HOWTO: Speed Up Your Browser!

Category: Browsers

When it seems like Web pages are “taking forever” to display, most people assume the problem is a slow computer or flaky Internet connection. But often, it’s a Web browser that is performing sluggishly. A little maintenance can speed things up. Here is how browsers bog down and some practical tips for restoring the pop to your page loads...

Slow Browsing? Here's Help.

Several factors can contribute to poor performance when browsing the Web. If you've already read my articles on how to speed up Windows, and tips to measure or improve your Internet speeds (see sidebar below), then we can focus on your Web browser, whether it's Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Firefox, or Opera.

Let's start with memory. Like any other program, a browser needs enough working memory (physical RAM) to do its job without constantly swapping data to and from the virtual memory pool on your hard drive. Close unnecessary programs while using your browser, to free up RAM and minimize disk-swapping.

Speed Up Your Browser

If your system is short on RAM, consider adding more. I recommend a minimum of 4GB of RAM for most users. My article How to Upgrade Memory to Boost Performance will show you how to find out how much RAM memory you have now, and how to easily add more.

Some browsers need more working RAM than others; Internet Explorer and Google Chrome are notorious RAM hogs, especially if you keep more than 5 tabs open. Opera and Firefox have made some big strides in recent years on conserving RAM. If you typically surf with just 1 or 2 tabs open, it won't matter much which browser you use. But if you like to have 5, 10 or 20 tabs open at once, switching to Firefox will make a difference.

RAM “cleaners” and “optimizers” are often recommended to free up idle RAM, defragment RAM, and generally make the most of available RAM. Such utilities may be marginally effective on older PCs running Windows 98, XP, or Vista, but Windows 7 and 8 have very good memory management modules. Third-party utilities don’t make an improvement that’s worth their extra overhead and the complexity they add to your system, in my opinion.

Can I Get an Extension?

See my related articles Speeding Up Windows, Measuring Your Internet Speed, and Speed Up Your Internet Connection for some additional tips on improving your top speed on the Information Superhighway.

Browser extensions, plugins, and add-ons of all kinds can hog RAM and waste processor cycles, slowing down the rendering of Web pages. Toolbars are the first things to get rid of; most are unnecessary and they often report your Web activities to their creators. Browser extensions also tend to accumulate and persist long after you have stopped using them. Review your list of extensions and delete those you don’t regularly use. Here's how:

Chrome: Click the options button (three horizontal bars on the top right of the browser window), the Settings, then Extensions. A new tab will open and show all your browser extensions. From there, you can disable or remove any of them. ALSO, Chrome's built-in Task Manager is a useful tool to see how much memory and CPU each of your add-ons and open tabs are using. Press Shift-Esc to open the Task Manager

Firefox: Click the options button (three horizontal bars on the top right of the browser window), then Addons. A new tab will open and show your browser extensions. From there, you can disable or remove any of them with just one or two clicks. You'll also need to click the Appearance, Plugins, and Services tabs on the left side of the screen to check for unwanted items in each of those categories.

Internet Explorer: Click the gear icon (on the top right of the browser window), then Manage Add-ons. A popup will open and show your browser extensions. Right-click an entry in the list to disable it.

Cache, History and Other Factors

Emptying your browser’s cache of locally stored Web content can speed things up, even though the purpose of caching locally is to speed things up. A lot of files that get cached are used infrequently; their presence just gives the browser more files to sort through when searching for a cached copy of requested content, and that slows things down. Caching made a big difference back in the days of dial-up modems when Internet speeds were measured in kilobits per second. It makes far less sense now if your average download speed is 25 or 50 megabits per second.

Regularly clearing the browsing history will help keep it filled mostly with frequently-visited URLs. You don’t have to remember to clear cache and history. Most browsers have a setting that does one or both each time you close a browser, so you always start it up with a clean slate.

The home page that your browser opens automatically each time it starts may be slowing you down. If it’s a “content-rich” page full of video or audio files or lots of little images and frames, it can take quite a while to load every time you start your browser or hit the “Home” button. Consider switching to a simple, fast-loading home page (I prefer or none at all.

Every request for a Web page requires multiple DNS lookups, so the speed of your DNS service is a critical factor in browser performance. My article, Speed Up Web Surfing With Alternate DNS explains how to find the best alternate DNS service for your system; how DNS works; and identifies some reputable, reliable alternate DNS services.

And that brings me to one final point. Most of the time when browsing seems slow for me, the problem isn't my computer, my connection, or my browser. It's the website on the other end of the wire. If you're trying to access a popular website, or download the latest version of a hot program at the same time as 100,000 other people, you'll probably have a frustrating experience. Unless a website is built to handle massive spikes in traffic, it will slow to a crawl as it tries to give each user a tiny slice of attention.

But following the steps I've outlined here are still a good idea, to ensure that nothing under your control is slowing you down online. Your thoughts on this topic, and other browser speedup tips are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "HOWTO: Speed Up Your Browser!"

Posted by:

23 Sep 2014

In "HOWTO: Speed Up Your Browswer", you state that picking the three VERTICAL on the firefox screen will give you the options screen. My version has three HORIZONTAL bars. ??

EDITOR'S NOTE: Ooops, horizontal is correct! Fixed now.

Posted by:

Mary Ann
23 Sep 2014

I've had a new Win7 computer for 5 months. Yahoo has always been my home page and, at first, the browser opened immediately.

Now the browser takes a couple of seconds and sometimes more to open.
I have FF Ad Blocker and Yahoo Mail ad blocker.
I run Avast and MBAM scans often.

Why is my browser so slow to open? Could it be the DSL connection?

Posted by:

Bill, Edmonton, Alberta
23 Sep 2014

Firefox has been my browser of choice for years.

But even with the latest version, I do not find it easy on memory. With 20 or fewer pages open, its memory usage as displayed by Task Manager creeps up to 2 GB or more. Most days I have to stop & restart it at least once to reduce its footprint and to speed it up.

Also, when it gets up to 2 GB, it stops responding and Task Manager shows it is using 33% CPU. Even waiting some time for it to settle down often doesn't help, so I usually just end it via Task Manager.

Posted by:

23 Sep 2014

To find relevant links to add to my website, I do repeated Google searches, yielding many hundreds of hits. Links that I have previously visited show up in a different color, so I can quickly scan to find those that I haven't checked before.
Will clearing the browsing history remove that indispensable color difference? (That worry makes me hesitant to do any cleaning.)

EDITOR'S NOTE: Yes, clearing the history will have the effect you mention.

Posted by:

23 Sep 2014

The latest version of Opera is a big memory hog. I don't know how you came to your conclusion that it isn't, but I suggest you check it out again.

Posted by:

23 Sep 2014

If 20 tabs open in Chrome leads to a slower experience does using Chrome's "one tab" have any improvement?

Posted by:

Jay Bingham
24 Sep 2014

I have another suggestion for the homepage in Firefox, the 'new tab'. Since changing my home page to it Firefox startup speed has improved greatly, while it may not be as fast at the about blank page it is more useful.

Posted by:

Robert Kemper
24 Sep 2014

Thanks for all of your suggestions for speading up
my browser. It came at just the right time, and
proved to be very effective.Thanks Bob.

Posted by:

25 Sep 2014

Love when you give good suggestions, Bob!!! For Chrome users, it really is so simple, to clean out your browser cache.

Simply, click on the 3 horizontal bars, at the upper right hand corner ... A drop-down menu will appear, select History ... A new tab will open, with your History listings on this page. At the top, of the listing, you will see Clear Browser Data ... Click on that button, then select from the drop-down menu ... "the beginning of time." This will completely, clear out your history cache and will definitely, increase your browser speed.

The great thing about doing all of this, is it can be done, so quickly, especially, when your browser slows down to a crawl. I love that, I can easily access my browsing cache, to clear the data and speed up, my browsing.

Yes, Toolbars are totally useless, my my opinion. However, Extensions or Add-Ons tend to be important, as long as we only use those that protect our computers, not just for convenience. I have my Avast "Web Shield", which scans websites, for potential problems or malware ... Then, I have Ad-Block. I know, you need your ads, to keep your websites free. Ad-Block is so easy to "disable" on certain web pages and I do that.

I also, have a Spell-Check program, as one of my Extensions. I desperately, need this one, since, I am not a good speller, at all!!! This one, doesn't change any of my words, just highlights the misspelled ones. Then, I have my Last Pass Extension. Can't tell you, how many times, this program has helped me, when I can't remember my password!!! I also, have the Heart Bleeding Extension, one of the ones, that you recommended, again, for protection of my computer.

Keeping your Extensions in Chrome, to a minimum is just as important, for Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera and Safari browsers, too.

Posted by:

26 Sep 2014

I have recently been plagued by unpredictable, spontaneous screen freezing. All my security programs are up-to-date. My only course of action is to totally shut down and then restart. Alt|Ctrl|Del has no effect. When I restart everything seems to work o.k. I am unable to associate the freezeup with any particular program or action on my part. Is there anything I can do to remedy this problem without having to go through safe mode and/or delete or remove each program one at a time (by the time I would get through with that, even computers will be obsolete).

Thank you.

Posted by:

27 Oct 2014

Clearing the cache and history in Chrome is indeed very easy. But why hasn't Google added a feature to do this automatically when you shut the browser down? An extension for that would be very useful.

Thanx Bob

Posted by:

27 Oct 2014

This is one of the most basics bits of knowledge everyone should get when using a computer, so they can make good use of it. Thanks.

Posted by:

30 Oct 2014

You can also speed up browsing by clicking on the wheel in the upper right corner of IE. Click on Internet Options, click on Security, click on Trusted Sites, add the website. This worked on my wife's computer because Yahoo took a long time to load. After I followed those steps Yahoo loads much faster.

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