Browser optimize

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...

20 comments
richardschieck
richardschieck

This has to be the slowest browser I have ever used. I installed it because I run a 64 bit system and Firefox has been crashing like crazy. It may work good with only one tab open, I don't know. I normally have 30+ open in FF and WF took 15_ minutes to load 50 tabs. Then scrolling down my Facebook news feed was ridiculous. One turn of the wheel and wait 30+ seconds and then advance a half inch. I have since uninstalled Waterfox. 10 minutes ago FF updated and I am going to wait and see what happens. If it starts crashing again I'll try Palemoon next. But as for Waterfox, I think it's junk! IMO

edwardtisdale
edwardtisdale

I'm using Firefox 11 on Lucid and it's superfast on my Athlon64.

liljim
liljim

OK. I am very confused. I have used Aurora, the 64 bit version of Firefox since I found it about 2 years ago. I ran it under WinXP 64 bit nad now I run it under Win 7 64 bit. I have a nice, high end machine and have had no problems with the browser. I followed the hacks to bypass version checks for the add ons and am completely happy. Suddenly I am reading about Waterfox and Palemoon, with no reference to Aurora. What is the relationship between all of these allegedly 64 bit versions of Firefox? I am currently posting with Aurora version 13.0a2

widd11e
widd11e

I never heard of the 64bit browsers before. My problem with trying out new browsers is they are fine in the beginning, then all hell brakes loose. I sometimes always have at least one browser acting up. Or the browser gets an update that plays havoc with my add ons, or plugins. Before anyone tells me to stop installing addon after addon in Firefox... I only have five and they are web developer, addblock plus, accessibility checker, and google bar lite, and WOT. These are all I need to be happy. So the big question I have is... I have 64bit so because these new 64bit browsers are not well known that I know of, should I give them a try, or wait? BTW in case it is brought up or so some tend to bring it up and that is the issue of space. I don't have an issue on the amount of space left on my pc.

Ocie3
Ocie3

At last report, a Mozilla-developed 64-bit Firefox client is scheduled for release with Firefox 12 -- i.e., the next full version upgrade. Do you know anything about that?

Who Am I Really
Who Am I Really

re: It could be that the quality of the code is lacking or simply not mature enough the author says that it's just recompiled in this thread: http://www.over clock.net/t/975626/waterfox-11-0-13-mar-2012-firefox-64-bit "Thanks. I hardly did much, just recompiled the program"

satrow
satrow

Since the release of Waterfox 9, which saw a change in compiler and a marked swing away from it being 'just a 64-bit version of Firefox', my testing has shown that Pale Moon x64 is consistently faster and less erratic. PM 11x64 tests as being very close in overall performance compared to Firefox 11, they both beat Waterfox by a similar margin. Pale Moon 11 (x86) beats Firefox 11 by a significant margin too.

blacksmithforlife
blacksmithforlife

Matt, Could you post the results? I am interested to see a more granular breakdown of what Vanilla Firefox beat Waterfox in.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Have you tried Waterfox? What was your experience? Do you recommend it?

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

Is that Aurora is considered bleeding edge, which really isn't suitable for production environments. Aurora is quite nice I will admit, but my review was looking for something with more "release-grade" stable code. Aurora is a nightly build which can change as often as a person with mood swings. In other words, unpredictability is not something most of us want to deal with. Another thing too, Pale Moon and Waterfox aren't allegedly 64-bit... they ARE 64-bit. :)

satrow
satrow

Pale Moon doesn't blindly follow Firefox's lead, any changes by Firefox are added to Pale Moon on merit only. There's a topic in the Pale Moon forum currently, discussing the move to v.12, silent updates are not going to be included in the PM 12 builds: forum.palemoon.org/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=686

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

This must have been a fairly recent development, and even then, not much noise has been made about this official 64-bit build. Granted I knew about Auora nightlies having a 64-bit branch... but I didn't know when Mozilla was planning on putting out a release quality 64-bit build of Firefox. I'll definitely be investigating this one. Sounds interesting.

satrow
satrow

Whilst what the author said in that thread may have been applicable to earlier versions (>7 or 8), it's most definitely not been the case since v.9. Check and compare the 'Configure arguments' details in about:buildconfig to see what's been disabled (excluded) in Waterfox and Pale Moon compared to Firefox. Run Peacekeeper and Dromaeo too, post your own results, if you like.

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

I never heard of Pale Moon x64 before. I'll have to give it a try. :) UPDATE: Just gave it a run and it utterly destroyed Waterfox and even edged out 32-bit standard Firefox by a decent margin in the benchmarks! Looks like I found myself a new Gecko-based browser to call my own. Thanks satrow!

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

Hi John, Here are the results as PNG snapshots. Firefox Results: http://i39.tinypic.com/k0n89e.png Waterfox Results: http://i43.tinypic.com/e7f4i9.png Important Notice: Because of a difference in graphics card drivers installed on another machine I retested these browsers in with similar specs, the WebGL portion of the test actually worked this time around and altered the overall score (possibly due to the fact that the machine I used to originally test both browsers had video card drivers that didn't properly support that feature)... not to mention I was also running Windows 8 64-bit this time, though that seemed to have a decidedly negligible effect on the tests. However, despite this revelation, the gap remains fairly wide overall at nearly 200 points. Though once you look at the breakdown of the results, you will notice that the 32-bit Firefox build only pulls ahead by a few points in each category. Interestingly enough, 32-bit Firefox really shines in the DOM operations department. Therefore, even with the anomaly with WebGL testing from earlier, my original findings still stand on the lacking performance of Waterfox, which was assumed to perform better since the binary is 64-bit.

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

I couldn't imagine Pale Moon and Waterfox having simply recompiled the Firefox code to 64-bit and slapped a new logo on it. It wouldn't have made much sense anyway.

ethan
ethan

I'd like to test my browsers - what do you use to benchmark? And thanks for your posts - I've read this entire page because of you :)

satrow
satrow

The proof is in the pudding, please don't waste everyone's time by trying to rebuild history to make it look current - page 48, post 478 was posted in June 2011 = FX 6 era. about:buildconfig tells it like it is.

Who Am I Really
Who Am I Really

Go read the thread it's the entire history from the first version (recompiled Fx 4.0) to the current version currently @ 213 pages User "MrAlex" the creator of WaterFox gets the source code from the Firefox servers and compiles with a 64-bit compiler to get a 64-bit Firefox dubbed WaterFox Quote page 9, thread post 89 Quote: ... You and the guy who does Pale Moon should get together to make the best browser ever. Ever. We're essentially doing the same thing . __ re problems with the icons; Quote page 17, thread post 163 Hmm this is strange. I've just noticed too. The actual icon files are the correct size and resolution (as you can see in the attached images) but they don't seem to come out like that __ Quote page 20, post 193 This is just as secure as FF4 right? I mean its basically the same code. Yes, exactly the same code, just compiled differently. Right guys, Mozilla *still* hasn't released the source code for 4.0.1 yet. You can check for yourselves here: ftp://ftp. mozilla.org/pub/firefox/releases/ Hopefully it'll be released soon. I'll check when I get back home (it'll be late morning/early afternoon US time?). The auto-update function should be working in this next release as well. __ Quote page 26, post 252 Mozilla releases the source code (it is not 32-bit or 64-bit specific) and Windows is the only version which hasn't received a 64-Bit variant directly from Mozilla. It is 64-Bit because I used a 64-Bit compiler. The way you compile is important. And you could possibly notice an improvement. Try it and see if it does or doesn't __ Quote page 27, post 263 I used Visual Studio 2010 compiler . And I didn't make the build Intel or AMD specific, because that would take around 9 hours to compile 3 builds, time which I don't really have __ Quote page 48, post 478 wait so is this official mozilla release thats been renamed waterfox and is for 64 bit? or did u just mod it yourself? im confused... and im running beta 7 right now, =P It's the official Mozilla release, but it has been compiled with optimisations. Since Mozilla want Firefox to work on as many systems as possible they can hardly perform any if at all optimisations. __ Quote page 52, post 514 Okay, what about a .NET framework check in the installer itself - if .NET isn't installed, then it prompts the user to download and install it? [b]That would require modifying the Firefox source code, and I cannot program Python or C++, only VB.NET/C# and HTML/CSS[/b] __ need more !! edit: better yet here's more Quote page 195, post 1946 Uh-oh, seems I was testing Beta builds and left the channel to beta. Hopefully Mozilla release a Firefox 11.0.1 so I can fix the issue Guys I'll reply to everyone soon. My final exam tomorrow but I'll be all ears after that. __ looks like he's still just doing optimized re-compiles