Best Browser for Low Resource Computer

My wife and I keep a netbook in our living room for lightweight, everyday computing. It is used almost exclusively for checking email and general internet browsing. The specs on the netbook, like most netbooks, are not terribly impressive: 1.66 GHz CPU, 1 GB RAM. It’s been a good, little computer, but recently the performance has become a problem.

My wife and I both use Chrome as our primary browser. When I pick up the computer, and there are a bunch of tabs left open by my wife, I leave them open under the assumption that they were left open intentionally, and my wife gives me the same courtesy. I know that Chrome runs each tab as a separate process, and I suspected that the large number of tabs that were frequently open might have been causing our performance woes. I decided to do some resource testing with each of browsers installed on the netbook: Internet Explorer 9, Chrome, Firefox, and Safari.

For my test, I opened each browser with three tabs and browsed to my Gmail inbox with each. I wanted to see how many processes were created by doing this and how much total memory was used by each browser in doing so.

  • Chrome: 5 processes (for 3 tabs), ~40K memory each
  • Internet Explorer: 3 processes, ~30K memory each
  • Firefox: 1 process, ~115K memory
  • Safari: 2 processes (for 3 tabs), ~20K memory
    • …but also WebKit2WebProcess.exe: 1 process, ~120K memory

So, my hypothesis is that Chrome is actually the worst browser to use on a low resource machine since it spawns the most processes and uses the most memory per process. Internet Explorer and Firefox seem like they may be a push. My guess is that Firefox will outperform IE on a low-end machine since there is only a single process, but I have not tested this or even spent much time thinking about it. Safari seems like the wild card in the equation. It uses the least amount of memory per process, but it relies on the separate WebKit2WebProcess process which seemingly offsets the per-process memory savings.

This article seems to support my claim, stating that Firefox is the best choice for users with less than 2 GB of RAM. That article linked to another article on the same site about reducing Chrome’s memory usage, which would obviously improve Chrome’s performance on low-end hardware.


Author: Adam Prescott

I'm enthusiastic and passionate about creating intuitive, great-looking software. I strive to find the simplest solutions to complex problems, and I embrace agile principles and test-driven development.

2 thoughts on “Best Browser for Low Resource Computer”

  1. firefox is not a good option for netbooks with 1gb or less ram.
    there are niche browsers that will work faster and use less resources, but you have only tested three mainstream browsers. Had you chose to include slim browser, komodo dragon, k-meleon your experiment would yield different results. not a criticism, but you need to think out of the mainstream . it is too limited and narrow for the netbook user

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I retired my trusty netbook a while ago, but I definitely would’ve been interested in trying out some of the alternative browsers you’ve suggested here. At the time, I only looked at the mainstream browsers because those were the ones I knew about, and the brief research that I did didn’t reveal any prevalent options outside the “big four.”

      I’ll be sure to keep these in mind for the future, though!

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