Best browsers for PC with 4GB RAM
In August 2017 suddenly I had to unpack my old laptop I had packed back and saved for emergency three years ago. It was just easier than installing on my desktop (with 16 GB RAM) and laptop (8 GB RAM) a virtual machine with only 4 GB.
The purpose was testing what browsers work best on the machine so short of RAM. Well, it’s me that upgrades his PC park rather frequently, but some may stick to the laptop they had bought long ago and set up as thoroughly as their house or car. But that doesn’t mean holding on to Windows XP or IE 7, with so much memory and so little RAM they need.
Me & My Browsers
In my years at the monitor, I have tried all the mainstream browsers. Like many others, I started with Internet Explorer (and yes, at that time I also played Minesweeper!), and a bit later found that it tastes better with Maxthon over it. Then, when finally I switched from a modem to DSL, but my data plan was still limited, it was the time to discover Opera with its traffic saving features. The next big thing for me was Firefox, but when its appetites grew dreadfully, after a little search, I went through Safari for Windows and Edge and settled down with Google Chrome.
The list hasn’t changed nowadays, all the browsers I mentioned are still around, except for IE, an old retired general replaced by Edge, but still hanging around in his uniform. And Safari for Windows — a miserable marooned castaway.
So, let’s try them.
To the test
OK, we suppose you’re not about testing the results in a sterile lab. You are just a casual user with some everyday tasks to do on your laptop. And what you really care about is a good performance on your PC with 4 GB RAM.
So let’s do the testing the following way. I start the browser with… how many tabs at once? Usually, the number for me is between 10 and 15, but sometimes we need more, so let it be 25 tabs. There’ll be three YouTube videos, five pages of CNN, NYT or Yahoo with rich multimedia, two Facebook pages, Twitter, and some Google and Bing searches, and some interesting pages I find in those. In browsers supporting extensions, I’ll turn all of them off. And then I’ll go to task manager and see how much memory it requires.
This kind of testing will be adequate enough to see how much memory each browser consumes in practical use. While testing there’ll be no other applications running (except for Microsoft Word necessary to type the review).
The rate will be based on memory usage and general user experience (subjective, of course). The values will be approximate because they constantly change while working. But, I guess, some 50 MB margin of error will not be critical.
It’s also worth noticing that all the browsers we list to display all the pages we encountered correctly and offer their interface available in most world’s languages. So it’s out of criteria; do you mind?
So, let’s play Hollywood and review our cast in order of appearance:
When I did this test in Opera, the total memory usage was about 1.4 GB (it’s hard to be more exact, because memory usage values constantly fluctuate for each page displayed as a separate process in Task Manager). It’s OK with 8 GB RAM or more, but for PCs only equipped with 4 GB, it might be too hard. And yes, it took noticeable seconds to switch between tabs, start videos on YouTube or news channels, or even scroll Facebook pages.
Yet Opera has more pros. It offers quick bookmarks page, built-in free VPN service, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger clients. You can sync your data on PC and mobile (Android/iOS) instances of Opera. Some loyal users have their bookmarks and passwords stored in Opera cloud, so I think Opera can be OK, if not overloaded.
Memory usage: 4
User experience: 4
One of the reasons I gave up Firefox was just its appetite: like some anti-virus programs, it just blocked any other activity on my computer. But since version 54 it has been reworked to reduce memory usage and accelerate page processing, so there’s only two Firefox processes (by default) in your task manager. So calculating its total memory consumption was the easiest. The consumption with about the same set was about 1.9 GB – much more than Opera but less than other browsers.
Firefox has a good set of pros: numerous extensions, cloud password storage, mobile version.
Memory usage: 4
User experience: 5
Well, it looked so light but turned out so heavy. 25 tabs opened in Microsoft Edge ate most of the free memory: about 2.5 GB. It seems the best appetite among the browsers I tried. But yes, this memory usage provides a smooth experience. And if you have these 2.5 GB, you can afford to settle down with Edge.
The trouble is you hardly can if you only have 4. We tested it with no other apps running, but what if you have to? If you don’t want to mess with third party browsers and tend to be glad about what you already have, Edge is much better than Internet Explorer; it even looks like a modern browser with tabs, visual bookmarks, integrated Bing search and extensions (not as numerous as Chrome’s, but still useful). And… if you’re on Windows 10, you already have it.
Memory usage: 2
User experience: 4
The 25 tabs I opened in Chrome took about 2.3 GB – nearly all the memory available (but still less than Edge took). Yes, the performance benefits from it. User experience in Chrome is much better than in Opera or Edge, the pages load much quicker, there’s no stuttering while playing videos, and Facebook, Twitter and news sites don’t take pauses to scroll down.
There’s more to Chrome than its quickness and unstoppable appetite. The browser supports a great lot of extensions, it uses screen space efficiently, it syncs with Google all the data an average user needs. It’s not a coincidence that Chrome is my default browser now, but, as I’ve said, my PCs have much more than 4 GB RAM. So I won’t recommend it for 4 GB computers. Unless you have a strong reason for it (like large bookmark and password base stored in it, or necessity to sync it to your mobile device).
Memory usage: 3
User experience: 5
Comparison and bottom line
I couldn’t help comparing my results to what other reviews say. It was no surprise to find that my conclusion is similar to what Ghacks found out.
Their tests confirmed that Chrome has the greatest appetite, Edge is a bit behind, Firefox is more moderate. Mozilla claims Firefox to use less memory than other browsers, though the test ignored Opera. There’s no reason not to trust these conclusions, as they almost coincide with my own impressions.
As for my conclusion, I’d recommend Opera as a default browser for PCs with 4 GB pool of RAM. The next best option is Firefox. Chrome and Edge are attractive, but you should have a serious reason to prefer any of them. And try not to deal with more than 10 tabs simultaneously if you want it smooth and productive.