Skip navigation

Is IE8 really fat and slow?

In sharp contrast to certain dimwitted bloggers out there, no one can ever accuse Ed Bott of "false misunderstanding." The guy grabs on to a topic and shakes it until it squeaks, and for this reason, he'll always be the voice of reason in our industry. The topic du jour: Reports that IE 8 is slow and a memory hog. Take it away, Ed:

Two criticisms have come up repeatedly that can be measured empirically, so I thought I would do that here. One is the burning question of whether IE8 is faster or slower than its competitors; the other is whether it makes reasonable use of system resources.

A series of independent tests performed by PC World, which concluded that IE8 really is faster than Firefox ... On the other hand, the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg reached the opposite conclusion in his review ... I was baffled by Mossberg’s results. [As was I, sort of. I mean, it's Mossberg. --Paul] When I tried the same tests on several PCs here with IE8, Firefox 3.0.7, and Google Chrome, I got the same results as PC World. In general, all pages loaded so quickly in all three browsers that detecting any difference with a stopwatch was nearly impossible.

Ed highlights an amazing potential fix for people who are experiencing trouble with IE performance. Check out his post for that fix. As for RAM usage...

Microsoft’s browser using more RAM than its rivals. Are those reports true? The answer, it turns out, is a qualified yes.

Firefox and IE7 use a single process that hosts as many tabs as the system can stand. That means the browser and its supporting files only have to be loaded once, and each tab can share those resources. That explains why Firefox and IE7 are so sparing with memory usage.

Unfortunately, the side effect of that single-process model is that one crashed tab can bring down the entire browser. To work around this major annoyance, IE8 and Chrome use multiple processes.

Tab isolation requires more memory, whether you use IE8 or Chrome. If you’re bound and determined to use less RAM, use Firefox – and pray that you don’t have a crash.

I would just add one point here. Application memory consumption is not an issue on modern Windows versions unless that app slowly eats up RAM over time for no reason (Firefox, cough) or doesn't give up the memory when you close the application. Folks, memory is cheap. And let's be honest: Tab isolation/recovery is more than a fair tradeoff for some RAM consumption. And how much RAM are we talking, exactly? In Ed's test, he loaded up 12 tabs. That takes up just 256 MB of RAM on a 4 GB system. Come on.

As always, the truth is so much less sensational then the headlines (and reports) that Ed is skewering here.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.