Review Of Firefox, Chrome And IE Speed And Memory Usage

Testing Firefox RAM usage versus IE and Chrome – the results are surprising. Firefox used to have a reputation for being a memory hog, sucking up lots of RAM and not releasing it when tabs are closed.

Reports from the Firefox development team say they are working hard to make it use less memory – they obviously think it can do better but is Firefox currently more greedy for RAM than Chrome and IE?

We put all three browsers to the test on a Windows 7 system with 1GB of RAM – not everyone has 4GB and 1GB of RAM is the typical amount in XP systems (50% of the world’s computers) and new W7 netbooks and many unlucky Vista laptops. We wanted to see which browser is the slimmer of the year and which is the beached whale – so let the battle commence!

How We Tested – New installation of W7 with all updates and SP1 applied. Latest browser versions installed – Firefox 5, IE9 and Chrome 13. All browsers left at default settings – you shouldn’t have to be a tech guru to make a browser work properly!

Adobe Reader, Java and Adobe Flash Player installed as these are standard on most computers. Adobe’s Flash was disabled in Chrome (see our article on Shockwave Flash crashes in Chrome) to allow Chrome’s integrated plugin to handle Flash – the default. No other plugins, add-ons, themes or extensions were installed. Homepage was set to Google.

Test 1 – Open the browser (Google homepage only) and check RAM usage:

Chrome – 60 MB
IE – 62 MB
Firefox – 64 MB

Winner – Chrome, but too close for a meaningful result as only 4 MB difference between all three.

Test 2 – Open a sample set of 10 websites (same for all browsers, not multimedia rich sites) in separate tabs:

Firefox – 271 MB
IE9 – 307 MB
Chrome – 580 MB

Winner – Firefox. Used less RAM than the others, closely followed by IE. Chrome really did suck ;-) It sucked up more than twice the amount of RAM that Firefox did and almost double IE – a surprise to us as Chrome’s reputation was supposedly built on clever memory management. Chrome and Firefox were equally speedy in opening the tabs but IE struggled to render the pages and took an age longer than the others to finish.

Test 3 – Closed all 10 tabs, leaving just the Google homepage open:

IE – 123 MB
Chrome – 130 MB
Firefox – 145 MB

Winner – IE. Very close results which show how much RAM has not been freed up by the browsers – even after the 10 tabs are closed, they are all still using double the RAM they used at the start. Firefox came bottom but not by much – not nearly enough to warrant the term memory hog in our opinion.

Test 4 – Time to sort out the men from the boys! Open a different sample set of 10 websites in separate tabs. This time they were more multimedia rich so should use more RAM:

Firefox – 490 MB   Usable for browsing all 10 sites
IE – 545 MB   Very slow and almost unusable for browsing
Chrome – 600 MB   Very slow and almost unusable for browsing. Leaks memory like a sieve on video rich sites.

Winner – Firefox. The runaway winner, not only used much less RAM but also let us browse all 10 websites at a reasonable speed. IE and Chrome failed miserably on this test – not allowing us to actually browse the open tabs.

Test 5 – Closed all 10 tabs, leaving just the Google homepage open.

Firefox – 160 MB
IE – ??? Crashed when trying to close the last four tabs but automatically recovered the pages and allowed them to be closed
Chrome – ??? Crashed when trying to close the 10 tabs, could not be recovered and had to be shut down completely. So much for its vaunted system of running each tab in a separate process which is supposed to stop one tab crash from affecting the rest of Chrome itself…

We tested Chrome from scratch again and were able to close the tabs if we acted quickly – before it had drained too much RAM from the system. However, this is not acceptable as we wouldn’t have time to read the open tabs!

Winner – Firefox. The runaway winner again and the only browser that let us close all the tabs without crashing so we could continue browsing if required! IE crashed but did recover enough to allow us to close the final few tabs. Chrome failed miserably and in the end we had to close it.


Firefox – a runaway winner. Firefox was the only browser that actually completed our tests and it used the least RAM when multiple tabs were opened.

The only slight downside is that it didn’t free up quite as much RAM as the others in Test 3 (when tabs were closed) but the difference was minimal. If Firefox 7 improves that further we would expect it to sweep the board.

Highly recommended if you have less than 2 GB of RAM!

IE – a decent showing on the first 3 tests but was slow to display pages.

Badly let down in test 4 (like wading through treacle) and it crashed on test 5. It couldn’t cope with more than a handful of multimedia rich sites so we can’t recommend it.

Chrome – the biggest surprise here. We knew Firefox was good but we went into this with our eyes open and half expected the increasingly popular Chrome to blow it away – the results proved quite the opposite as Firefox (and even IE) trounced Chrome…

Chrome sucked up shockingly high amounts of RAM in Tests 2 and 4, was unusable after extended viewing of more than a handful of multimedia rich sites and it crashed so badly in Test 5 that we had to manually close it. An outright fail.

8 thoughts on “Review Of Firefox, Chrome And IE Speed And Memory Usage”

    • Not forgotten, just ignored ;-) Seriously though, Opera is a decent browser but in the interests of time (and reader’s patience) I had to stick with what are by far the 3 most popular browsers, maybe we’ll cover Opera next time

  1. Great Review!!

    I Face the exact same problem in my mom’s old pc. Firefox uses moderate ram but chrome crashes once you try to watch video’s in sites like youtube or as you said multimedia rich websites.I dont even click on IE anymore.. btw my mom’s pc has 1 gigs too……

    Anyway Thanks…!!

  2. Hi Anuja, since this review Firefox has moved from FF5 to FF8. FF7 in particular improved memory usage so we think it should score even better now :-)

    Ps If you find your laptop slow it’s likely due to only having 512MB of RAM (we guess you use XP?) – a modern web browser and antivirus on XP could easily use up all your free RAM and make it slow.

    We’d suggest taking a look at if you want to try and speed it up.

  3. Interesting review.
    I really liked it. I have a dual core pc.
    but my computer is an old Intel celeron with 512 mb of ram.
    And chrome seems to slow my laptop.
    I`m using Firefox. And according to your results i g think i made the right choise.

    • We made it clear in the article why we chose 1GB – over 60% of the world’s computers will have 1GB or less so it is a fairer way to review browsers than just assuming that everyone has a brand new powerhouse PC with 4 GB+

      We haven’t done a review with 3 or 4 GB of RAM because, with that amount to play with, RAM usage by browsers is of no concern.

      As for Chrome ‘winning’, in light browsing it used more RAM than both the others combined! And that bloated usage wouldn’t change even if you did have more RAM…

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