily take away from the experience once other windows or apps are run. That's as compared to what operating with 4GB of RAM would be like on a Windows or macOS machine.

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None of that means it's not useful to know a given system's specs or how to better understand what's eating away at RAM. Some applications, particularly Linux apps, are going to be more demanding. So it's a good idea to know what you're working with.

Similarly, storage on a Chromebook is typically used for photos, videos, and apps. As anybody who has owned a smartphone can attest, the average of between 32GB and 64GB on a Chrome OS device is great for most users. But others will be reliant on the cloud resources for storage on their Chromebook. So understanding how much storage is available to work with when it's needed is a must.

Checking CPU usage, conversely, is a matter of course when things start slowing down. That's not going to happen often with Chrome OS since it's not exactly the most intensive operating system on the market.

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Those specs don't quite mean the same thing to Chrome OS as they do on other operating systems. Chrome is simply more efficient and effective. But in case things do go wrong, understanding how to discover and manage those aspects of a Chromebook is still good information to have.

So, without wasting any further time, let's take a look at a few ways you can check your device's usage and specs.

Accessing the Chromebook Task Manager and checking storage

Chrome OS features a built-in task manager and, while not the most helpful such piece of software I've ever used, that does allow users to check what's running and what's being used. The reason it's not the most helpful tool is that Chrome actually doesn't tell you what percentage of your RAM or processor's power is in use. Instead, it just parcels out raw data.

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But that doesn't' make it entirely useless. To begin with, the Task Manager is a built-in out-of-the-box solution. So users can trust that it isn't malware and that the representative figures are accurate. If a Chromebook is running slow and has 4GB RAM and a budget-end processor, the task manager should make it fairly easy to see if one or two applications are eating up most of the resources.

On the other hand, it should also be fairly easy to discern if multiple apps or browser tabs are to blame and to close them.

Accessing the task manager in Chrome is fairly straightforward but not intuitive. That's because it's not found in the OS settings or as a separate utility as it is in other operating systems. Instead, it's found in Chrome itself. To discover the task manager, there are two possible methods.

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  1. Open the Chrome browser
  2. Click or tap the three-dot menu at the top-right-hand corner of the UI
  3. A click, tap, or hovering the mouse over "More tools" reveals a secondary submenu
  4. Click or tap "Task manager"

Or, users can access the task manager via a keyboard shortcut. To launch the utility, once Chrome is active and is selected, it is a two-key process. Start by holding down Search — denoted by a magnifying glass icon on a ChromeOS keyboard and placed where the Caps-Lock key typically is on other keyboards. Then, pressing the "ESC" key will launch the utility.

The task manager, by default, shows tasks that are running, their memory footprint, CPU usage, network status, and a process ID.  The memory footprint is shown in kilobytes. The list can be sorted in descending or ascending order for any of the available attributes. And a right-click on any one entry will call forward a list of other options to view.

For storage, the steps are a bit more straightforward but users won't find that information in the task manager. Instead, users will need to navigate to the chief file management system for Chrome OS, the Files app. That's found under the app drawer or via a search and is tucked behind a file-folder shaped icon.

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  1. Open "Files"
  2. Click or tap the three-dot menu at the top-right-hand side of the Files UI
  3. Find the progress bar-style read-out at the bottom for a quick glance of remaining storage
  4. Click the storage read-out to open up the Settings app and show more details

Checking available resources via a utility that's built to work with a Chromebook

As noted above, the built-in tools for viewing and managing Chrome OS assets leaves quite a bit to be desired. For a more accurate readout of overall assets, so that users can gain a better understanding of the specs and device state, users are going to want a utility.

Thankfully, there are some available in the Chrome Web Store as a matter of course from third-party developers.

One of the most popular and highly-recommended of such tools is from developer François Beaufort. Called "Cog," it not only offers a ready, read-out of CPU, RAM, and storage. It also offers a read-out of display refresh rate and CPU temperature for those who really want to get a handle on how their Chromebook is doing on resources.

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Cog is fairly easy to download and use too.  To download and install the utility, users simply need to navigate to the Google Chrome Web Store.

  1. Navigate to "https://chrome.google.com/webstore"
  2. Utilize the search bar at the top-left-hand side of the UI to search for "cog – system info viewer" and select the resulting option.
  3. Click "Add to Chrome"
  4. Click "Add app"

Running the resources-management app on a Chromebook is straightforward as well.

  1. Open the Chrome OS app launcher
  2. Click Cog

All of the details you're looking for will be displayed on a single, easy-to-read scrollable page. By way of reminder, scrolling in Chrome OS requires a two-finger scrolling gesture on the touchpad. Conversely, the keyboard arrow keys or touchscreen can also be used.

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Manage your Chromebook storage resources for a better experience

Now, it's time to actually do something with the information at hand. If there are problems with the temperature of the CPU, for instance, it's possible that's being overused — or that any vents could just use a good air-dusting.

In the worst case, scenario, users might need to open their device up and air dust things. Although temperature management should never really become an issue with a Chromebook. So it may be a better idea to contact an IT admin or customer support in those cases rather than focusing on managing your Chromebook resources.

Setting that aside, storage, CPU usage, and RAM are things that any user will want to potentially keep an eye on for the best experience. And managing those aspects of the resources available on a Chromebook is fairly straightforward too.

Manage Chromebook Storage

For storage, there are really only a few options available if that becomes overloaded. First, users can opt to delete applications and/or remove files. Starting with removing applications:

  1. Open up the app launcher via the circle icon on the bottom-left-hand side of the shelf (swipe up from the bottom for Chrome OS tablets or in Tablet Mode)
  2. Scroll to locate the desired app
  3. Right-click on the app icon with either a two-finger click or a click while holding the 'alt' key (long-press on touchscreens)
  4. Click or tap "Uninstall"

Removing files can be particularly useful, especially if users are accessing Android apps that work with photos or other media. Those files can, as often as not, end up duplicated in the file manager under the "Play Files" directory:

  1. Open up the "Files" application from the app launcher
  2. Navigate to the folder containing the files to be deleted
  3. Select the file or "ctrl" and click to select multiple files (long press on touchscreens and then tap the icons for the desired files)
  4. Click or tap the trash bin icon at the top-right-hand side of the UI

Conversely, it may also be helpful to move files around. Especially since Google Drive cloud storage is baked right into the Files app. As long as there's still cloud storage available and the files don't need to be stored locally for offline use, that's a viable option to consider.

  1. Follow the above steps for locating and selecting the desired files
  2. Press and hold the "Ctrl" key and then tap the "x" key to cut the files (long-press and select "cut" on touchscreens)
  3. Open up the "Google Drive" directory and navigate to the appropriate cloud location
  4. Press and hold the "Ctrl" key and then tap "v" to paste (long-press and select paste on touchscreen devices)

Manage Chromebook CPU and RAM usage

Beyond just storage, the task manager noted above can be useful for getting rid of unwanted processes too. That will clear up some RAM and also stop over usage of the CPU if there are problems with performance. Of course, that's also a viable solution in other instances where performance is being affected by a running app or website.

First, users will need to start by opening up Task Manager following the above-mentioned steps for that.

  1. Once a process has been discovered to be using too many resources, click or tap the offending process to highlight it (multiple selections can be made by holding down the "Ctrl" key before clicking selections)
  2. Tap or click the blue-colored "End process" button

Beyond that, there are actually steps a user can take to alleviate the problem before it becomes one. Particularly if they notice frequent problems. For instance, if users notice problems arising in Chrome, it may be a good idea to examine which pages are opening and what they're doing.

In the Task Manager, each page is separated into isolation as its own process. So it should be possible to see in that tool if a page or pages are overworking things. Then, those can be killed following the same steps outlined here.

Chrome OS is typically not an operating system that's in need of a lot of management. Google has done a good job of ensuring that optimizations are so good, in fact, that even the Chrome browser won't often eat up the kinds of resources that it almost always does on other operating systems. Under circumstances where a Windows machine might need 8GB RAM to run Chrome, for instance, a Chromebook might only need 4GB and still not suffer from a shortage of resources.

But, generally speaking, it's just a good idea to keep permanently-open or pinned- tabs to a minimum. Or, at the very least, only opened on an as-needed basis. Or at the very least to periodically close and then re-open those tabs. Which clears out some of the resources they're using.

Rebooting the system to refresh things from time to time or even performing a full factory reset is recommendable too. That's after setting up a backup, of course. As long as that's not having to be done on a regular basis, Powerwashing is easy and Chrome is easy to restore to a like-new state without losing anything. If it does need to be done regularly, it may be a good idea to check with the manufacturer. It's not unlikely there's something else going on.

Cleaning up unused or unneeded files every once in a while, as outlined above, can be a big help as well. And killing off or uninstalling unused apps will undoubtedly make things better.

Check your extensions and Chromebook Chrome apps

The final recourse, for those noting performance problems, is to examine Chrome extensions and apps to see if those are causing issues. Chrome should automatically remove and disable problematic extensions as they're discovered. But that doesn't mean it will catch those that are just using up too many resources.

With Chromebooks designed to be less resource-intensive, it's a good idea to ensure that only the ones that are really needed are activated. The same can be said for resource-intensive Chrome and Chromebook apps that are available from the Chrome Web Store too.

That's fairly easy to accomplish though. So the following steps shouldn't cause most users any trouble in terms of finding the extensions they want. At least not after learning how to get to the Extensions menu.

  1. Open up Google Chrome
  2. Tap or click the three-dot menu at the top-right-hand side of the UI
  3. Click, tap, or hover over "More tools"
  4. Click or tap "Extensions." Google will list out all installed extensions and Chrome-specific apps

Once there, extensions can be disabled or enabled easily with a simple click of a toggle. Chrome also presents options to get more information on the add-ons via the Chrome Web Store. Or to remove them entirely. Users who are experiencing problems that might be caused by extensions will need to systematically go through their extensions toggling them off and testing to see if the problem is resolved.

For those who just want more efficient allocation of resources on their Chromebook, the menu allows users to simply toggle off or remove those extensions they don't need or want.

Restarting Chrome in-between any major changes or flipping toggles is also a good idea. That allows the system to go through and make any deeper changes that may be missed while the gadget is powered on.