Are Browser Extensions Slowing You Down?

Browser Extensions Feature

There are a few different reasons why your browser might be starting up or loading pages more slowly than usual – you have three million tabs open right now, don’t you? But browsers out of the box should work pretty well across machines. If you use a bunch of extensions, however, you’re changing the memory/CPU footprint of your browser and possibly how it interacts with webpages. This can often be a culprit in browser slowdowns, so it’s one of those things you should check if your browser has suddenly started moving with all the speed and grace of a slightly concussed sloth.

How can extensions slow down your browser?

Browser Extensions Slow

Think of extensions as mini-programs or apps that are meant to run inside your browser. Every one you use is going to cost your memory/CPU a little more, potentially slowing down your whole computer (though some extensions can actually make your browser more memory-efficient). Most extensions are pretty lightweight and will merely sip power, but some can become real resource hogs depending on how they were developed and how they get along with your browser and other extensions.

The memory/CPU usage may cause your browser to start and run more slowly, but longer page-load times can also be due to how a plugin interacts with the pages you visit. A good basic example is an ad-blocker which has to check out a page, identify the ads, and remove them before displaying the page. Typically, this is a pretty fast process, but other extensions may possibly have more dramatic effects depending on your browser and the pages you visit.

How can you identify the culprits?

Browser Extensions Slow Too Many Toolbars

Browser extensions and browsers themselves change all the time, so it’s pretty hard to keep track of which extensions are using resources efficiently and which ones are eating up your RAM and asking for seconds. If there’s a good developer behind the extension, and it’s well-reviewed at the source, odds are it’s fine, but even then you might run into issues because of your specific setup.

First, check to make sureyou know what all of your extensions and toolbars are. Some of the worst culprits for browser lag are things that have been slipped in by shady programs, possibly while you were installing something else. If it looks sketchy, you can Google it to find out what it is, then delete it if you don’t need it. Even if this doesn’t clear up your problem, it’ll help keep you a bit more private and secure.

After the initial sweep, a good place to start is your browser’s “Incognito” mode, which will disable all your extensions (except in Firefox, where you may have to specify which extensions will and won’t be disabled in incognito mode). If you run into the same problems regardless of mode, it’s probably something else altogether. If the problem disappears, though, you’ll probably want to figure out if one of your extensions is dragging you down.

To do that, Chrome/Chromium and Firefox users can use the browser task manager to check if any extensions are currently drawing too much power. If you don’t see anything right away, keep the task manager open and check back whenever your browser slows down. This may reveal that a tab is actually the guilty party.

If the task manager gave you a lead, try disabling the extensions that were consuming the most resources and seeing if that helps. If the task manager didn’t show anything out of the ordinary (or you don’t have a browser with this feature), try disabling every extension and re-enabling them one by one until the problem resurfaces, at which point you’ll know what your problem is.

After removing the offending extension, your browser should work better, but if you’re still noticing problems, you may want to consider uninstalling and reinstalling the entire program, as there might be a problem that needs a reset to fix.

Find memory-hog extensions on Firefox

Browser Extensions Slow Firefox Task Manager

Firefox has a task manager in their browser, making it much easier to monitor the moving pieces.

1. Go to the hamburger menu on the top-right.

2. Click “More” near the bottom.

3. Go to the task manager.

4. Check the memory usage and energy impact of each item. If you don’t see anything out of the ordinary, try to reproduce your browser’s issue and see how things change.

Browser Extensions Firefox Addons Menu

If the task manager doesn’t give you anything useful, you’ll have to resort to either a one-by-one extension test or using the Firefox “refresh” option, which is similar to a reinstall (but easier).

Track down rogue Chrome processes

Browser Extensions Chrome Task Manager

Chrome also has a handy task manager. You can access this with the keyboard shortcut Shift + Esc (also works for Opera), or follow the steps below.

1. Go to the three stacked dots on the top-right.

2. Mouse over “More tools.”

3. Click the “Task manager.”

4. Check for abnormal memory/CPU usage, ideally while reproducing your browser’s issue.

Browser Extensions Slow Chrome Extensions Menu

No luck? You guessed it: you’ll have to go down the line and test each extension one by one. Or, as a last resort, reinstall everything.

Safari/Edge

Browser Extensions Slow Edge Extensions

Unfortunately, Safari and Edge do not appear to come with an easy way to check the memory footprint of your extensions, so you’ll have to go straight into turning them off and on to see which one is causing you issues.

But that was my favorite extension!

Alas, sometimes we must come to terms with the temporary nature of our universe. Luckily, most popular extensions have other versions from other developers, so you can probably find something similar that may not come with the same drawbacks. Also, while you’re about clearing up this extension, you may as well delete any others you aren’t using. They might not be causing you noticeable trouble at the moment, but extensions, even well-developed ones, can be potential privacy/security holes, so it’s not a bad idea to prune out the dead weight every now and then.

Image credits: Too many toolbars, Loading please wait

3 comments

  1. “Most extensions are pretty lightweight ”
    Taken individually, many extensions are lightweight. However, you start loading/running them concurrently the situation changes. A MB here, an MB there and pretty soon you’re talking a big impact on memory. Extensions and add-ons may make your net surfing more convenient but not necessarily faster.

    Developers are constantly “improving” browsers by incorporating new features. More features = bigger memory footprint = slower performance. The problem is new features do not appear on Task Manager listing and cannot be disabled but they do impact the system.

    Having said that, I must admit that I do not run Firefox in Privacy mode. I want my security and privacy add-ons to be running constantly. I don’t trust that FF in privacy mode can do a better of protecting my system.

  2. There are a few baked-in features you can get rid of in FF, actually! I like Pocket, for example, but if you’re not a fan you can go to about:config and toggle off browser.pocket.enabled. You’re right, though–that’s not possible with every new feature.

    1. The number of settings in FF about:config seems to be comparable to the number of keys in the Windows Registry. :-) Even with Mozilla providing a complete listing, to edit and change all the settings we may want is a monumental task.

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