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Samsung ARM Chromebook running Chrome OS

Tech Talk Tuesday: Chrome OS Hacks To Boost Performance And Usability

Chromebooks are great laptops for casual web browsing or as a secondary device. However, for those of us who use them for work or heavy browsing, the performance and usability can sometimes be a bit disappointing. As a Samsung ARM Chromebook owner, I can say that while this machine does what it promises to, there are a few tweaks that I have found in Chrome OS that make this device much better in the hands of a power user.

Heads Up! These are experimental features and hacks, so something could go wrong and I take no liability in you messing up your device. You are doing this because you knowingly choose to do so on your own free will, ain’t nobody making you do anything here. With that being said, I have found that the hacks we are going to cover here are stable and I have not encountered any errors using them. Now, lets start by giving your computer a performance boost!

Increase The SWAP Memory

The problem with the low end Chromebooks is their lack of RAM. Most only come with 2GB of RAM, and if you have the Samsung ARM Chrombook like I do, you have no way of adding more RAM to your device. This can quickly become a problem for anyone who is used to having 30 tabs open at a time, as most of your tabs will have to be reloaded when you go back to them. This is a headache and a half!

This hack is going to help alleviate some of that pain for you. While this might not let you have 30 tabs open (I get away with 15-20 without a problem), increasing the swap memory will help out significantly and reduce the number of tabs that need to be reloaded, if any at all.

Ed Hewitt, from over at OMG Chrome, explains how to do this quite nicely:

To activate SWAP, you will need to open terminal (Ctrl + Alt + t). In terminal, type the following command:

swap enable 2000

This will create a 2GB SWAP partition on your Chromebook’s SSD, adjusting the number will change the SWAP size. The Chrome team recommends 2GB. A restart is required to activate your newly created SWAP partition. It is regarding as an experimental feature, and is not recommended for daily use. To disable the SWAP partition type the following command in terminal and restart:

swap disable


Welcome To Chrome OS Flags

For the rest of the hacks that I am going to cover today, they will all be utilizing Chrome Flags to improve the usability of your device. To access these flags, simply type “chrome://flags/” (without the quotes of course) into your search bar and hit enter. Once you do that, you should be presented with a screen that resembles the following screenshot:

Chrome OS Flags - Enable advanced and hidden features of Chrome OS

Enable Immersive Fullscreen Browsing

Let’s face it, your Chromebook’s screen isn’t that big. The tabs, search bar, and bookmarks bar takes up a good number of pixels. When you add in pixels from the launcher at the bottom of the screen, you are losing close to 1/5 of your screen. You need all the screen real estate that you can get, this is why you need to enable immersive fullscreen browsing.

Enable Immersive fullscreen browsing in Chrome OS

Doing this will let you enjoy a full screen browsing experience while still having access to your launcher and tabs. Basically, the top of the browser that includes the tabs, search bar, and bookmarks bar will hide at the top of the screen. When you mouse over the top of the screen, this part of the browser will drop down, giving you easy access while giving you back lots of screen space. You can autohide your launcher to get even more screen space, simply two-finger click the launcher and select “Autohide launcher” at the top.

To enter immersive browsing, You click the settings and controls menu (looks like 3 horizontal bars) to the far right of the search bar and select the fullscreen option next to your zoom level. Alternatively, you can use the keyboard shortcut: “shift + fullscreen.” The fullscreen button is the button to the right of the refresh key on your keyboard, the icon is a rectangle with two small triangles in two of the corners.

Enter into immersive fullscreen browsing on Chrome OS

Change tabs via 3 Finger Scrolling

Cool, so now you have your entire screen to browse the web. You might soon grow tired of switching back and forth between tabs when you have to go to the top every time. For example, if you are writing a Google Doc in one tab and researching in another, you may find yourself needing to switch back and forth quite often. This can become a bit of a hassle when you have to wait a second to mouse over your tabs. There is a simple fix for that, enable tab scrubbing.

Enabling tab scrubbing will allow you to switch between your tabs in a window by horizontally scrolling with 3 fingers. It can be a bit touchy at times, but in general it works pretty well. Try it out for yourself and see what you think.

Enable Workspace Scrubbing

Located just beneath the previous flag, enable workspace scrubbing. This flag will let you switch between your different browser windows by performing a vertical 3 finger scroll gesture. This will let you quickly swipe away your twitter feed when your boss comes in. You can also use this to set up virtual desktops, sort of. While they won’t really be virtual desktops, grouping tabs into different windows and 3 finger swiping up or down will be the closest thing you can get on a Chromebook.

Do you have any tips or unique workflows to help improve usability of Chrome OS on your Chromebook? Feel free to share them in the comments below.

2 thoughts to “Tech Talk Tuesday: Chrome OS Hacks To Boost Performance And Usability”

  1. I have a Samsung ARM Chromebook. Personally, I could never use it as a power users. Its just too slow other then doing common things to help the pathetic ARM CPU. Such as setting Flash to only run when clicked. Also use a adblocker to stop a lot of ads loading. Last suggestion is to realize this is a $250 or less PC that runs a browser and a minimalist Linux core. Its not meant for much other then basic web consumption by people who rarely have more then a couple tabs open. I myself am fine with the Samsung based on its target user. Which is not to say it would satisfy people used to better hardware. I have a second generations Core i3 Windows 7 laptop which really demonstrates how lacking the hardware is on the ARM Chromebook. I think you do get what you pay for with the Chromebook. Just not much more.

    1. John, I agree, these Samsung ARM Chromebooks are not for the power hungry by any means. Personally, I use mine to browse the web and do some light web design work when I want to get away from my normal computer area (I love working outside). When released, these were a seriously affordable and adequate secondary computer. Now, they are pretty dated performance wise, especially compared to the new lineup of Chromebooks and some tablets.

      The point of this article was to show users how to make it more usable, especially the SWAP mod that keeps your Chromebook from having to reload every tab after opening more than 3-4 of them. At the price point, these are still pretty tough to beat, unless you are willing to give up screen real estate and get a smaller tablet.

      Also, if you have a desktop, using the Chrome remote desktop extension will breathe new life into your portable browser known as the Chromebook :)

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