Firefox Overheating CPUs… Oh Noes!!

Like my sensationalist headline? Grabs your attention does it? Well this is what happens when media makes a big deal about a story that is almost much ado about nothing.

I say almost for a reason…

According to CNET, the computer processor usage by Firefox is causing overheating problems in laptops and netbooks. Fair enough, but there is more to this story than the fact that Firefox is turning into a CPU/memory hog and that it will burn up your computer like Drew Barrymore in Firestarter. Apparently, this is such a story that Finnish network MTV3 has devoted some of it’s web space about it (in Finnish… the headline reads “Firefox could overheat your processor”).

The issue of space

For those that have never been inside a laptop or even a netbook, it’s cramped in there. There’s not a lot of real estate to work with as there is in desktop computers. Laptop/netbook manufacturers can only shrink parts so much and even then they are practically sitting side-by-side with another part. This brings on another problem, which is airflow. Because there is almost no empty space in a laptop or a netbook, there is no airflow. Yes, laptops have vent(s) and a fan that blows out the hot air from the processor. However it’s not enough. And if you are playing video or surfing the web, this makes the processor work. Just moving your mouse an inch or two make the processor work. The processor is essential to your computer. It’s the brain and it’s the engine.

Your computer runs on electricity and electricity moves through the insides of your computer when it is running. Basic science tells you that electricity is hot. Laptops/netbooks, while designed to use less power, still have power running through them. If you have your computer on for long enough, the parts inside it will eventually heat up. All of that heat has to go somewhere. Unfortunately, current technology limits how much heat a laptop/netbook can get rid of and that’s not good for it’s parts. Computer parts work better the cooler they are.

It’s not just Firefox…

The above statement is true. Firefox is not the only browser that can heat up your processor. Some commentators of the CNET article mentioned that IE actually doesn’t use the CPU like the other browsers. Also, some fanboy was screaming at the top of his lungs about Opera. I made sure to include these two browsers in my little test.

Test sepcifications

  • Windows Vista Home Premium OEM 32-bit
  • HP dv9000 series laptop
  • Athlon Turion 64 X2
  • nVidia 8400M – Yes, one of the mobile GPU chips that suffered the huge overheating problems. Yes, the motherboard has already been replaced once.
  • 3GB RAM

Besides the browser and a wireless connection, Object Dock, Adobe Photoshop (no open documents) and Windows Live Messenger were also open but running in the background.

Below you can view screenshots I took of various browsers and the Windows Task Manager.

Google Chrome CPU UseIE 8 CPU UseSafari Windows CPU UseOpera CPU Use

In order: Google Chrome 3, Microsoft Internet Explorer 8, Safari 4 and Opera 10.10

As you can see each browser pictured above is using a sizable amount of processor power to run one tab displaying the MTV3 Firefox story page. Every page is displaying no less than 3 Flash ads and there is a fair amount of JavaScript being used on the page.

Google Chrome fmi.fi CPU useIE 8 fmi.fi CPU useSafari fmi.fi CPU useOpera fmi.fi CPU use

In order: Google Chrome 3, Microsoft Internet Explorer 8, Safari 4 and Opera 10.10

Not so busy anymore, is it? The web page pictured above is to the Finnish Meteorological Institute’s website local weather page. This page displays 0 flash ads and very little JavaScript.

The point of the story is that the media has chosen Firefox to be the culprit of your overheating CPU. While Firefox obviously uses your processor, so does every other browser. They have to use your processor. Not only do they need to just open and stay open so you can use it, they have to display the Flash ads and video you watch in your browser and process the programs that help you use web sites more efficiently.

In the end, there is just far more to the heat your laptop/netbook generates than you think. Don’t be fooled by media stories like this that try to scare you. Just remember:

  1. Laptops and netbooks have very little space to where heat can escape.
  2. Today’s web sites use technology which needs your computer’s power to run.
  3. There’s no need to panic, the sky is not falling. Just remember that if you are not using your computer for a period of time, either close your browser or if you need to keep your browser open then put your computer to sleep or put it in hibernation. Putting it to sleep or in hibernation will save what you are doing to your computer’s memory or hard drive, respectively. This way, you can let your computer cool off and when you want to use your computer again, all of your information will still be there.
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About gopha

Gopha is a web programmer, techie and heir to several Nigerian fortunes. In his spare time he likes to game, spend time with his wife, daughters and dogs. He eats [far too much], watches TV and lift weights. He also like to take moonlit walks on the beach and sing songs next to a roaring campfire, in a white sweater with his acoustic guitar. View all posts by gopha

4 responses to “Firefox Overheating CPUs… Oh Noes!!

  • Dave

    Thank you for helpful info and the excellent summary.
    Now I know why my fans spin up and CPU temp rises.

  • Rock

    Just my two cents. We had to stop using Firefox after the last update because of this problem, and, yes, it is specific to Firefox. My CPU spins up almost 40 degrees celsius when I use the Firefox. I’m a photographer and use tons of editing software that have almost no effect on temps. But, if I open Firefox and simply leave it idle on Google, it will shoot up from around 48 degrees to 75 degrees. Nothing else has anywhere near the impact on my CPU temps. So, obviously other things have an effect on temps, but this is a little too specific to just be hype.

    • gopha

      I wasn’t trying to excuse Firefox in any way. The point I was alluding to was that the Cnet and Finnish articles didn’t address the other browsers and the issues of laptop form factors well enough. They weren’t alone. There were other media sources who had caught on to the story and regurgitated the same information. I was a little put off by this and that there wasn’t any visual evidence – just the word of the authors. That’s why I decided to test and provide screenshots of my results.

      So, I don’t disagree with you. Firefox is the worst offender of them all. I just wanted everyone to be aware that, as you said, there are other factors that contribute to the overheating problem.

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