Running out of memory on a Chromebook? Here’s a 30-second solution

Several Google(s goog) Chromebooks, particularly the lower-priced models, come with just 2 GB of memory and for some, that’s just not enough. What often happens is that as more browser tabs are opened, data on older tabs simply disappears. These tabs have to be refreshed and that’s not ideal, especially if those tabs are being used for any communications or media consumption.

The problem happens on Chromebooks with 4 GB of RAM as well, but much less often. Still, even on the Chromebook Pixel, I experience it from time to time. The good news is that regardless of your Chromebook model, one quick command line with a restart can definitely help. The solution uses zRam or compressed swap space and you can use it on a Chromebook because it’s part of Linux, which is the underlying core of a Chrome OS device.

Essentially, zRam creates a swap disk to virtually increase the amount of memory your system can use. This is a description from the zRAM / compressed cache project site:

“This project creates RAM based block device (named zram) which acts as swap disk. Pages swapped to this disk are compressed and stored in memory itself. Compressing pages and keeping them in RAM virtually increases its capacity. This allows more applications to fit in given amount of memory.”

Here are the simple steps I found in the Chromebook Central Google Group to enable it:

  1. Open up a terminal tab with the CTRL + ALT + T keys.
  2. Type “swap enable” (without the quotes).
  3. Restart your Chromebook.

That’s it! The change is persistent, meaning the swap file will stay active after each restart. If you want to disable it, just follow the same instructions but type “disable” instead of “enable.” And if you want to manage the actual size of the swap file, you can do that too: When enabling it, follow the command with a number representing the size of the swap file in megabytes.

Enable zRam

I’ve used this function on several Chromebook models and have noticed that blank tabs are mostly a thing of the past, even after opening and closing dozens of tabs during a typical day.

The nice thing is that you have nothing to lose by enabling the swap function since it can easily be disabled. Even better: As of last month, Google is experimenting to see if enabling swap by default is a viable option.