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Firefox, the memory monster

Alex Christie

11 September 2009

I have been using Mozilla Firefox since early 2004, and I am only one of the hoardes of users complaining that it is getting slower and slower with every big release. Even though the Mozilla “release notes” states that they have fixed THE memory leak, it seems that fix opens a new leak somewhere else.

I did a fair bit of research the last few days, and some of the answers Mozilla provides to the memory leaks is that it’s down to the extensions and themes users download and then install. Fair point, however this is where I differ from Mozilla.

I have Firefox 3.5.2(the latest version) installed on my laptop, and I also have Firefox 2.0.0.14 installed on a Virtual machine backup of my laptop from June 2008. I managed to downgrade the extensions and plugins I have for my latest version of Firefox to be similiar to the version I have on my virtual machine.

I did a test where I used Firefox 3.5.2 for an hour, writing down the sites I visited, these were the general news sites, facebook, twitter, and checking internet email. I managed to get Firefox to use ~137MB of memory. When I did the same exercise with the older version of Firefox, I managed to use ~98MB of memory. That’s a 39MB difference!

However, not just Firefox is to blame. IE8(the new browser from Microsoft) is using about twice as much memory resources, and this is very alarming. What if a user only had 1GB of memory available to him? Mozilla has an answer for this too. They tell us that the more memory a pc/laptop have, the more memory resources the browser will use, as it’s primary goal is to make your browsing smoother and faster. Maybe a valid answer, but the problem still remain with how you use the browser.

I do have some tips on how to make your browser use minimal memory, and avoid those dreadful memory leaks.

  1. Limit the amount of themes or extensions you use. If your browser seems to be getting slower, try removing the latest extensions you have downloaded to see if the browser performance improves.
  2. Do not open numerous tabs. Use only the amount of tabs you REALLY need. There is no use in opening 20 tabs, or duplicate tabs, if in the end you will only use 5 of them, due to the other pages you opened being irrelevant.
  3. Update your browser only if you have too. Going for a newer version of the browser won’t always make your problem go away. First read the release notes or do research on the latest version, before you install it. You won’t just go buy the latest VW Golf, unless you are sure what it has to offer!
  4. Turn off Auto Update. Disabling the auto-update feature could lead to improved loading time. For disabling update go to Tools  –> Options  –>  Advanced  –> Update, and uncheck all the selections and click OK.
  5. Use the search bar on the right. Use the search bar on the right hand side of the top bar. You can modify this search bar to use your favourite search engine, by clicking on the logo on the left, and selecting “Manage Search Engines”.
Tags: Firefox
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