Time to take another look at Firefox

Time to take another look at Firefox

Summary: Remember when Firefox was slow and bloated, and Chrome was the slim browser of choice? Those days are over.


Users who stuck with Firefox, even when it viewed RAM as an infinite resource, have been rewarded for their stamina over the past few months as the browser has significantly reduced its footprint.

Thanks to Mozilla's MemShrink project, Firefox is once again safe to recommend to friends as a decent default browser.

With Firefox 18 arriving this week, it was a good opportunity to see how the memory usage of the different browsers stacked up.

Below is a screenshot of the memory usage of Firefox and Chromium on my Arch Linux box after loading an identical set of tabs. I used Chrome's about:memory page to see memory usage.

(Screenshot by Chris Duckett/ZDNet)


In the interest of not wanting to taint the results with freedom and open source, I conducted a similar test on Windows 8 because, sadly, browser vendors optimise their browsers much better for Windows than other platforms.

The set of tabs I loaded into each browser was Google+, Gmail, Google Drive and 5 open spreadsheets, Google Reader, and an Omniture statistics instance. There's a simple reason why I choose Google properties to test memory consumption — they like loading large amounts of JavaScript.

The three browsers tested were Chrome 24, Firefox 18, and IE 10.

memory usage2
(Screenshot by Chris Duckett/ZDNet)


While the margins between the results is not large and the test was only on 10 tabs, it's clear which browsers are better at memory management. Over the course of an hour or so, I watched Firefox and Chrome saving memory here and there, often being neck and neck, or a slight edge to Firefox, while in IE's case, more RAM was consumed as time went on — a small leak must have been in there somewhere.

I don't think the memory difference is enough for Chrome users to down tools and move over to Firefox immediately. There's still the issue of raw performance itself. As arewefastyet.com shows, Firefox still lags behind the WebKit browser on JavaScript benchmarks (Firefox 18 has a new JavaScript engine, which is the purple line on the linked graphs).

But no longer should Firefox be regarded as an application with an insatiable appetite for memory.

If you dumped Firefox in the past for the pastures of Chrome, take the latest version for a spin, you may find yourself liking it again.

Topics: Software, Google, Microsoft, Open Source


Chris started his journalistic adventure in 2006 as the Editor of Builder AU after originally joining CBS as a programmer. After a Canadian sojourn, he returned in 2011 as the Editor of TechRepublic Australia, and is now the Australian Editor of ZDNet.

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  • Firefox suffers from frequent FlashPlayer hickups.

    Chrome is pretty much immune and automatically gets the latest version.
    • so true

      but that is adobe's fault and not mozilla's
    • not my experience

      I had to uninstall Chrome because of intractable Flash problems (as well as an intermittent startup issue I could never solve). Have changed to Firefox and now have a stable and reliable browser. Pity, still prefer the look and feel of Chrome.
      • I have not done that yet but I have

        a lot of issues with Chrome and flash
      • Chrome didbn't work well for me, either.

        Tried Chrome briefly and experienced a lot of flaky behavior on numerous sites. Having copious amounts of RAM in my machine, I just went right back to Firefox. It has improved a lot recently and I've always been pretty happy with it. Sadly, they keep mucking with the default interface. When I get a major new version, I sometimes have to redo the interface back to the way I'm accustomed to using it. It's a hassle, but not a big one.

        Regarding IE? It's been at least 6 years since I tried any version of IE. I understand it's much better than it once was, but I just have no desire to switch to Microsoft's new vision of user interfaces. Their UI design people are morons these days.
    • My experience has been horrible with Chrome and Flash

      It's horrible and slow and crashes or I get the sick tab icon and "wait or kill" message, most of the time it appears to be flash. So Chrome seems to suffer from Flash as well.
    • I find Chrome is worse

      Chrome can't play Flash at all: it crashes.
      Stephan Sevenyoln
    • Firefox FlashGate Problem

      I can't take it anymore. I love Firefox but now on Firefox 18 with the new Update to Flash it just crashes every single time or just more often.

      I have Chrome and IE10 and use them both but dislike Chrome for other reasons because I don't like to support Google.

      I am starting to love IE10 but still I find myself going back to Firefox for that smooth experience with browsing. I have to admit if they can someone figure out this mess.

      I have to start my Blame on Firefox because the other Browsers don't have this problem (maybe because it is embedded, don't know?). Come on I don't care about RAM usage because I have 8 GB. I hope Firefox works hard on this problem.
      • Flashblock

        Takes care of all the Flash spyware and adware ... and you can whitelist websites that actually need flash.

        I haven't had a flash related issue since I installed Flashblock.
        • Remember NoScript

          Remember, NoScript also blocks flash. Mozilla reccomends you disable FlashBlock if using NoScript, as pages will load painfully slow, since they are both trying to do the same job!
  • Firefox works great, no problems

    Running on multiple OS's and computers (i3,i5 and 8 core) with no problems.
  • FF + Noscript + Adblock

    Best browser bar none.
    Alan Smithie
    • Depends...

      ...how much one wants to play with NoScript. I don't mind but my wife does.
      John L. Ries
    • Disable flashblock

      If you have NoScript installed, disable FlashBlock, OR disable blocking flash on NoScript. They do the same job. Massive conflicts in the latest versions. (2013)
      Adblock and Adblock plus also cause slowdowns, especailly with NoScript installed. That's not to say they aren't nice extensions, and quite useful, but depending on what configuration your Firefox is you may get massive lag.
  • no shocker

    IE takes up the most memory. Not surprising. I would have bet on IE.
    • IE has lowest memory not highest

      The chart clearly shows IE (64bit) wins by a landslide, how can you think 7,800k is more than 457,312k ?
      Capt Obvious
      • Erm, you might want to think that again

        IE 32bit + 64bit libraries while running the 32bit version, you need to add the two together.
        Alan Smithie
  • IE

    I'll stick with IE, thanks.
    • Really?

      I'd bet Ballmer doesn't even stick with IE.
      • And I think you'd be wrong

        One of the things MS does right is dogfooding.
        John L. Ries