Firefox 3.5 Is Faster

10/19/2009 UPDATE
Well a few months later and I just wanted to come back and update this post. I take back the “Faster Start and Close” claim and want to reinforce that Firefox is a memory hog. Firefox 3.5 is just as slow, if not slower, to start up and slow to close down than Firefox 3.0. Firefox 3.5 gobbles up memory so damn fast that I often hit 1 GB memory usage where it pretty much tops out and starts lagging like crazy because I only have 2 GB of RAM (ya know, 2 GB seemed like so much 2 years ago). And the firefox.exe process sometimes takes forever to terminate. Sometimes it even gets stuck and I have to end the process manually.

Now, I know it could just be (or probably is) the plugins I’m running hogging memory and generally slowing down Firefox startup/close. But I’m using the same plugins as I used with Firefox 3.0 and it wasn’t nearly this bad with the memory usage. I’m not sure how you’d go about getting 3rd party plugin developers to optimize their code, but it’s an issue. A browser should not eat up this much memory.

Yes, bookmarks are greatly improved and I like how they break down History by time period. I keep a 90-day history so it used to load my entire history on one screen – very slow, very bad – but not anymore. And yes the History and Bookmarks drop-down menus are much faster. But the “awesome bar” is slow as hell, presumably because it searching through my huge history and bookmarks collection. A lot of times it slows me down because I just want to enter in a URL quickly and I typically punch it very quickly. But it lags as it tries to autocomplete what I’m typing and actually slows me down.

I still feel the sticking point is how slow Firefox starts/closes and how much memory it uses. I periodically have to restart Firefox just to clear up memory. I don’t know how Chrome would fare when loaded with plugins, but if it were half as fast as Firefox is now, I’d probably switch. Unfortunately there really aren’t many plugins for Chrome. The bare-bones version of Chrome lightning fast though.


So I finally upgraded to Firefox 3.5 after the 3.5.2 update was released. I generally like to wait for additional point releases that fix bugs with the initial release. Anyway, 3.5 is definitely a lot faster than 3.0 performance-wise. Yes, the new/updated TraceMonkey and Gecko engines makes Javascript and page-loading faster (which is to be expected, otherwise why update), but I’m talking about general application performance.

Faster Bookmarks and History

I have a LOT of bookmarks meticulously organized into many folders and I keep a long history log (90 days). These 2 factors combined seemed to slow down Firefox 3.0 significantly whenever trying to view the History or Bookmarks menus. There would be significant and annoying lags when trying to open up those menus, especially the History menu. In 3.5, these menus now snap open immediately.

Faster Start and Close

I don’t know if it was due to the add-ons I run but my Firefox 3.0 start time was VERY slow. The bookmarks toolbar would also be slow and load up 1-2 seconds Firefox already loaded. This was probably because I have a ton of bookmarks in the bookmarks toolbar (also in many sub-folders). Now it loads up immediately. The firefox.exe process used to take a long time to terminate after I closed Firefox. The process could take up to 20 seconds to terminate sometimes. In both cases, 3.5 is much faster – it loads up faster and the process terminates much sooner.

Other Enhancements

I like that you can enlarge the small window that comes up when you bookmark a page using the star in the location bar. It makes on-the-fly bookmarking easier especially when you have a large bookmark collection. The ‘open new tab’ button right on the tab bar is also useful. I had added a button for this next to my home button and now I don’t need that anymore (actually I use Ctrl+T mostly these days). And that’s mostly it. I haven’t used Private Browsing yet because no one else uses my computer so I don’t really need that feature. I suppose it would be useful for computers that are shared by family members or something. As a web developer, I also like that link URL’s and image sources are clickable links when you View Source.

Still a Memory Hog

The one bad thing (and this has always been a Firefox problem) is that Firefox 3.5 seems to ramp up memory usage much faster than Firefox 3.0. But because things that used to lag are now much more responsive, this is a trade-off I can accept. Memory is cheap and computers now come with lots of memory, but I still don’t like that a web browser hits 300-400 MB memory usage so easily.

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