Firefox 7: Better Memory Management, Meh Performance (Review)

Firefox 7: Better Memory Management, Meh Performance (Review)

Summary: The next version of Firefox is out, and while it's not that fast, it is an improvement on the last release of this popular, open-source Web browser.

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TOPICS: Browser
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I was hoping that Mozilla would do a better job with Firefox 7 than it had with the rather disappointing Firefox 6. They have. While it's not as good as Google's latest Chrome 14 Web browser, it is better. The real question: "Is it good enough?"

Well, let's start with the good news. Firefox's biggest problem over the years has been that it's been a memory hog. The longer you run Firefox, the more memory it eats up. If, like me, you left Firefox on for days and with multiple tabs you could actually lock a computer up just with Firefox alone. That, I'm happy to say, they've made a lot better.

According to Mozilla, Firefox's parent organization, "Firefox 7 now uses much less memory than previous versions: often 20% to 30% less, and sometimes as much as 50% less. This means that Firefox and the websites you use will be snappier, more responsive, and suffer fewer pauses. It also means that Firefox is less likely to crash or abort due to running out of memory." This is especially true if you're running Firefox on Windows.

This is the result of a concerted effort by Firefox's developers called MemShrink. This is a project that aims to reduce Firefox's memory consumption by using more space-efficient data structures and eliminating memory leaks, bad memory caching and memory fragmentation.

So does it work? To find out, I ran some memory use tests using first Firefox 6 and then Firefox 7. For these tests, I used my Gateway DX4710 Windows 7 SP1 test box. This PC is powered by a 2.5-GHz Intel Core 2 Quad processor and has 6GBs of RAM and an Intel GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) 3100 for graphics. It's hooked to the Internet via a Netgear Gigabit Ethernet switch, which, in turn, is hooked up to a 60Mbps (Megabit per second) cable Internet connection.

I then pointing the Web browsers to my iGoogle (http://www.google.com/ig) page. IGoogle is a dynamically updated landing page. Over a day of otherwise sitting idle on this page I found that Firefox 7 had used 23% less RAM than its Firefox 6 sibling. Hurray! More memory management work needs to be done, but it's still a lot better than it was.

Download.com: Firefox 7

Firefox 7 also has several other significant changes. One that I'd encourage Firefox users to use is Telemetry. This opt-in system anonymous reports on your memory usage, CPU core count, cycle collection times, and startup speed. The laudable idea behind the program is to enable Firefox programmers To control this option, which is off by default, head to Options, Advanced, and look to the Submit Performance Data box at the bottom of the General tab.

A minor change, and one that I'm not too crazy about, is that Firefox now hides the 'http://' prefix in URLs by default. As someone's who always copying and pasting URL addresses, that's annoying. Anyone who writes a blog or copies and pastes Web addresses into social networks will also find it vexing. Some blog and networks can render URLs properly without "http://" as part of the address, but a lot can't.

On the more positive side, Facebook's built-in and encrypted bookmark and password saver, Firefox Sync is working much faster. You'll barely notice it keeping your passwords and bookmarks in sync between your PCs, laptops, and mobile devices.

I've also been pleased to see that Firefox is getting along better with my systems. I run Firefox on Windows 7, XP, several Linux distributions, and Mac OS X Snow Leopard and Lion. Unlike Firefox 6, I haven't seen it hang up yet.

That was all the good news, now for the rest: Firefox's performance continues to lag the best.

Some things are better though. For example, Firefox 7 scored a perfect 100 on the Acid 3 compatibility test. This test checks how well a browser complies with various Web standards such as CSS, JavaScript, and Extensible Markup Language (XML), Firefox had a score of 97. Chrome had a perfect score of 100, and IE 9 had a 95.

On the HTML5 Test, which checks to see how compliant the Web browser is with the HTML5 Web page standard, Firefox 7 once more came in with a score of 313 points out of a possible 450. Chrome 14, however, did even better with a score of 341. IE brought up the rear with 130 points.

Moving on to performance, I then tried the browsers out on Mozilla's JavaScript Kraken 1.1 benchmark. In Kraken, lower scores are better. Here, Firefox 7 was far better than Firefox 6. Firefox 7 came in with a score of 6792.9ms compared to Firefox 6's 7588.2ms. That was a lot better than IE 9 with its horrible 17,051.9.ms But, Chrome 14 left Firefox in the dust as well with its 4578.5ms.

On Google's JavaScript V8 Benchmark Suite, where higher scores are better, Firefox again turned in a poor score. This time it came in at 3,775 compared to Chrome 14's 7,591. IE once more limped into last place with its score of 2,193.

The new Peacekeeper Web browser test suite is a work in progress. It now checks on HTML5 compatibility, video codec support and other Web browser features, but it's still only scoring JavaScript performance. Once more, higher scores are better and Firefox joins IE in the dog-house. Firefox 7 came in just ahead of IE, 1,699 to 1,626. Chrome? Chrome scored almost double Firefox with 3,166.

As for SunSpider 0.9.1, the original JavaScript Web benchmark, where lower results are better, Firefox shows OK with 303.5ms, but both Chrome 14 with 249.9ms and IE 9 with 252.6 are better still.

So, bottom line, Firefox 7 is the best Firefox I've seen in some time. The Firefox development team has done some great work under the hood. That said, Firefox 7's still no where near fast enough to tempt me away from Chrome as my main Web browser. Sorry guys, better luck next release.

Related Stories:

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Mozilla attempts to appease enterprise users with talk of 42-week Firefox release cycle

Google Chrome Web Browser to get a makeover

Chrome 14: The best Web browser keeps getting better (Review)

Firefox 6: A Firefox too far? (Review)

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30 comments
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  • RE: Firefox 7: Better Memory Management, Meh Performance (Review)

    I did a clean install of FF 7 the other day. It used more memory on 2 different computers than previous versions, coming in at 400mb - 500mb and would severely slowdown or lock up after a few hours. Although since doing the 7.0.1 update its been running fine all day today. Despite this, I still choose Firefox over Chrome for the privacy, security, and add-ons.
    LoverockDavidson_-24231404894599612871915491754222
    • RE: Firefox 7: Better Memory Management, Meh Performance (Review)

      @LoverockDavidson_
      They HAVE to let the browser eat more RAM to make it faster. The competition is fierce these days and nobody wants to use a slug!
      Mikael_z
      • RE: Firefox 7: Better Memory Management, Meh Performance (Review)

        @Mikael_z Considering Firefox is still a slug sometimes, I don't think they're succeeding.
        CobraA1
      • RE: Firefox 7: Better Memory Management, Meh Performance (Review)

        @CobraA1
        Don't know what you're talking about.
        I tested FF6, Chrome and Safari on the Sunspider javascript benchmark and let's say the difference was miniscule, roughly 190 ms each on my Mac with an Intel core i7. Displaying pages is at about the same speed too.
        So speed isn't important when choosing among these three.
        Mikael_z
  • RE: Firefox 7: Better Memory Management, Meh Performance (Review)

    Wow, for once Loverock is not jocking!
    Anyway, Chrome is a fine browser, but as long as they have no review process of their extensions- it is not a serious contender for 1st place. They also have to fix their memory management. It is far from great.
    kirovs@...
    • RE: Firefox 7: Better Memory Management, Meh Performance (Review)

      @kirovs@...
      yea, Chrome is a fine browser, but as long as they have no review process of their extensions- it is not a serious contender for 1st place.
      contatorelaxamento
  • Teh outrageouz!

    nt
    Dietrich T. Schmitz *Your
  • RE: Firefox 7: Better Memory Management, Meh Performance (Review)

    How old of Acid3 results are you using? Acid3 has been officially changed such that now IE gets 100/100.

    Plus, read these sentence a few times and see if they make any sense to you: "For example, Firefox 7 scored a perfect 100 on the Acid 3 compatibility test. This test checks how well a browser complies with various Web standards such as CSS, JavaScript, and Extensible Markup Language (XML), Firefox had a score of 97."

    Looks like you're just copying and pasting erroneous information from previous articles...
    PB_z
  • RE: Firefox 7: Better Memory Management, Meh Performance (Review)

    a more thorough browser comparrison (since you are only trying to make firefox look worse than chrome): http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/firefox-7-web-browser,3037.html

    oh, and when you copy the url it automatically adds http:// so first try the feature before you criticize it
    aardmaat
    • RE: Firefox 7: Better Memory Management, Meh Performance (Review)

      @aardmaat Thanks, I was a bit upset about the http:// thing until you pointed out that it is copied.
      adinas
    • RE: Firefox 7: Better Memory Management, Meh Performance (Review)

      @aardmaat Thanks for posting this; I was just about to as well! Firefox squeaks by Chrome to take first place for the first time!
      jgm@...
    • RE: Firefox 7: Better Memory Management, Meh Performance (Review)

      @aardmaat To do that, he would actually have to USE Firefox. How about comparing things like extensibility, and ability to customize the interface, where Firefox stands alone.
      rphunter42
  • RE: Firefox 7: Better Memory Management, Meh Performance (Review)

    Just got the Firefox 8 beta.
    bannedagain
  • Meh review

    You're only using Windows 7 SP1 as your test platform. Just because Chrome gets the fastest scores on that particular platform doesn't automatically imply that the browser is fastest on every OS platform. In my case, I use Ubuntu 11.04 as my main OS and on this machine, a 3GHz AMD dual core, Chrome comes in dead last on SunSpider....as usual.

    The SunSpider tests I did just now gave this result -
    Firefox 7 - 259.0ms +/- 1.4%
    Opera 11.51 - 296.1ms +/- 1.1%
    [b]Chrome 14 - 336.2ms +/- 1.7%[/b]

    SunSpider is the only test I pay any attention to because it's the only one whose findings correlate with my daily browsing experience. None of those other tests actually measures the things that matter the most to everyday people when it comes to using a browser.

    For instance, none of them will tell you that Firefox renders pages more reliably than Chrome does. If you open 40 pages in Chrome and the same 40 pages in Firefox, Firefox will render each and every page perfectly every time, while Chrome might not, causing you to have to refresh a few tabs. I've also found that Firefox loads pictures in web pages noticeably faster than Chrome does. These things matter more to my browsing experience than which browser has new HTML5 features that may or may not ever reach the final draft of HTML5.
    eMJayy
  • Restore http in FF Address bar

    I found this article.
    Show http:// protocol in URL bar for Firefox 7+
    http://jj.isgeek.net/2011/08/show-http-protocol-in-url-bar-for-firefox-7/

    about:config
    browser.urlbar.trimURLs
    Change value to false

    It worked for me. :)
    lehnerus2000
  • RE: Firefox 7: Better Memory Management, Meh Performance (Review)

    I still think ZDNet's choice of HTML5 test suites is totally bogus.

    I want a [b]****PURE****[/b] HTML 5 test suite, not a "HTML 5 + a dozen other things we think are cool" test suite. And I want one that tries to be comprehensive, not one that picks and chooses favorites.
    CobraA1
  • Meaningless synthetic benchmarks

    nt
    laxmanb
  • RE: Firefox 7: Better Memory Management, Meh Performance (Review)

    After all, chrome is built over firefox.

    Additionally, I hate chrome's wipe-out when you reload the god darn pages. Hurt's your eyes, especially when you sit late night.
    GxGaNi
  • RE: Firefox 7: Better Memory Management, Meh Performance (Review)

    0945 156,000k. Twelve hours later 176,000k.
    Not bad.
    MoeFugger
  • RE: Firefox 7: Better Memory Management, Meh Performance (Review)

    Realistically, with a PC say less than 3 years old, is the average user going to notice any difference in speed? IMHO stability, security, site compatibility and ability to install and run the add ons you want are the most important issues to the average punter (geeks aside). As an "average punter", I'm with Opera now - love the default "speed dial" page, and since I rediscovered Opera (version 11), very "site compatible" too.
    yuhu_sam