My Shockingly Un-scientific Study of Chrome and Firefox

So a new Firefox version came out a few weeks ago. Everyone’s been claiming that it’s super fast and has overcome it’s sluggish past. There’s even been some journalists saying it’s faster as less resource heavy than Chrome. I wanted to find out for myself, so I did a few tests.

Everything in this study was performed on the same 2016 Macbook Air (8GB), and on the same WiFi network, in the same geographical space (my desk). Chrome is updated to version 62.0.3202.94 (Official Build) (64-bit), and Firefox is at 57.0 (64-bit).

With that out of the way, let’s get into it.

Opening GitLab

Why browser is slower at opening GitLab? Pretty simple question really. I want to know if Firefox takes longer to fully load a GitLab page than Chrome. I’d noticed Firefox lagging a little bit when trying to open some GitLab pages, and thought I’d test it.

So I open Firefox, went to GitLab.com, signed in, clicked on a repo, clicked on a folder inside that repo, and finally clicked on a file inside that folder inside that repo. At each step I took a screenshot of the network console to get the load times and download sizes of each page.

I then did the exact same with Chrome. I also disabled all extentions in both browsers, and cleared the caches.

I was going to run this test in private mode, but I thought that wouldn’t actually give the results I’m looking for, since I want to know which browser is faster in everyday use.

Results

Page Chrome Firefox
Home Requested: 89
Transfered: 1.7MB
Finished: 3.46s
DOM: 1.76s
Load: 2.40s
Requested: 49
Transfered: 2.57MB / 1.56MB
Finished: 3.79s
DOM: 2.19s
Load: 2.02s
Login Requested: 31
Transfered: 802KB
Finished: 1.76s
DOM: 1.17s
Load: 1.69s
Requested: 23
Transfered: 3.88MB / 792.21KB
Finished: 1.98s
DOM: 1.01
Load: 1.71s
Dashboard Requested: 15
Transfered: 153KB
Finished: 1.73s
DOM: 0.754s
Load: 1.25s
Requested: 14
Transfered: 2.92MB / 189.41KB
Finished: 2.35s
DOM: 1.49s
Load: 1.57s
Repo Requested: 18
Transfered: 153KB
Finished: 2.13s
DOM: 1.38s
Load: 1.38s
Requested: 15
Transfered: 2.92MB / 155.08KB
Finished: 2.78s
DOM: 1.70s
Load: 1.78s
Folder Requested: 16
Transfered: 49KB
Finished: 1.44s
DOM: 1.02s
Load: 1.13s
Requested: 12
Transfered: 2.86MB / 86.47KB
Finished: 1.53s
DOM: 1.09s
Load: 1.16s
File Requested: 16
Transfered: 3.1MB
Finished: 3.21s
DOM: 1.11s
Load: 1.10s
Requested: 13
Transfered: 5.97MB / 3.18MB
Finished: 3.57s
DOM: 1.17s
Load: 1.24s

Man, these results are pretty mad. Firefox was pulling ahead for the first couple of pages, but then it looks like Chrome’s aggressive caching helped it’s load speeds catch up!

What I’m finding a bit odd is how the requests and transfers are complelely different between browsers, and that Firefox consistently requests less documents from Gitlab than Chrome does.

Memory Usage

So for this I again cleared the caches for both browsers, and opened the exact same pages in the exact same order, all the while recording the total memory usage of each browser in Activity Monitor (essentially Task Manager for OSX).

And before you ask, no I wasn’t running any Electron based applications. The only other applications I have running are a VPN client, iTunes, and Sublime.

Single Tab Results

I’m going to start things off with just the standard blank page that both Chrome and Firefox offer. This way we’ve got a benchmark for what the browsers look like when nothing’s going on.

Page Chrome Firefox
Idle Benchmark 147.8MB 220.9MB
Home 179MB 267.2MB
Login 241.2MB 383.9MB
Dashboard 177.3MB 358.2MB
Repo 196.2MB 401.4MB
Folder 154.8MB 422MB
File 193.2MB 488.7MB

Well this is interesting, Firefox clearly uses more RAM than Chrome. I’m now starting to think that I might be adding this up wrong, or not taking something into account. Saying that, this is only with one tab open. I’ve heard that Chrome likes to open up multiple instances of itself for each tab.

Multiple Tabs Results

This time I’m gonna see what the results are like when six tabs are open. I could open more, but I very rarely go past six, as I like to use the CMD + 1:6 hotkeys to switch quickly. And in the interest of keeping this interesting, I’ll open a few different types of web pages:

  1. This Reddit post about the new Marvel trailer
  2. This /r/webdev post about some random guy’s client
  3. TheDeMocracy’s Dark Souls 3 Speedrun Walkthrough
  4. Evan Yeung’s Terminal Slack Github repo
  5. My Backup & Restore repo for DKAN
  6. My Gmail inbox

Again, I won’t have any Electron based programs open to give Chrome a fair change. I’m not going to bother clearing the caches again, can’t really see any point since both browsers have visit the exact same sites. Once all the tabs are open I’ll take three screenshots of activity monitor ten seconds appart, and then average the results together.

I used GitHub instead of GitLab so that there won’t be much interfence in the way of caching. Also, this way you guys can all play-along at home!

Page Chrome Firefox
Idle Benchmark 136.7MB 255MB
First 806.6MB 885.5MB
Second 777.6MB 1073.4MB
Third 752.2MB 927.1MB
Average (without benchmark) 778.8MB 962MB

Yet again, Chrome comes out on top! Clearly I’ve been reading to wrong articles about the browser wars!

Coolest Loading Icons

It’s Firefox. There’s no point debating it.

Firefox Loading Icon

Conclusion

So at the start of this article, I was sure that using Firefox was the best move. That I was saving my poor little 8GB of RAM from the monolith that is Google Chrome. But clearly I’m mistaken! According to these results, Firefox is the behemoth I should be avoiding.

The main benefit of using Firefox however, is that all my data doesn’t get fed off to Google! But I also like having a system that runs nice and smooth. Time to pick a side I guess.

Again, keep in mind that I’m not a data scientist or a network tech. I’m just a guy with too much free time.