There are in fact many web browsers out there, but the four that people have actually heard of are Windows Internet Exporer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Opera.
Before starting, yes there is such a thing as a web browser that hardly uses any memory at all, and that’s the text-based type like Lynx, elinks and so on for the Linux environment. People have a very difficult time using those (especially if they’ve used nothing but graphical browsers), but if you wanted to know which web browsers use the absolute least memory, there you go.
In this article I’ll cover IE and Firefox.
Internet Explorer 9
IE9 on a fresh install of Windows actually hardly uses any memory at all. Each tab is loaded as a separate iexplore.exe instance, and whenever one particular tab is really slowing down for whatever reason, close it; it’s as simple as that.
The main reason anyone has memory issues with IE9 has nothing to do with the browser and everything to do with what’s happening outside the browser.
Security suites that dig their claws into IE will slow it down to a crawl. Toolbars (and if you read my articles regularly, you know I hate browser toolbars) slow IE down to a crawl. Other apps that inject buttons and things of that sort into the browser slow it down to a crawl.
In other words, IE9 on its own is actually really quick if kept “bare”.
I’ll use my own IE9 setup as an example. When I go to the “Manage Add-ons” section of the browser, this is what I have:
The only thing I have listed in Toolbars and Extensions (for “currently loaded”) is the Java Helper, which is disabled. This doesn’t mean Java itself is disabled. It means that at no time any “Helper” app is going to “help” me with anything, because it’s simply not required.
I use a single search provider, DuckDuckGo, because it handles every type of search I would want. Auto-complete and search “suggestions” are turned off because that adds in needless waste of browser resource and bandwidth.
I find the Accelerators feature worthless, so I have none.
I also find Tracking Protection to be worthless because the way it works is a complete joke. It’s overcomplicated and requires way too much effort just to get working when other browsers do it with the check of a single checkbox.
Compared to most, my IE9 smokes theirs as far as speed is concerned because I keep the browser slim and as plugin/addon-free as possible.
Mozilla Firefox 13
Firefox, said very honestly, is a memory pig. It didn’t used to be, but now it is.
The latest version 13 I will admit has the best memory management I’ve seen since version 3.6, and that’s a very good improvement, but still, it’s a pig.
There is basically nothing you can do as far as in-app options are concerned to keep Firefox from being such a pig, but there is an add-on which definitely does help and that’s Memory Fox.
Memory Fox adds in a little “M” button (both at top and bottom of the browser usually) that you can click and enable to auto-”clean” the memory usage of the Firefox browser. Does it work? Yes it does.
The only tradeoff to Memory Fox is that it only affects Private Working Memory and not Committed Memory Size. And yes there’s a difference between the two. While the Private Working Memory is cleared, as long as Firefox is running the Committed Size does not change. Why? Because on the Windows platform, that’s the way apps work.
I’ll explain this in more plain terms.
You launch firefox and in short order it balloons to 400,000 K of memory used. Memory Fox detects this and slams it back down to a reasonable level (150,000 K or less). However, the committed size will stay at 400,000 K. It’s not being used, but that ‘cap’ was set. This means that yes, the browser will run better because it’s not using as much memory, but other apps will probably slow down since the committed memory size is so large for Firefox.
Here’s another example using the Task Manager in Windows with both Private Working Set Memory and Commit Size columns enabled:
The app shown, Opera, is using 73,308 K in working memory, but the committed memory size is 81,664 K. This means at some point Opera was using 81,664 K of memory, so Windows set that as the committed memory size. If I start closing tabs in Opera, the working memory goes down, but the committed size stays as-is until I actually close the app completely.
Concerning Firefox with the Memory Fox add-on loaded in, sure, the working memory is always kept at a low level, but the committed size will keep ballooning and you’ll still have to restart the browser to release that figure eventually.
If you’re still confused, I can’t explain it any better than that.
Chrome and Opera coming up in the next article.
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