How to Keep Your Browser from Hogging Resources

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I've finally had it! I've lived with this problem for so long now that I started to believe it always existed and nothing could be done. My system, a dual-core, 4GB monster of a machine, slows down to a crawl. I bring up the Windows Task Manager only to find that my browser is at fault. I use both Firefox and Internet Explorer, and they are both offenders, though Firefox is the one that seems to hog the most: slowly grabbing processor and memory resources until my work stalls. I then must stop the process and recover the browser so that I can begin again. Sound familiar?

There are all sorts of theories on which browser is better or faster, and depending on whom you trust, you will find a different winner. I personally don't care about the performance of each when I start the browser. After all, no matter which I choose, I end up in the same place: My browsing and computing experience slow to a crawl.

It doesn't seem to matter which method of RAM use a browser has. IE7 and Firefox both use a single process that hosts multiple tabs (as many as you can load up before it cracks under pressure). Chrome and IE8 use multiple processes (which take up more RAM than Firefox). But Firefox eats up your RAM over time by just sitting there. You can watch it rise and rise. I decided to find the solution -- and found none.

In my quest to eliminate the problem, I've come upon the following solutions -- none of which truly satisfies me:

  • Switch to a different browser. Which one? Internet Explorer 7/8, Firefox, Safari, Chrome -- they all perform poorly (although some worse than others) if the same amount of pressure is applied. After experiencing a Firefox crash, switching to Chrome or IE seems faster, but only because you had 50 tabs running in Firefox when it finally collapsed, and only a few in Chrome or IE when you switched in frustration. But if you put the same pressure on any of the browsers, you'll find that they all disappoint to some degree on processor and memory hoggishness.

  • Remove or update your plug-ins. A memory leak within a brower is something that you can't fix -- that's up to the browser's developers. But the cause could be some of your plug-ins, which you can do something about. You might remove ones that users don't require and make sure you have the latest versions of Flash and other add-ons that have become a staple in our browsing experience.

  • Close and reopen the browser. Although this is not the best solution, it is sometimes the only way to mitigate runaway browser memory hogs. Most browsers can recover your tabs if you have to close down or even kill the browser from the Task Manager. Users may think that they'll have the same problem once they've reopened their tabs, but the fact is that the problem is not the number of tabs open per se, but the memory usage that increases the longer those tabs are up.

I could just as easily advise adding more RAM (a nod to NT 4.0 certification exams) or not opening so many tabs -- but neither is a real solution to the underlying problem. So what can you do to blunt this hoggishness trend?

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