Tuesday December 28, 2004
Optimizing a System for Mozilla Firefox
Computer software just keeps getting faster and Mozilla Firefox is no exception. This handy how-to guide will help you take advantages of this amazing piece of software.
First, you should build, or update your computer system. Memory is the single most important thing you'll need as Firefox leaks faster than a RealAudio server with a 1,000 listeners. I recommend 128 megs of RAM to start with for the operating system, plus 128 megs of RAM to launch Firefix plus 64 megs for each day Firefix is left open (or 32 megs a day if you don't actually open additional pages in the browser but instead just consult pages you've already opened). For example, most users will need a gigabyte of RAM to maintain responsiveness in Firefox for a week. Twice as much virtual memory is needed, but as Mozilla accesses even leaked pages frequently, performance rapidly degrades if more than 30% of Mozilla's memory has been swapped to disc. A 1ghz CPU is recommened, but with ample RAM, even an 800mhz can display Web pages marked up in the HTML hypertext language at a rate of about one page every 5 or 10 minutes.
Second, taking full advantage of the performance gains present in Firefox will require some changes to how you use your computer. Extreme swapping and pathological response times will result if you attempt to use a single computer for additional applications beyond Firefox. As Firefox gobbles up all available memory and steals pages to waste faster than normal software can even use the pages, even when running light-weight programs like bash, vi, ircII, vncviewer, and xclock are out of the question. Instead, Firefox should be allocated a dedicated box.
There! Now you've managed to make an epic resource pig run with some semblence of speed. It's nearly as fast as Netscape 1.1 on a 386! Though before you spend too much money on new hardware to run Firefox, realize that the old Netscape 1.1 bug where the browser will spiral out of control and consume all available CPU still exists in Netscape's descendant, Mozilla, 10 years later. And if you're thinking of switching to Konqourer, it's just big of a pig - and the eye candy isn't completely redone each version.
Remarkably, the old pros (such as those who feverously and irrationally defend crappy software by repeatedly inventing their own yard sticks) have been following these rules all along without thought - throwing memory at Firefox and avoiding running multiple applications to minimize Firefox's swapping. But don't reach for that --enable-gc option to ./configure just yet - besides never building cleanly, Mozilla only uses HP's gc library to find and report on its memory leaks - it won't actually reclaim memory. That might slow things down, after all.