Posted 5 August 2018 by Brendan Kidwell

Speed up YouTube on a Slow Computer

My “daily driver” computer is an HP Stream 14" from 2017. It has GREAT battery life! — over 10 hours — the trade-off is that it's not nearly as fast as most current personal computers. This isn't a problem for most applications: LibreOffice works fine; Visual Studio Code works fine; Soylent News works fine.

But many mainstream web sites have had their client-side JavaScript load get fatter and fatter over the past few years. YouTube is one of the worst offenders I see in my own personal common usage; I subscribe to lots of series there. Let's see if we can speed it up!

This method is effective on a number of web sites because the designers often haven't bloated the “mobile” web page ghettos quite as much as the “desktop” pages. They assume a phone is about as fast as my own personal laptop.

YouTube has “m.youtube.com” but will not allow you to access it from a computer that looks like a laptop or desktop.

If you're using Google Chrome, Chromium, Iridium Browser or any other Chromium derivative, install the User-Agent Switcher for Chrome extension by Google.

ua-switcher.jpg

Once it's installed, right-click on the UA Switcher icon in your address toolbar () and choose Options. Go to Permanent Spoof List. Fill in

Domain youtube.com
User-Agent String iPad

and then click Add.

If you are using a Firefox-derived browser, something like this extension might work for you instead.

Now navigate to youtube.com and you'll be given the “mobile” site.

When I access a video page in YouTube without the method (but with my ad blocker turned on), it takes about 15 seconds for the page to get to “ready to play” state. Forcing “mobile” mode reduces this to about 7.5 seconds.

Another great way to speed up YouTube, if you have a number of series that you explicitly subscribe to, is to export your subscriptions to OPML and load them into an RSS/Atom feed reader and use that to view “what's new” instead of YouTube pages.

To start, you need a feed reader. If you don't have one installed, you can use Thunderbird which is Mozilla's Mail and Calendar application. It allows you to subscribe to RSS and Atom feeds as any other source of messages, but unfortunately Thunderbird can't sync the read/unread flags for feed items from one computer to another.

Other feed readers you might try include:

Tiny Tiny RSS
I highly recommend this, but you have to install it on your own web server.
Feedly
A free-to-get-started service with premium upgrades available. I haven't tried this but it might work for you.

Once you have your feed reader ready, go to your YouTube Subscription Manager, scroll to the bottom, and click Export subscriptions button. Download the OPML subscription list file, and then import that into your feed reader.

Now you can enjoy instant access to the list of recent items for every channel. And you can even re-arrange them into folders if you feed reader supports it – something YouTube doesn't support!

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