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Advanced Micro Devices made history this year when it surpassed Intel by market cap for the first time ever. Intel has long held the lead in the market for computer processors, but AMD’s ascent results from the company branching out into entirely new sectors.

In one of the biggest semiconductor acquisitions in history, AMD purchased adaptive chip company Xilinx in February for $49 billion. Now, AMD chips are in two Tesla models, NASA’s Mars Perseverance land rover, 5G cell towers and the world’s fastest supercomputer. 

“AMD is beating Intel on all the metrics that matter, and until and unless Intel can fix its manufacturing, find some new way to manufacture things, they will continue to do that,” said Jay Goldberg, semiconductor consultant at D2D Advisory.

But a decade ago, analysts had a very different outlook for AMD.

“It was almost a joke, right? Because for decades they had these incredible performance problems,” Goldberg said. “And that’s changed.”

CNBC sat down with AMD CEO Lisa Su to hear about her company’s remarkable comeback, and huge bets on new types of chips in the face of a PC slump, fresh restrictions on exports to China and shifting industry trends.

‘Real men have fabs’

AMD was founded in 1969 by eight men, chief among them Jerry Sanders. The famously colorful marketing executive had recently left Fairchild Semiconductor, which shares credit for the invention of the integrated circuit.

“He was one of the best salesmen that Silicon Valley had ever seen,” said Stacy Rasgon, semiconductor analyst at Bernstein Research. “Stories of lavish parties that they would throw. And there’s one story about him and his wife coming down the stairs of the turret at the party in matching fur coats.”

AMD Co-Founder Jerry Sanders poses at the original headquarters of Advanced Micro Devices, or AMD, in Sunnyvale, California, in 1969

AMD

He also coined an infamous phrase about chip fabrication plants, or fabs.

“Jerry Sanders was very famous for saying, ‘Real men have fabs,’ which obviously is a comment that is problematic on a number of levels and has largely been disproven by history,” Goldberg said.

As technology advances, making chips has become prohibitively expensive. It now takes billions of dollars and several years to build a fab. AMD now designs and tests chips and has no fabs.

“When you think about what do you need to do to be world class and design, it’s a certain set of skills,” Su said. “And then what do you need to do to be world class In manufacturing? It’s a different set of skills and the business model is different, the capital model is different.”

Back in the ’70s, AMD was pumping out computer chips. By the ’80s, it was a second-source supplier for Intel. After AMD and Intel parted ways, AMD reverse engineered Intel’s chips to make its own products that were compatible with Intel’s groundbreaking x86 software. Intel sued AMD, but a settlement in 1995 gave AMD the right to continue designing x86 chips, making personal computer pricing more competitive for end consumers.

In 2006, AMD bought major fabless chip company ATI for $5.4 billion. Then in 2009, AMD broke off its manufacturing arm altogether, forming GlobalFoundries.

“That’s when their execution really started to take off because they no longer had to worry about the foundry side of things,” Goldberg said.

GlobalFoundries went public in 2021 and remains a top maker of the less advanced chips found in simpler components like a car’s anti-lock brakes or heads-up display. But it stopped making leading-edge chips in 2018. For those, AMD turned to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., which now makes all of AMD’s most advanced chips.

Catching Intel

AMD only has major competition from two other companies when it comes to designing the most advanced microprocessors: Nvidia in graphics processing units, GPUs, and Intel in central processing units, CPUs.

While AMD controls far less GPU and CPU market share than Nvidia and Intel, respectively, it’s made remarkable strides since moving away from manufacturing and reducing capital expenditure. 

Meanwhile, Intel doubled down on manufacturing last year, committing $20 billion for new fabs in Arizona and up to $100 billion in Ohio, for what it says will be the world’s largest chip-making complex. But the projects are still years away from coming online.

“Intel is just not moving forward fast enough,” Goldberg said. “They’ve said they expect to continue to lose share in next year and I think we’ll see that on the client side. And that’s helped out AMD tremendously on the data center side.”

AMD’s Zen line of CPUs, first released in 2017, is often seen as the key to the company’s recent success. Su told CNBC it’s her favorite product. It’s also what analysts say saved AMD from near bankruptcy.

“They were like literally, like probably six months away from the edge and somehow they pulled out of it,” Rasgon said. “They have this Hail Mary on this new product design that they’re still selling like later generations of today, they call it Zen is their name for it. And it worked. It had a massively improved performance and enabled them to stem the share losses and ultimately turn them around.”

AMD CEO Lisa Su shows the newly released Genoa CPU, the company’s 4th generation EPYC processor, to CNBC’s Katie Tarasov at AMD’s headquarters in Santa Clara, California, on November 8, 2022

Jeniece Pettitt

Among the Zen products, AMD’s EPYC family of CPUs made monumental leaps on the data center side. Its latest, Genoa, was released earlier this month. AMD’s data center customers include Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, Oracle, IBM and Microsoft Azure.

“If you looked at our business five years ago, we were probably more than 80% – 90% in the consumer markets and very PC-centric and gaming-centric,” Su said. “As I thought about what we wanted for the strategy of the company, we believed that for high-performance computing, really the data center was the most strategic piece of the business.”

AMD’s revenue more than tripled between 2017 and 2021, growing from $5.3 billion to over $16 billion. Intel’s annual revenue over that stretched, meanwhile, increased about 25% from close to $63 billion in 2017 to $79 billion last year.

Geopolitical concerns and PC slump

AMD’s success at catching up to Intel’s technological advances is something many attribute to Su, who took over as CEO in 2014. AMD has more than tripled its employee count since then. Su was Fortune’s #2 Business Person of the Year in 2020 and the recipient of three of the semiconductor industry’s top honors. She also serves on President Joe Biden’s Council of Advisors on Science on Technology, which pushed hard for the recent passage of the CHIPS Act. It sets aside $52 billion for U.S. companies to manufacture chips domestically instead of overseas.

“It’s a recognition of just how important semiconductors are to both economic prosperity as well as national security in the United States,” Su said.

With all the world’s most advanced semiconductors currently made in Asia, the chip shortage highlighted the problems of overseas dependency, especially amid continued tension between China and Taiwan. Now, TSMC is building a $12 billion 5-nanometer chip fab outside Phoenix.

“We’re pleased with the expansion in Arizona,” Su said. “We think that’s a great thing and we’d like to see it expand even more.”

Earlier this month, the Biden administration enacted big new bans on semiconductor exports to China. AMD has about 3,000 employees in China and 25% of its sales were to China last year. But Su says the revenue impact has been “very small.”

“When we look at the most recent regulations, they’re not significantly impacting our business,” Su said. “It does affect some of our highest-end chips that are used in sort of AI applications. And we were not selling those into China.”

What is hurting AMD’s revenue, at least for now, is the PC slump. In its third-quarter earnings report earlier this month, AMD missed expectations, shortly after Intel warned of a soft fourth quarter. PC shipments were down nearly 20% in the third quarter, the steepest decline in more than 20 years.

“It’s down a bit more than perhaps we expected,” Su said. “There is a cycle of correction which happens from time to time, but we’re very focused on the long-term road map.”

Going custom

It’s not just PC sales that are slowing. The very core of computer chip technology advancement is changing. An industry rule called Moore’s Law has long dictated that the number of resistors on a chip should double about every two years.

“The process that we call Moore’s Law still has at least another decade to go, but there’s definitely, it’s slowing down,” Goldberg said. “Everybody sort of used CPUs for everything, general purpose compute, but that’s all slowed down. And so now it suddenly makes sense to do more customized solutions.”

Former Xilinx CEO Victor Peng and AMD CEO Lisa Su on stage in Munich, Germany, at the

AMD

That’s why AMD acquired Xilinx, known for its adaptive chips called Field-Programmable Gate Arrays, or FPGAs. Earlier this year, AMD also bought cloud startup Pensando for $1.9 billion. 

“We can quibble about some of the prices they paid for some of these things and what the returns will look like,” said Goldberg, adding that the acquisitions were ultimately a good decision. “They’re building a custom compute business to help their customers design their own chips. I think that’s a very, it’s a smart strategy.”

More and more big companies are designing their own custom chips. Amazon has its own Graviton processors for AWS. Google designs its own AI chips for the Pixel phone and a specific video chip for YouTube. Even John Deere is coming out with its own chips for autonomous tractors.

“If you really look underneath what’s happening in the chip industry over the last five years, everybody needs more chips and you see them everywhere, right?” Su said. “Particularly the growth of the cloud has been such a key trend over the last five years. And what that means is when you have very high volume growth in chips, you do want to do more customization.”

Even basic chip architecture is at a transition point. AMD and Intel chips are based on the five-decade-old x86 architecture. Now ARM architecture chips are growing in popularity, with companies like Nvidia and Ampere making major promises about developing Arm CPUs, and Apple switching from Intel to self-designed ARM processors.

“My view is it’s really not a debate between x86 and Arm,” Su said. “You’re going to see basically, these two are the most important architectures out there in the market. And what we’ve seen is it’s really about what you do with the compute.”

For now, analysts say AMD is in a strong position as it diversifies alongside its core business of x86 computing chips.

“AMD should fare much better in 2023 as we come out of the cycle, as their performance gains versus Intel start to become apparent, and as they start to build out on some of these new businesses,” Goldberg said.

Intel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Correction: “And we were not selling those into China,” said Lisa Su, AMD’s CEO. Her quote has been updated to reflect a typo that appeared in an earlier version of this article.

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Crypto.com CEO asks investors to overlook red flags from his business past

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Crypto.com CEO asks investors to overlook red flags from his business past

Kris Marszalek, CEO of Crypto.com, speaking at a 2018 Bloomberg event in Hong Kong, China.

Paul Yeung | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Kris Marszalek wants everyone to know that his company, Crypto.com, is safe and in good hands. His TV appearances and tweets make that clear.

It’s an understandable approach. The crypto markets have been in freefall for much of the year, with high-profile names spiraling into bankruptcy. When FTX failed last month just after founder Sam Bankman-Fried said the crypto exchange’s assets were fine, trust across the industry evaporated.

Marszalek, who has operated out of South Asia for over a decade, subsequently assured clients that their funds belong to them and are readily available, in contrast to FTX, which used client money for all sorts of risky and allegedly fraudulent activities, according to court filings and legal experts. 

Bankman-Fried has denied knowing about any fraud. Regardless, FTX clients are now out billions of dollars with bankruptcy proceedings underway.

Crypto.com, one of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges, may well be in fine health. After the FTX collapse, the company published its unaudited, partial proof of reserves. The release revealed that nearly 20% of customer funds were in a meme token called shiba inu, an amount eclipsed only by its bitcoin allocation. That percentage has dropped since the initial release to about 15%, according to Nansen Analytics. 

Marszalek said in a Nov. 14 livestream on YouTube that the wallet addresses were representative of customer holdings. 

On Friday, Crypto.com published an audited proof of reserves, attesting that customer assets were held on a one-to-one basis, meaning that all deposits are 100% backed by Crypto.com‘s reserves.  The audit was performed by the Mazars Group, the former accountant for the Trump Organization.

While no evidence has emerged of wrongdoing at Crypto.com, Marszalek’s business history is replete with red flags. Following the collapse of a prior company in 2009, a judge called Marszalek’s testimony unreliable. His business activities before 2016 — the year he founded what would become Crypto.com — involved a multimillion-dollar settlement over claims of defective products, corporate bankruptcy and an e-commerce company that failed shortly after a blowout marketing campaign left sellers unable to access their money.

Court records, public filings and offshore database leaks reveal a businessman who moved from industry to industry, rebooting quickly when a venture would fail. He started in manufacturing, producing data storage products for white label sale, then moved into e-commerce, and finally into crypto.

CNBC reached out to Crypto.com with information on Marszalek’s past and asked for an interview. The company declined to make Marszalek available and sent a statement indicating that there was “never a finding of wrongdoing under Kris’s leadership” at his prior ventures. 

After CNBC’s requests, Marszalek published a 16-tweet thread, beginning by telling his followers: “More FUD targeting Crypto.com is coming, this time about a business failure I had very early in my career. I have nothing to hide, and am proud of my battle scars, so here’s the unfiltered story.” FUD is short for fear, uncertainty and doubt and is a popular phrase among crypto executives.

In the tweets, Marszalek described his past personal bankruptcy and the abrupt closure of his e-commerce business as learning experiences, and added that “startups are hard,” and “you will fail over and over again.” 

‘Business failure’ — faulty flash drives

Marszalek founded a manufacturing firm called Starline in 2004, according to his LinkedIn profile. Based in Hong Kong, with a plant in mainland China, Starline built hardware products like solid state drives, hard drives, and USB flash drives. Marzsalek’s LinkedIn page says he grew the business into a 400-person company with $81 million in sales in three years.

There was much more to the story.

Marszalek owned 50% of the company, sharing ownership and control with another Hong-Kong based individual, who partnered with Marszalek in multiple ventures. 

In 2009, Marzsalek’s company settled with a client over a faulty shipment of flash drives. The $5 million settlement consisted of a $1 million upfront payment and a $4 million credit note to the client, Dexxon. The negotiations over the settlement began at some point after 2007.

CNBC was unable to locate Marszalek’s business partner.

Africa Bitcoin Conference kicks off as FTX collapse shakes confidence in crypto

Court documents don’t show whether Starline made good on either the $1 million “lump sum settlement fee” or the $4 million credit note. Starline was forced into bankruptcy proceedings by the end of 2009, court records from 2013 show.

Over the course of 2008 and 2009, Marszalek and his partner were transferred nearly $3 million in payments from Starline, according to the documents.

Over $1 million was paid out to Marszalek personally in what the court said were “impugned payments.” His partner took home nearly $1.9 million in similar payments.

“It appears that there was a concerted effort to strip the cash from Starline,” Judge Anthony Chan later wrote in a court filing. 

Some $300,000 was paid by Starline to a British Virgin Islands holding company called Tekram, the document says. That money went through Marszalek, and Tekram eventually returned it to Starline.

By 2009, Starline had collapsed. Marszalek’s representatives told CNBC in a statement that Starline went under because customers failed to pay back credit lines that the company had extended them during the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008. Starline borrowed that money from Standard Chartered Bank of Hong Kong (SCB).

“The bank then turned to Starline and the co-founders to repay the lines of credit and filed for liquidation of the company,” the statement said.

Starline owed $2.2 million to SCB. 

Marszalek said on Twitter that he had personally guaranteed the loans from the bank to Starline. As a result, when the bank forced Starline into liquidation, Marszalek and his partner were forced into bankruptcy as well.

The court found that the $300,000 transfer to Tekram was “in truth a payment” to Marszalek.

Marszalek said the money in the Tekram transfer was repayment of a debt Starline owed to Tekram. The judge described that claim as “inherently incredible.”

“There is no explanation why the repayment had to be channelled through him or why the money was later returned to the debtor,” the judge said. 

Riding the Groupon wave

Bankruptcy didn’t sever the ties between Marszalek and his partner or keep them out of business for long. At the same time Starline was shutting down, the pair set up an offshore holding company called Middle Kingdom Capital. 

Middle Kingdom was established in the Cayman Islands, a notorious hub for tax shelters. The connection between Middle Kingdom and Marszalek and his partner, who each held half of the firm, was exposed in the 2017 Paradise Papers leak. The Paradise Papers, along with the Panama Papers, contained documents about a web of offshore holdings in tax havens. They were published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Middle Kingdom was the owner of Buy Together, which in turn owned BeeCrazy, an e-commerce venture that Marszalek had started pursuing. Similar to Groupon, retailers could use BeeCrazy to sell their products at steep discounts. BeeCrazy would process payments, take a commission on goods sold, and distribute funds to the retailers.

Sellers and buyers flocked to the site, drawn in by considerable discounts on everything from spa passes to USB power banks. Buy Together drew attention from an Australian conglomerate called iBuy, which was on the verge of an IPO and pursued an acquisition of BeeCrazy as part of a plan to build out a South Asian e-commerce empire.

Court filings and Australian disclosures show that to seal the deal, Marszalek and his partner had to remain employed by iBuy for three years and clear their individual bankruptcies in Hong Kong court. The partner’s uncle came forward in front of the court to help his nephew and Marszalek clear their names and debts, filings show.

While the judge called the uncle’s involvement “suspicious,” he allowed him to repay the debt. As a result, both Marszalek and his partner’s bankruptcies were annulled. A few months later, in October 2013, BeeCrazy was purchased by iBuy for $21 million in cash and stock, according to S&P Capital IQ. 

A month and a half after buying BeeCrazy, iBuy went public. Marszalek was required to remain until 2016. 

The company struggled after its IPO as competition picked up from bigger players like Alibaba. Marszalek was eventually promoted to CEO of iBuy in August 2014, according to filings with Australian regulators. 

Alibaba headquarters in Hangzhou, China.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Marszalek renamed iBuy as Ensogo in an effort to retool the company. Ensogo continued to suffer, running up a loss in 2015 equal to over $50 million.

By the following year, Ensogo had already reportedly laid off half its staff. In June 2016, Ensogo closed down operations. The same day, Marszalek resigned.

After the sudden shuttering of Ensogo, sellers on the site told the South China Morning Press that they never received proceeds from items they’d already delivered as part of a final blowout sale. 

“[Many] sellers had already sold their goods but had yet to receive any money from the platform at that time, their money thus vanished altogether with the online shopping platform,” according to translated testimony from a representative for a group of sellers before Hong Kong’s Legislative Council.

One seller told Hong Kong’s The Standard that she lost more than $25,000 in the process. 

“It seems to us that they wanted to make huge business from us one last time before they closed down,” the seller told the publication.

Marszalek’s representative acknowledged to CNBC that “the shutdown angered many customers and consumers” and said that was “one of the reasons Kris was opposed to the decision.” 

Welcome to crypto

Marszalek moved quickly on to his next thing. The same month he resigned from Ensogo, Foris Limited was incorporated, marking Marszalek’s entry into the crypto market.

Foris’ first foray into crypto was with Monaco, an early exchange. 

With a leadership team composed entirely of former Ensogo employees, Monaco told prospective investors they could expect three million customers and $169 million in revenue within five years. 

Monaco rebranded as Crypto.com in 2018.

The exterior of Crypto.com Arena on January 26, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.

Rich Fury | Getty Images

By 2021, the company had smashed its own goals, crossing the 10 million user mark. Revenue for the year topped $1.2 billion, according to the Financial Times. That’s when crypto was soaring, with bitcoin climbing from about $7,300 at the beginning of 2020 to a peak of over $68,000 in November of 2021.  

The company inked a deal with Matt Damon for a Super Bowl commercial and spent a reported $700 million to put its name on the arena that’s home to the Los Angeles Lakers. It’s also a sponsor of the World Cup in Qatar.

The market’s plunge in 2022 has been disastrous for all the major players and goes well beyond the FTX collapse and the numerous hedge funds and lenders that have liquidated. Coinbase’s stock price is down 84%, and the company laid off 18% of its staff. Kraken recently cut 30% of its workforce. 

Crypto.com has laid off hundreds of employees in recent months, according to multiple reports. Questions percolated about the company in November after revelations that the prior month Crypto.com had sent more than 80% of its ether holdings, or about $400 million worth of the cryptocurrency, to Gate.io, another crypto exchange. The company only admitted the mistake after the transaction was exposed thanks to public blockchain data. Crypto.com said the funds were recovered.

Marszalek went on CNBC on Nov. 15, following the FTX failure, to try and reassure customers and the public that the company has plenty of money, that it doesn’t use leverage and that withdrawal demands had normalized after spiking.

Still, the market cap for Cronos, Crypto.com’s native token, has shrunk from over $3 billion on Nov. 8 to a little over $1.6 billion today, reflecting a loss of confidence among a key group of investors. During the crypto mania at this time last year, Cronos was worth over $22 billion.

Cronos has stabilized of late, hovering around six cents for the last three weeks. Bitcoin prices have been flat for about four weeks. 

Marszalek’s narrative is that he’s learned from past mistakes and that “early failures made me who I am today,” he wrote in his tweet thread. 

He’s asking customers to believe him.

“I’m proud of my scar tissue and the way I persevered in the face of adversity,” he tweeted. “Failure taught me humility, how to not overextend, and how to plan for the worst.”

WATCH: Sam Bankman-Fried faces an onslaught of regulatory probes

Sam Bankman-Fried faces an onslaught of regulatory probes

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Getaround stock crashes after carsharing company goes public in SPAC deal

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Getaround stock crashes after carsharing company goes public in SPAC deal

Paul Chinn | San Francisco Chronicle | Getty Images

Carsharing company Getaround made its public market debut Friday through a merger with blank-check company InterPrivate II Acquisition Corp. The company saw its share value drop more than 65%, reflecting the chilly environment for both SPACs and ridesharing companies. 

Getaround, which made the very first CNBC Disruptor 50 list in 2013, allows users to rent cars and trucks from each other via a digital marketplace. The company launched in 2009 and is available in more than 1,000 cities in the United States and Europe.

The merger had valued the company at about $1.2 billion, and Getaround said it planned to use the funds to invest in new markets and expand its products.

SPACs, or special purpose acquisition companies, raise capital through an IPO to acquire or merge with existing companies, aiming to eventually take the companies public in a two-year time frame. Though SPACs rose in popularity in 2020 and 2021, they tend to significantly underperform in comparison to traditional IPOs

The appetite for SPACs, which often back early-stage growth companies with little earnings, have diminished in the face of rising rates as well as elevated market volatility. For SPACs that did go public, they haven’t fared well: the CNBC SPAC Post Deal Index has fallen over 60% in the past year.

Public ridesharing companies have been struggling as well. Lyft shares plummeted in November after the company reported worse-than-expected revenue and a slowing active user count, and the business announced the same month that it would be laying off 13% of its workforce.

Uber reported a third-quarter net loss of $1.2 billion in its third quarter, but the company has seen its stock price rise over the last month after beating analyst estimates and issuing strong fourth-quarter guidance.  Still, Uber’s stock is down more than 38% year-to-date even as the company has cited booming travel, easing lockdowns and shifts in consumer spending, and it shares remains well below their 2019 IPO price of $45.

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Elliot Kroo, CTO and co-founder of Getaround, told CNBC in May that recent increases in car prices led many people to use carsharing services as well as Uber and Lyft.

“What’s happening in transportation is a slow moving kind of shift from ownership to access, and that’s building momentum over time,” he said. “More and more people are looking at alternative transportation options, realizing that car ownership is very expensive.”

However, prices for both new and used cars have dropped from record highs, also putting pressure on online car dealer Carvana, which is reportedly facing bankruptcy risk or in the least a sharp rise in concerns among its creditors about the financial outlook.

Getaround had raised approximately $600 million in funding. Its financing, like many start-ups over the past decade, grew quickly, from a series C round in 2017 of $45 million to a series D in 2018 of $300 million, led by Softbank, a deal Toyota also took part in.

Amid the pandemic, when the company said its usage fell more than 75%, it raised $140 million from Reid Hoffman and Mark Pincus investment arm Reinvent Capital, among other new investors. 

In 2019, it spent $300 million to acquire Drivy, a carsharing platform in Europe.

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How the IPO market went from 'boom to bust'

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These two new Google Chrome features will help save battery life and speed up computer performance

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These two new Google Chrome features will help save battery life and speed up computer performance

The logo of Google Chrome shown on a smartphone.

Thomas Trutschel | Photothek via Getty Images

I currently have 47 tabs open on Google Chrome. If you’re like me, you’ll want to hear about a new update.

Over the next few weeks, Google is rolling out two Chrome performance settings to save memory and battery power. The update will be available for Windows, macOS and ChromeOS desktop users with the release of Chrome 108.

Here’s what’s coming and how to make sure you download the updates.

Energy Saver mode

Energy saver mode on Google Chrome.

Google

If you’re on a laptop and your battery level reaches 20%, Chrome will go into Energy Saver mode, which will prolong battery life. It will do this by limiting background activity and visual effects for websites that have complicated visuals, like animations and videos.

When the update is live, you’ll see a leaf icon on the top right hand corner of your browser that will allow you to activate Energy Saver mode. When your battery life hits that 20% threshold, Energy Saver mode will turn on automatically.

Memory Saver mode

Memory saver mode on Google Chrome.

Google

Google is also rolling out Memory Saver mode. This is for people who have a lot of tabs open at the same time. When Memory Saver mode is on, it prioritizes the tabs you’re actually using. Chrome will free up memory from the tabs you aren’t currently using, but the inactive tabs will reload for you when you need them.

Google says the new feature means Chrome will use up to 30% less memory to make for a smoother or faster browsing experience. When it’s in use, you’ll see an icon on the upper right hand corner of Chrome indicating how much space Memory Saver has freed up.

How to update your Chrome browser

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