Internet Explorer may not be the world's coolest browser, but when it comes to memory usage, Microsofts browser is a veritable miser compared to the Firefox and Pale Moon browsers. Here's how to speed up your browsing and your PC.
There’s a non-violent arms race going on among PC makers and software developers. The PC guys make their systems beefier, the software guys make their stuff larger and more demanding of system resources. And that’s apparently what’s happening in the browser world, where some of my favorite browsers are becoming resource hogs.
As it happens, I have plenty of memory in my Windows 7 system, so I haven’t noticed much of a slowdown. But some readers have, and I decided to put a number of browsers to the test to see which ones are using more than their share of resources. And I must say, I was chagrined to note that my favorite, Pale Moon, an offshoot of Mozilla Firefox, gobbled memory as hungrily as a starving rabbit in a carrot patch, while Internet Explorer (believe it or not) was as thrifty with resources as could be.
Everyone’s system is a bit different, so if yours is slowing down, it’s worth performing this series of tests to see if your browser has too much appetite.
First close all of the open tabs in the browser you want to test. That’s important because different Web pages, depending on the content they display and how they’re coded, use different amounts of memory. If the browser requires one open tab, go to a page that doesn’t have flash widgets or video running.
Next open up the Windows Task Manager. In Windows 7 and Vista simply press alt-ctrl-delete, and select Start Task Manager. Then you go to the Process tab and sort by Image Name. When I did that, I found that Pale Moon is using 470,000K, or about 458MB, which is quite a lot. Chrome, by way of contrast, was 54,000K or almost 53MB. Firefox was using 128,000K, or 125MB and Internet Explorer used the least, just under 40,000K or 39MB.
There’s another issue here, and it’s pretty geeky. There are actually two types of memory: one is what the process or application is actually running, called “private” and the other is “committed” memory, which is the amount of memory reserved for the process by Windows. So if you do things to reduce the actual memory usage, like closing tabs, private memory will decrease and the browser will probably speed up. But since the amount of memory reserved is still high, other applications may still run slower. If you want to get even deeper into this is, here’s an article that will tickle your geek bone.
As I mentioned, many folks who have 4GB or more of memory in their systems probably won’t notice a slowdown. But if you have less, and your system is slowing down, try not to have too many tabs open at once. In Chrome, you can go to Tools and then Task Manager to see how much memory different tabs and extensions are using.
Firefox has a similar, but harder to understand function you’ll find by typing “About:Memory” into the address bar. If you see an extension or add-on that consistently uses tons of memory, disable it. There’s also a free Firefox extension called Memory Fox that helps keep memory usage under control. You can download it here.
And of course, closing and reopening the browser with all the tabs shut will release the memory and have you surfing at top speed once again.
A final note: Memory usage is far from the only factor determining how fast a browser runs, which is why memory hog Pale Moon, as I mentioned in a post earlier this year, is still faster than its close cousin, Firefox.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. His work appears regularly in CIO.com and the publications of Stanford's Graduate School of Business and the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. He welcomes your comments and suggestions.