Speeding up my Mac: Web Browsers and the RAM They Use

If speed’s what we want, why test RAM usage?

I’m interested in how all my apps perform, not just the web browser. The Mac is smart and will use every extra leftover bit of RAM to speed everything up.

RAM in computers is like kitchen counter space: the more space you have, the less shuffling around you need to do, and the more time you can spend cooking.

How I tested

I used my Mac running OS X 10.6.8 (Snow Leopard with all updates). Disabled all plugins in the browsers, and noted the Real Memory used by several browsers for typical usage. I double-checked the results by running each test on each browser twice.

Task 1: Startup the browser, go to reddit.com in one tab and stackoverflow.com in another.

Task 2: After finishing task 1, load three more typical sites I use: google mail, google docs, and washingtonpost.com.  Pull up a Wapo article and scroll through it.


Lower numbers are better.

Task 1 (MB) Task 2 (MB)        Versions (all are latest)
Raven 63.3 269.9 v. 0.6.11515 Beta
Opera 78.4 309.0 v. 11.52 build 1100
Safari 77.3 313.1 v. 5.1.1
Firefox 162.9 423.2 v. 8.0
Chrome 206.9 429.8 v. 15.0.874.120


What the numbers mean

Mac users who do the kind of web browsing I do can save 100 – 200 megabytes by choosing their web browser wisely. People can potentially save even more RAM, if these savings continue linearly with increased usage — e.g. 10 or 20 tabs open. The extra couple of hundred megabytes can make a big difference if the computer is doing other RAM-intensive work such as running a VM.

The browsers broke out into three groups, as I’ve shown in the table. Raven, the new browser for Mac deserves a serious look. They sponsor Dan Benjamin’s 5by5, which is how I heard about it. I’m going to start using it for daily tasks and see how it holds up. I’m also going to revisit Opera (I haven’t used this new version yet) and see how it is as a browser compared to Safari, against which it performed nearly identically.


  1. Mac web browsers that make spare use of webkit have similar results. Last yeare we released Rodeo App Maker (which makes standalone apps out of groups of pre-loaded URLs), and it gets results similar to Raven.

    1. robb says:

      That’s a really interesting app – I’ll check it out.

      After doing these tests, I used Raven for a while and noticed it had gotten up to 1 gig of RAM usage although it seemed to me there were only a few pages loaded. I’m not entirely sure I know how to use it yet, however: so I may have been unnecessarily creating and running separate “apps”.

  2. azulum says:

    two questions. is flash installed on your system? does safari hang and cause beachballs on you?

    in 10.7, safari has become increasingly unusable and i do not have flash installed. chrome runs fine even with its own instance of flash. raven runs fine too.

    1. robb says:

      Yep, I’ve got flash installed and Safari is very stable. Still on 10.6 because I don’t want to disturb my xcode environment.

  3. Thanks for this, I’m having terrible RAM trouble and Chrome isn’t helping matters. Going to try Raven now, never heard of it before. 😀

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