Firefox 54 promises massive speed increase and less RAM usage with multi-process architecture

Bradley Wint
Jun 15, 2017 4:19pm AST
Photo: Mozilla

“The Best Firefox Ever” is what Mozilla is calling their latest stable browser release.

54 versions later and they’ve finally introduced a multi-process architecture which promises a massive jump in speed with much less memory usage. The new feature has been one of the most looked-forward to changes as previous builds ran all multiple tabs under a single process.

This means that sites that ran a lot of front end Javascript could easily create runaway memory leaks, bogging down the browser and system’s performance.

The change to a multi-process architecture was thanks to their ‘Electrolysis’ project.

“We named our project to split Firefox into multiple processes ‘Electrolysis ’ (or E10s) after the chemical process that divides water into its core elements. E10s is the largest change to Firefox code in our history. And today we’re launching our next big phase of the E10s initiative.

“With today’s release, Firefox uses up to four processes to run web page content across all open tabs. This means that a heavy, complex web page in one tab has a much lower impact on the responsiveness and speed in other tabs. By separating the tabs into separate processes, we make better use of the hardware on your computer, so Firefox can deliver you more of the web you love, with less waiting.”

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The developers opted to use a maximum of four separate processes as it forms a “just right” balance between speed and memory consumption. Using more processes could result in too much system resources being tied up in the name of being fast. As more tabs are opened, they would share resources with one of those four containers.

There’s even a very detailed blog post about how Mozilla achieved this, and how they were able to outperform other browsers in their performance tests.

One key takeaway from this update is that Chrome uses a separate content process and engine for each website instance (and even sub elements per page), but Firefox reuses processes and engines to limit memory usage. This means that with Chrome, running many “heavy” websites split across many tabs could result in your system coming to a grinding halt.

According to Mozilla’s tests, Chrome used 1.77 times more memory than the 64-bit version of Firefox and 2.44 times more than the 32-bit equivalent on a Windows 10 machine.

The end for Chrome?

Ehhh not so fast. In the real world, it appears that Firefox is indeed performing much better than before, but users have not been able to confirm any major improvements over Chrome just yet.

As a Firefox user myself, I’ve seen my memory consumption go down from an average of 900MB to 500MB (combined), with heavy pages no longer freezing those tabs. However, Chrome still does a much better job in terms of memory usage, running at just 250MB on average with around 5-6 tabs open at the same time.

However I noticed that the longer you leave tabs running in Chrome, things suddenly start to get top heavy, with many more processes being spawned.

I must say though, the difference is felt and I’ll continue testing it out to see how it performs in the long run.

Now that version 54 is out, hopefully an independent study can be done to prove which browser handles memory better over time.

Add-ons can prevent you from experiencing multi-process instances

Downloading Firefox 54 simply isn’t enough to experience the change as incompatible add-ons can prevent the function from being enabled. This is so as those add-ons can cause severe memory bloating.

If you want to check out whether your browser’s multiprocess feature is enabled, type ‘about:support’ (without the apostrophes) into your address bar and press the Enter key.

The Multiprocess Windows field should say 1/1. If it says 0/1, it will also tell you why it’s being disabled (for instance being disabled as a result of compatibility settings or incompatible add-ons). I was forced to individually disable and enable each add-on to determine which was compatible or not.

Thanfully, most of the popular options work with the multi-process feature.

If you want to force-enable this option, check out this detailed guide.

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