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

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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.) We took a look at three unofficial 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.)

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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.) We took a look at three unofficial 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.)

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Firefox Nightly

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. Because it's updated almost daily, expect Nightly's stability to be volatile - one day it could work great for you, but the next day after you update it with the latest release, it may not (until maybe the next day after you update it again...).

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Nightly performance results

Kraken benchmark result: 5844.7 milliseconds

Time to load from cold start: 4.5 seconds

Memory usage with one blank tab open: 48MB

Time to open CWUK: 5.8 seconds

Memory usage with one tab open: 96MB

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Pale Moon

Pale Moon comes from a developer who has been creating builds of Firefox and other Mozilla programs - Thunderbird and SeaMonkey - optimised for specific processors ever since Firefox was at Version 1.5. His 64-bit Firefox for Windows 64-bit is based on the Firefox 9.0.1 code base, which is the stable version officially released by Mozilla for Firefox 32-bit. A benefit of Pale Moon is that it keeps to itself - it functions separately, keeping any add-ons you install on it apart from any other version of Firefox that you may have on your computer, and not loading the add-ons and user profiles associated with the other Firefox.

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Pale Moon performance results

Kraken: 6187.6 milliseconds

Time to load from cold start: 5.5 seconds

Memory usage with one blank tab open: 76MB

Time to open CWUK: 5.8 seconds

Memory usage with one tab open: 106MB

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Waterfox

The developers of Waterfox claim their 64-bit spin on Firefox is the fastest. It's built on the Version 9.0 stable release of Firefox. As of January 7, Waterfox became the de facto 'unofficial official' 64-bit version of Firefox for Windows 64-bit when it became a project accepted by Mozilla. After installing it, we got a system error when trying to run Waterfox for the first time: "The program can't start because MSVCR100.dll is missing." The FAQs on the Waterfox site lists the solution, which requires installing Visual C++ 2010 Redistributable Package (x64). This seems a bit odd since neither Nightly nor Pale Moon required this. Once we plugged in this package, Waterfox then loaded without a problem.

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Waterfox performance results

Kraken: 6058.4 milliseconds

Time to load from cold start: 4.4 seconds

Memory usage with one blank tab open: 55MB

Time to open CWUK: 5.2 seconds

Memory usage with one tab open: 107MB

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And the winner is... Pale Moon rated the slowest in the Kraken test and took the longest to load from a cold start. It appears to use the most memory over the other two 64-bit browsers, and the mysterious background processes that it runs probably need to be considered and added to its overall memory-use tally. The latest Nightly we tested slightly beat Waterfox on Kraken, but the latter browser loaded the fastest from cold start (though by only a millisecond). Nightly uses less memory when it has one blank tab open, and less when displaying an open page, compared with Waterfox where the opposite situation appears to occur. Practically speaking, it looks like a toss-up between Firefox Nightly and Waterfox.

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