Memory consumption and reclamation – Chrome vs. Firefox - Web Performance

Memory consumption and reclamation – Chrome vs. Firefox

I reboot my laptop as infrequently as possible – which means that I keep Firefox running for weeks without restarting. At least, I would prefer to. But the longer it runs, the more memory it gobbles. The only way to reclaim it is to restart.

So when I read about the tab-isolation feature in Googles new Chrome browser which uses a separate process for each tab, it peaked my interest. I installed Chrome and tried a very quick (and not very scientific) test, as described below.

Firefox had been open for a few days and currently had 8 tabs open. I am sure many tabs had been opened and closed in the time it had been running. It was consuming 138M of memory according to Task Manager.

I started Chrome and opened the same 8 URLs. Going back to Task Manager and adding up the memory usage of the 9 Chrome processes resulted in 152M consumed. I’m sure that closing and re-opening Firefox would have resulted in less that the 138M of RAM that I mentioned earlier. So, as many have predicted, the memory usage in Chrome is much higher than Firefox.

Next I tried closing 5 of the 8 tabs in Firefox. Memory consumption, as expected, barely moved – dropping only to 132M and reclaiming 4.3% of the total memory allocation. Closing the same 5 tabs in Chrome reduced memory usage to 86M – reclaiming 43% of the total memory used.

This is enough evidence for me to conclude that the tab/process isolation model would work well for my typical usage. I don’t envision abandoning Firefox (or the wealth of available plugins) anytime soon. But I’ll be keeping a close eye on the progress Google makes with Chrome.

I hope to find time for a more rigorous (and scientific) test in the future.


24 November 2008 Noman

I’m stating the obvious here, but why would you have to reboot your laptop to reclaim memory from Firefox? Simply exit and restart Firefox – I do it all the time.

Your first paragraph ends with “But the longer it (Firefox) runs, the more memory it gobbles. The only way to reclaim it is to reboot.” Stating that the longer Firefox runs, the more memory it gobbles is debatable but likely true for many if not most people.

However stating that “the only way to reclaim it (memory used by Firefox) is to reboot” is simply flat out wrong. Please correct your blog post – I’d hate to think that inexperienced users might stumble across your post and think they have to actually reboot their system just to free up memory used by Firefox (or almost any other application for that matter).

24 November 2008 chris

I believe that was a typo – it should have read ‘restart’ instead of ‘reboot’

That said, my experience has been that shutting down Firefox does not allow Windows to reclaim all the memory that Firefox consumed. Some things appear to stay resident. However, I did not specifically compare this aspect with Chrome.

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