Enterprise Software

Review: Firefox's unofficial 64-bit variant Waterfox

The Waterfox project attempts to take advantage of 64-bit processing power for web browsing. Matt Nawrocki uncovers a problem with that premise.

Mozilla Firefox is a very popular browser with its legion of fans. Though with that said, thanks to the open source nature of Firefox, there are bound to be fan-made and supported offshoots of the official browser with their own tweaks and improvements. One such unofficial project is called Waterfox, and its main objective is to offer a Firefox experience, only this time in a 64-bit package for Windows. Of course, 64-bit binaries are able to access much more memory than their 32-bit counterparts, potentially resulting in a positive change in performance.

Putting it to the test

To put that theory to the test, I decided on using the Peacekeeper web browser benchmark by Futuremark Corporation on both the latest version of vanilla Firefox, version 11, and the 64-bit Waterfox build, also based on the latest version of Firefox, in order to measure the performance of each. For reference, I ran the tests on a computer touting a quad-core Athlon II clocked at 3.2 gigahertz, eight gigabytes of memory and Windows 7 Professional 64-bit. Although both browsers performed very similarly in real-world testing, the Peacekeeper benchmark begs to differ, and the results might surprise you.

The Peacekeeper benchmark covers various aspects of the browser, including but not limited to HTML5 canvas and video as well as DOM operations and text parsing. There were a few HTML5 video tests that failed on both Firefox and Waterfox, but these failures were due to the lack of H.264 support in the browsers and were to be expected. After running each browser through the paces for several minutes, Peacekeeper generated the total scores of 1624 and 1415 for both Firefox and Waterfox respectively. This is a point difference of over 200, which is a bit disconcerting, considering that a 64-bit variant of Firefox was anticipated to have the edge in this contest.

Bottom line

So the moral of the story is this: just because the binary is built for a 64-bit operating system doesn't necessarily indicate that the performance of the application is going to be better than its 32-bit counterpart. This is especially true if the Waterfox team decided to make unofficial modifications to the original source in a manner that could reduce performance.

It could be that the quality of the code is lacking or simply not mature enough. Over time though, it is possible that with more time and effort, the code will mature more and a 64-bit unofficial port of Firefox will make more sense from a performance perspective. For now, however, it's best to stick with regular Firefox, particularly if you want to get updates and patches as soon as they are available, rather than waiting on a third-party to work them in later on.

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About

An avid technology writer and an IT guru, Matthew is here to help bring the best in software, hardware and the web to the collective consciousness of TechRepublic's readership. In addition to writing for TechRepublic, Matthew currently works as a Cus...

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