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Fast Firefox faceoff: Nightly vs. Pale Moon vs. Waterfox

Three unofficial Firefox variants take advantage of 64-bit processors and 64-bit version of Windows 7

By Howard Wen, Network World
February 13, 2012 08:08 AM ET

Network World - Although computers running the 64-bit version of Windows 7 have become more common, there aren't many Windows-compatible browsers compiled to run on 64-bit processors. (The exception for now has been Internet Explorer 9.)

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This includes Firefox. However, "official" is the key word since Mozilla has developed alpha versions of Firefox that support Windows 64-bit, and there are two other browsers built by independent developers based on Firefox's open-source code.

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We took a look at three Firefox variants made for 64-bit processor computers running a 64-bit version of Windows, giving each a series of tests to rate its speed and performance. (One caveat, Firefox Nightly releases a new version almost every day, so your results may vary.)

There are a lot of sites that purport to test the speed of a web browser (i.e. running it through a battery of tests to rate how quickly it can render images, run CSS, execute JavaScript, etc.). Because these three browsers are based on Firefox code, we tested them on Mozilla's own benchmark site, Kraken. You can read details at its official wiki. We ran the Kraken test three times -- twice in a row, the third after rebooting the computer -- and picked the lowest number result. (Under Kraken, the lower number is the better rating, representing the fastest performance.)

We also timed how long it took for each browser to cold-start after Windows was rebooted, and then checked its memory usage with just one blank tab open.

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We then timed how long it took to load and fully render the main page of our own site, www.networkworld.com, with the browser's history and cache cleared. (We did this three separate times.) We checked the memory usage of each with one tab open on networkworld.com.

None of the browsers had any extensions installed when we tested them. In the case of the second browser, Pale Moon comes with a built-in toolbar extension. It could not be uninstalled, but it could be disabled which we did prior to testing.

The system we tested these 64-bit browsers on was a Dell Inspiron 1440 notebook, running a 2.20GHz Pentium Dual-Core T4400, with 4GB RAM. The OS was Windows 7 Home Premium, 64-bit version.

If you decide to install any of these 64-bit browsers, we suggest you still keep the 32-bit version of Firefox on your system. Most of your favorite Firefox extensions should work under the 64-bit browser, but many media plug-ins which normally run on Firefox 32-bit may not work with these 64-bit counterparts. So you may want to install the 64-bit version of Flash. Otherwise, some Flash sites and media may not run when you use one of these 64-bit web browsers.

Firefox Nightly (Version 12.0a1, dated 1/28/2012)

Official website

Mozilla puts out a new 64-bit version of Firefox for Windows 64-bit almost every day...or night, as it were. These fall under the codename Nightly, which is Mozilla's designation for frequently released Firefox alphas. As of this writing, the version number of the Firefox code base which Nightly uses is 12.0. (By comparison, the official stable release of Firefox is 9.0.1.) Nightly browsers may include experimental features, but skirt the edge of stability since they are not fully tested.

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