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Firefox 3 May Be More Memory Efficient Than Either IE or Opera 370

Edy52285 writes "Ars Technica has an article showing benchmarks pitting Firefox 3 Beta 4 against other browsers. Contenders include IE7, Firefox 2, Opera 9.5 Beta, and Safari 3.0.4 Beta. The piece includes a graph depicting FF3's memory usage well below that of the other browsers. The in-testing browser even trumps Opera, which has long been regarded as the fastest browser around."
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Firefox 3 May Be More Memory Efficient Than Either IE or Opera

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  • Scale? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by frp001 ( 227227 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @08:09AM (#22781706)
    I just love this when someone provides a graph without even a detailed scale!
    • by 3-State Bit ( 225583 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @09:02AM (#22782164)
      The drop-off you see near the end of the graph is where both versions of Firefox crash. I'm excited, because unlike the old version, this now actually really helps reduce its memory usage. []
      • by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @09:59AM (#22782678)
        While I know you were making a joke youre point was actually insightful. Namely the browser speed wars is something of a game of leapfrog. Any browser that is reasonably fast is a good browsers. But what matters is that the browser maker keeps the browser among the best at all time.

        That is to say if every 3 years browser X gets a big update and becomes the fastest for a few months and then gets severely eclipsed for 2 years. it's not the best browser.

        Speaking of Karma hell, a good example of this is Thunderbird email which occasionally shines but then goes and wnaders in the woods for years at a time
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Well fast is one thing, memory is another. I did notice that FF3b4 "seemed" faster when opening a new tab, but I think that's more of a Gecko performance thing (i.e. browsing the web isn't any faster but drawing window elements is, a bit).

          Anyway I always thought Firefox was fast enough. What I'm most surprised with (shocked, even) is the BIG leap in memory management, even from the last beta. Every release gets touted as being better at this, but this is the first time I'm really impressed with the steps
        • by whackco ( 599646 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @01:21PM (#22785036) Journal
          Ok, just because a program uses LESS memory doesn't make it faster or slower. In fact, the more memory it uses to cache more, the less disk thrashing generally, and the faster experience.

          This is also a common misconception in Vista's memory management. It fills the empty space in memory with things 'pre-fetched' for faster loading, etc. I like it, and it works well for me.

          Jezz Slashdot - I expected more from the worlds largest concentration of geek power.
  • by TripMaster Monkey ( 862126 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @08:09AM (#22781710)
    It's one thing to know that IE7 is a resource hog, but another thing entirely to view the graph in the article and be confronted with hard evidence of just how abysmal it is.

    I'm going to print out that graph and put it on my wall. Then, when my users come to me and ask why our enterprise isn't rolling out IE7 on our systems, I can just point to it.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @08:45AM (#22781986)

      It's one thing to know that IE7 is a resource hog, but another thing entirely to view the graph in the article and be confronted with hard evidence of just how abysmal it is.

      I'm going to print out that graph and put it on my wall. Then, when my users come to me and ask why our enterprise isn't rolling out IE7 on our systems, I can just point to it.
      As a web developer, I beg you, please install IE7 anyway. It's better standards support (far from being as good as gecko/webkit/khtml/opera, but still a massive improvement over IE6), support for alpha transparency, etc, makes things so much easier for us.
    • by Joebert ( 946227 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @08:47AM (#22782014) Homepage
      I bet you get at least one user who thinks they're smart trying to argue that even the poster on your wall says IE7 is better than the other browsers.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by drsmack1 ( 698392 )
      Along that vein; be advised that notepad has a VERY small footprint. I think it is safe to say you can omit and Microsoft Word from your roll out. I can make a graph for you to hang up on your wall!
    • by gravis777 ( 123605 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @10:03AM (#22782728)
      ,I am not exactly sure what this graph is showing. I have NEVER had IE7 take up 500 meg of Ram. Shoot, with multiple windows and videos open, I have never had it top 100. I am running it now in Vista, and it is using under 25 meg of ram. Firefox 2.0.12 is using 22 meg of Ram. Yeah, Firefox is using less, but I am seeing no where near the performance difference that they are showing on the graph. Maybe TFA might share some insight.

      During intensive browsing with approximately 50 tabs, I have found that Firefox 3 generally consumes less than half of the memory used by Firefox
      I have never had 50 tabs open at once. I think my limit has been around 20, but I usually do not average more than 5. 50, for real? Does not sound like a real world test to me.

      The memory benchmark, which uses the Talos framework and was conducted on Windows Vista, replicates real-world usage patterns by automatically cycling pages through browser windows and then closing them. Firefox 3 used less memory than Firefox 2, Internet Explorer, and Opera, and it also freed more memory than the other browsers when pages were closed. Safari 3 and Internet Explorer 8 could not be benchmarked because they crashed during the test.
      Once again, I have NEVER had IE7 use as much ram as they are claiming under Vista. I have to question the "replicates real-world usage patterns" thing.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by not flu ( 1169973 )

        I have never had 50 tabs open at once. I think my limit has been around 20, but I usually do not average more than 5. 50, for real? Does not sound like a real world test to me.

        200+ tabs in all windows combined is nothing unseen for me. I hate interrupting the flow of reading a page that has tons of links for example, so I open them all in new tabs (or windows) and check them out afterwards. Shoot, a gallery of images, waiting for each pic to load is going to take a couple of minutes total! Open them all up in new tabs, faster to switch between tabs than to wait for each of them to load in front of my eyes. 50 tabs is "light" usage to many users, such as myself.

    • That chart is odd... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by RingDev ( 879105 )
      Call it anecdotal evidence, but that chart doesn't represent my real world experience using IE7 and FF2. Both seem to top out at 200megs even with a bunch of tabs open and pandora streaming away. The big difference though, is that any time I minimize IE7, it's memory footprint drops to a fraction of that. Where as FF2, even when minimized, still sucks up all the memory it uses while active.

      In any case, I've never had a 500 meg IE7 session.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        You're right, it's anecdotal. Next time you minimise IE, check its VM size, not Mem usage.

        The chart was generated by running the same test, which may or may not measure your browsing habits, on all browsers and seeing how they reacted.

        As an Opera user, I am surprised, but hope that the release version of Opera 9.5x will be better than the beta with respect to this. The other thing is FF 3.0's Javascript speed, which has improved remarkably.

  • A Blessing! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ngarrang ( 1023425 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @08:10AM (#22781718) Journal
    Firefox 3 will certainly be a blessing to my company if this holds up through official release. My company is standardized on Firefox for all web browsing and intranet apps. Our PCs are not necessarily cutting edge technology filled with copious amounts of RAM. The average speed is 1GHz and 512Mb RAM running XP. Now if only all apps took the route of less/improved memory usage with each new version instead of the bloat I am suffering with Microsoft Word, Citrix, etc.
    • Re:A Blessing! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by twistedsymphony ( 956982 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @08:41AM (#22781948) Homepage
      This is one of the greatest selling points to open source software IMO.

      When you have a product like MS Office, every year that they release a new version they have to load it up with new features to encourage people to buy it, despite the fact that most users only use a fraction of the feature set and rarely need any of the new features the new version offers. This can be applied to most for profit software.

      When you have a product like Open Office it's being developed by people who are working more for their affinity for the software rather than a paycheck. The result here is that unneeded features are left out of the core application and once there is a solid interface and feature set they start turning towards making the product more stable and more efficient.

      Of course there are exceptions on both sides of the fence, but this is something I've noticed with most of the OSS that I use. By running nearly all OSS alternatives I'm able to use the latest versions of my most common apps on my old P3 733 laptop and it feels just as peppy as the high performance rig I use at work loaded with MS apps.
      • Re:A Blessing! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @09:01AM (#22782150)
        1) People may only use 20% of an application's functionality, but different people use a different 20%. So a competing application needs to implement at least 80% of the features to even get a look in.

        2) "Open Office" ... "a solid interface and feature set they start turning towards making the product more stable and more efficient". Open Office is nice, and it is free, but it's not a great overall example of a wonderful application :)

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      try AbiWord (, there's a windows version.

      course if you switch over to something like Ubuntu it would be even better, though I'd imagine that would be pretty tough to do at least until XP stops getting supported some year
    • by Inda ( 580031 )
      1ghz and 512mb RAM? You lucky, lucky...

      FF3b4 runs sweet on my P3 450 with 384mb SD RAM. Loading my dozen homepage tabs at start-up is a major improvement on FF2.
    • Re:A Blessing! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @09:28AM (#22782404) Homepage Journal
      I still find it scary that 1ghz and 512mb is considered low end for an office PC.
    • Re:A Blessing! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jlarocco ( 851450 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @09:36AM (#22782468) Homepage

      You do realize that Opera works wonderfully on PCs with specs even lower than that, right? Guess it doesn't help you much now, but you should be kicking yourself for the past.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by sznupi ( 719324 )
      With 1GHz I'd still choose Opera - definatelly feels _much_ more snappy with many tabs open.
  • by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @08:10AM (#22781720)
    Based on my experience with firefox 2 I would say that once you have a few plugins (cough: *adblock*) the graph will not be flat but will slowly increase. Not that this is the fault of the browser writers, but it will be many people's real world experience.
  • Out of curiosity, what's the dropoff and flatline near the end of both Firefox lines on the graph? Anyone know?

    Dan Aris

    • Re:Graph shape (Score:5, Informative)

      by savala ( 874118 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @08:16AM (#22781746)

      Out of curiosity, what's the dropoff and flatline near the end of both Firefox lines on the graph? Anyone know?

      From the original blog post []:

      For the results below we loaded 29 different web pages through 30 windows over 11 cycles (319 total page loads), always opening a new window for each page load (closing the oldest window alive once we hit 30 windows). At the end we close all the windows but one and let the browser sit for a few minutes so see if they will reclaim memory, clear short-term caches, etc.

      So that is all the memory being reclaimed upon closing all but one of the windows, and then doing nothing whatsoever.

      • Re:Graph shape (Score:5, Interesting)

        by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @08:33AM (#22781882) Journal
        Not a very realistic test, in that case, since most people tend to recycle browser windows. Adding in proper cleanup routines when the window is closed doesn't address this. That said, it's great that Gecko is trimming some of the fat. Hopefully it will start to be a competitor to WebKit in the mobile space soon.
    • by Chrisq ( 894406 )
      I would guess that this is when the tests completed. You'll notice that IE7 uses no more memory at that point and both firefoxes release memory. I am not sure why Opera appears to have a memory blip after that point.
  • I tried using Opera because it was significantly faster the FF, but the lack of extensions bugs me, and the widgets aren't anywhere near as useful. I love noScript, URLlink, and a couple of other FF extensions in particular.

    And yes, i know Opera can block javascript, but I dont like the implementation or how it handles it when compared to noScript. Im looking forward to getting FF3....but I also plan to stop updating Ubuntu on my laptop at 8.04 LTS (i have an older Thinkpad T40 thats starting to show its ag
    • You might not find it in the official repository, but I'd be surprised if it wouldn't compile from source for you. It's kind of a pain to get the hang of compiling it the first time around, but after that not too bad to tweak. I'm thinking the vanilla linux binary might do the trick for you as well.
      • Oh Im capable of that, but then I'd have to deal with the updates separately from the official system updates, which is something I 'm not sure I want to do. It's one of the reaons i prefer Debian and debian-based distros in the first place; Im lazy ;)
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by yamiyasha ( 1119417 )
      FF3 was in the latest Alpha Build of Ubuntu 8.04
  • Ok, so the Mozilla folks have succeeded in improving their browser's resource efficiency enough that it beats the competition on their own benchmark [].

    The more interesting question is of course whether the firebox beta also wins when other benchmarking tools including those produced by competiting browser developers are used.

  • by JonMartin ( 123209 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @08:17AM (#22781754) Homepage
    We've being peppered with articles about FF3 lately. Most have been fairly light on content but the consistent high praise (and personal experience using beta2) has made it clear to me that FF3 will be very, very good. I'm actually looking forward to the official release.

    Getting excited about a new version of a web browser: how 90's is that?
  • by alyawn ( 694153 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @08:35AM (#22781906)
    I think a much better test would be to see a single window with 30 tabs. I don't know anyone that would have 30 windows of a browser running. All this proves to me is that FF does a better job of sharing resources across instances. Does anyone use windows rather than tabs to manage their browsing?
    • by Arimus ( 198136 )
      Only when I want to be able to read two bug reports in Bgzilla- useful then to have them in two windows rather than tabs as I can compare the text...
  • From the graph in TFA it seems that IE tries to collect and use as many RAM as possible until there's no more, and begins using the swap file, while FF (of either version) humbly swaps in after a certain time. In that case FF is destined to die as a result of lacking of food in the ecosystem.

    And they are running the test in Windows. Who knows whether there's not an undocumented feature of IE which is telling it's O$ to swap *all* FF's RAM into disk? Or even freeing FF's memory? The predator always wins.

    • I recall Internet Explorer on Windows 95 doing the same thing -- eating all RAM until it started hitting swap. We had to run around editing Internet Options to limit RAM usage on each machine so that it wouldn't suck quite as badly. It is truly amazing that 12 years later it still works the same way. Microsoft will do almost anything -- indexing, "super" fetching, startup helpers, etc. -- to bog down the experience enough that you will want to upgrade to the next trap^H^H^H^Hversion.
    • Re:FF won't win (Score:5, Interesting)

      by denis-The-menace ( 471988 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @09:19AM (#22782328)
      And they are running the test in Windows? Who knows whether there's not an undocumented feature of IE which is telling it's O$ to swap *all* FF's RAM into disk? Or even freeing FF's memory? The predator always wins.

      MS has done something like this in the past and got caught. []
  • comes at a cost (Score:3, Insightful)

    by buddyglass ( 925859 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @08:39AM (#22781934)

    Can't remember where I read it, but I recently read a description of how they achieved some of this efficiency. Much of it has to do with using a different memory allocator which avoids fragmentation. That's good. However, a lot of it also comes from "expiring" cached data according to some time-based policy. That's probably a good idea too, but it's not a memory savings that can be considered "for free". You're actually expunging cached data from memory, which means you may have to reload it again later, and you're spending CPU cycles to enforce that policy. It probably requires minimal CPU to do that, but if they implement it via polling it could screw up the processor's ability to sleep, which in turn jacks up battery usage on laptops. Witness the recent effort on linux to get various apps to "fix" the way they behave in order to play better on laptops. This could end up being a regression in that area.

  • I've been using Firefox 3 on Linux since beta4 and I've been keeping up with the nightly builds, and I'm a bit surprised after reading all of these articles about its new found memory efficiency. It's definitely not what I'm seeing. In fact, it's markedly worse on my set up than Firefox 2.

    I've done everything I could think of to reduce its memory footprint and track down the problem. I've created a new profile, clean of extensions, modified certain about:config parameters such as "network.prefetch-next", "b
    • I agree. I use Firefox 2 on both windows vista and Linux (OpenSuse KDE). The memory issue isn't on windows as far I can see. The real issue is Firefox on Linux.
  • plugins (Score:5, Informative)

    by lseltzer ( 311306 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @08:50AM (#22782038)
    I've been using FF3 for months and it's definitely efficient with memory, but the graph doesn't reflect my own experience with IE7 and FF2. At the moment, for instance, on my XPSP2 system with both FF2 and IE7 running, probably for weeks, FF2 is using about 509MB and IE7 about 208MB.

    Perhaps some of the differences here have to do with plugins? There are still a bunch that don't work with FF3.
  • Threading (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Thaelon ( 250687 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @08:54AM (#22782080)
    But what about threading?

    I'm tired of every browser tab and window I have open locking up so Flash can render in one of the windows.

    Even IE doesn't do this!
  • Has anyone looked at the stats on apples site? []

    Doesn't it look odd, how the 1.5 seconds between safari and firefox is the same size as the 2 seconds between IE and Opera? And how the 1.0 second between firefox and opera is MUCH smaller than both?

    If apple can't get the graphs to be 'correct', how do we know that the browser speed test is any good?

    It is a good thing other people test these things ;)
  • Memory Leak? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by X3J11 ( 791922 )

    I used to hear from a buddy about how much he disliked Firefox because it was a memory pig, but never saw it myself until a few days ago. I'm not sure of the why or how, but after browsing [] for an hour or so, opening each deviation in a new tab, my system started crawling. Checking task manager I found Firefox to be using 1.7GB of memory. Closing every tab did nothing to release it, closing Firefox did.

  • It would have been nice if they had included a comparison against IE 6 as well. I know of several environments (mine included) where IE 6 is still considered the standard browser due to internal application incompatibility with FF or IE 7. The same goes for my previous place of employment. And I'm sure those two environments aren't the only ones, either. I would imagine that there are a lot of enterprise environments that are still stuck on IE 6 for one reason or another.
  • by xx01dk ( 191137 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @09:29AM (#22782412)
    So far with the beta. It may be purely subjective, but when I click the task bar icon, FF3 opens _instantly_ or near enough as I can tell. And I've been using FF2 since it's release.

    I also left a couple of browser windows open all night last night and was able to navigate pretty well this morning; if I'd done that with FF2 it would have been like viewing the web over dial-up again.

    I think what impressed me the most was the hassle-free install. I uninstalled FF2, thinking I was ready to start with a fresh browser, and to my complete surprise, FF3 installed with nearly the exact same settings as I had been using in FF2. With the exception of that pesky "home" button that I can't seem to get rid of (What, no right-click > delete option?) everything is exactly the same. I'm still trying to get used to the address bar that tries to predict what site you're looking for as well; I suspect that with some tweaking I'll be able to dial it in pretty well.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Kintanon ( 65528 )
      To remove the home button right click on Home, click Customize, then click on the Home button and Drag it into the big box of icon things that opens up.
      That will pull it off of the toolbar.
  • Safari 3 has been out of beta for some time now (3.1 came out today), so why use the beta version. Doesn't it go without saying that if they include all the debugging stuff in there that it will use more memory than the non-beta version? It's legitimate to use the beta version of FF3, since that's the thing you're talking about, but all the other browsers for comparison should be the latest release versions of the respective software.
  • by Niten ( 201835 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @10:04AM (#22782744)

    Reduced memory usage is great, but if you're more interested in speed you should take a look at Firefox 3b4's results on the Sunspider JavaScript benchmark, where testers commonly found that it performed twice as well as the latest Opera beta, and nearly three times as fast as Firefox 2 [].

    I haven't yet heard anything definitive about Gecko's performance in FF3 with respect to FF2 or the rendering engines in other major web browsers, but from my own experience with the betas I can subjectively say "it's fast"; if I'm missing out on speed using FF3b4 instead of the latest WebKit, I can't tell the difference myself.

    And Beta 4 is quite stable, to boot. Mozilla really pulled out all the stops on this one... unless you have incompatible extensions holding you back, do yourself a favor and upgrade now.

  • opera memory usage (Score:3, Insightful)

    by perlchild ( 582235 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @12:49PM (#22784632)
    While reducing wasted memory is a good thing(and memory leaks are worse). Opera's or Firefox's memory usage can include caching resources... Opera's been talked to as the "fastest" browser around, not the lightest... There's a difference, and I'm surprised so few people on Slashdot caught it.

    Having less memory leaks makes you faster, but being faster can happen using more memory.
  • by mxs ( 42717 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @12:58PM (#22784754)

    The in-testing browser even trumps Opera, which has long been regarded as the fastest browser around.
    And how does a smaller memory-footprint yield faster performance, EXACTLY ? The two are not necessarily related -- or even related in a way you might like. There are plenty of algorithms that sacrifice memory to become more speedy (and vice versa). The size of a memory-footprint of an application tells you exactly ... nothing ... about its speed, or its relative speed to other programs with different footprints.

    Quite honestly, I don't care about memory consumption so long as it remains reasonable. My Opera-process has been running for weeks with, at times, heavy usage (dozens of open windows, some with highly dynamic pages). It's been stable and quick throughout that time, and did not grow to a size where I'd have to wonder what the hell is causing swapping.
    Yes, you can crash Opera (often related to badly coded plugins), and yes, you can make it unresponsive. I found, however, that it's far easier to do that to Firefox than Opera, and that Opera has been consistently snappier. Maybe that'll change with FF3. Hopefully it will, competition in that arena is always good.

All Finagle Laws may be bypassed by learning the simple art of doing without thinking.