Dear Need for Speed,
That’s the trouble with browsers these days — everyone argues over a few seconds of startup and rendering time, but eventually everyone winds up complaining about how slow they get with regular use. Everyone has their favourite, but since we’re not talking about any specific browser, here are a few suggestions to speed up any browser that’s gotten bogged down over time.
Uninstall Unnecessary Extensions
Regardless of the browser you use, there are likely some extensions running in the background that you’ve kept as the browser has updated that you no longer need. The folks at the Mozilla Foundation are so convinced that old extensions are the reason behind poor experiences with Firefox that they’ve dedicated an entire page to calling out browsers that haven’t updated their code for new versions. For example, FastestFox, a Firefox extension meant to speed up Firefox, is actually one of the browser’s top-five slow performing add-ons. Chrome Extensions are no exception to this rule either. Even if they’re helpful, they can often be the culprit when it comes to a slow browsing experience.
One of the best ways to speed up a bogged down browser is to take a hard look at the extensions you have installed and uninstall the ones that you don’t need anymore. Also, check to see if newer extensions exist that perform the same functions as the older ones that, while not broken, also haven’t been updated for a long time. For example, when I discovered that the author of one of my favourite mouse gestures extensions for Firefox, Mozgest, flat-out refused to support or update for any version higher than 3.6, the community stepped in and updated the code for him to support new versions. Unfortunately, the extension got slower and slower, and even though it was useful, there are other extensions and developers willing to keep their code up to date. Look around, you might be surprised.
Uninstall/Reinstall Flash and Java
For many people, especially those with iOS devices, living without Adobe Flash isn’t such a far-fetched idea. You still need it for a number of sites, specifically sites that don’t have mobile equivalents and require you navigate the site using Flash, but if you can get away with uninstalling it entirely and browsing without it, your browsing experience will be smoother. Google Chrome has Flash under the hood without you having to install a plug-in, which helps with stability, but you can still get a speedier browsing experience by disabling the Flash plugin. If you don’t want to live in a Flash-less world, consider at least uninstalling Adobe Flash entirely and then re-installing the most recent and up-to-date version. You’ll get the benefit of having the latest version, as well as the one with all the most recent security updates.
Java is the same way — unfortunately it’s not as obvious when you need it and when you don’t, so it’s harder to enable when you want it and disable any other time, but Java is well known for leaving copies of itself lying around your Mac or Windows PC, updating frequently without removing old versions or files, and slowing your system to a crawl when in heavy use. At the very least, consider using a program like previously mentioned JavaRa to remove previous versions and clean up the mess it leaves behind.
Delete Browsing History/Caches/Personal Data
This is an old tip, but a good one — there’s no real replacement for just cleaning out your browser’s cache and all of the data that it’s been keeping about you to speed it up. Plus, if you’ve never cleaned that data up, now is a good time to do it anyway.
In Firefox, you can clean up your personal data in the Firefox menu, under Options (Windows) or Preferences (Mac OS.) Click the Privacy tab to clear your recent history, cookies, or other browsing data. In Google Chrome, click the wrench in the toolbar and open the Options menu (Windows) or Preferences menu (Mac OS,) then click “Under the Hood” to see the buttons to “Clear Browsing Data”.
Once it’s all clean, you might consider reducing the duration between automatic cleanings by telling Firefox for example to only accept third-party cookies until you close the browser, or only save your history for a day instead of a week or month.
Change Your DNS Servers
DNS is like the phone book of the internet, translating the web addresses and URLs that you type into the menu bar into the IP addresses of the servers where the sites you want or information you need resides. If you’re like most people, the DNS servers your computer speaks to every time you type in a web address or click on a link belong to your ISP, and are set up automatically when you connect to the internet. However, those servers may not be the fastest, especially when compared with other DNS services like Google’s free DNS and OpenDNS.
Namebench is a utility we’ve mentioned before that lets you compare how each of those DNS services, including your ISP’s DNS, perform from your computer. Just install the app, and run it from your computer. You’ll see the DNS servers you’re connected to, and which ones are most responsive from your location. The service will even suggest how you should configure them on your system, in order of overall speed. (Remember though that if you don’t use your ISP’s DNS, you won’t be able to take advantage of unmetered content.)
Work with Multiple Browsers
If all else fails, consider using different browsers for different tasks. If you love your Firefox extensions and want to continue using them, but Flash video stutters and stops frequently in Firefox, consider using Chrome for your Flash-related needs and Firefox for other tasks. If you love Chrome’s speed but find your app tabs crash all of the time, consider using Firefox just for those web apps and Chrome for your other browsing.
Go out on a limb and install Opera or Safari and give them a try for a little variety, and more importantly to keep some of your most resource intensive tasks isolated from the other things you want to do in your browser. That way your web surfing won’t get bogged down because Flash is slowly crashing in a tab you left open a while ago, or because your app tab isn’t refreshing as cleanly as it should.
Hopefully those are a few ideas that will help you speed up any browser, regardless of the one you choose to use. Plus, none of our suggestions involve installing something like an extension or plug-in that promises to give you speed back in exchange for the resources it uses. Remember, if all else fails, it might just be time to back up your data or profile and reinstall your browser to make it feel like new. Good luck!
PS: What are some of your favourite ways to speed up your browser, whatever browser you may use? Share your tips in the comments below.