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Tested: How Flash destroys your browser's performance

Mark Hachman | Aug. 11, 2015
In case you needed another reason to uninstall Adobe Flash, we've got one: It can drag down your PC by as much as 80 percent. Yes, 80 percent. So not only is Adobe Flash incredibly unsafe, it's a memory hog. And we've got the numbers to prove it.

It's important to note that, especially with a midrange PC, the amount of CPU cycles an app chews through will probably be what causes your PC to stutter and pause--and that's going to be what frustrates you most.

OMG, Flash

What we found was shocking. 

We condemned Microsoft Edge, for example, for locking up in previous iterations of our 30-tab stress test. With Flash enabled, Edge survived--a testament, perhaps, to a massive bloc of updated code that Microsoft recently released. With Flash enabled, Edge chewed through 4.72GB of memory, sucking down 84.1 percent of my PC's CPU cycles. With just Word Mobile open, that left my system functional. 

But when I toggled Flash off, the same tabs required 4.12GB of memory, and just 24.5 percent of my CPU. That's an 11-percent drop in memory consumed, and a whopping 61-percent decrease in CPU consumption.

It just got better from there. Opera really surprised me with how efficiently it performed, consuming just 3.47GB of memory with Flash enabled--the lowest of all the browsers we tested. It chewed through 81.2 percent of our CPU. But as a clean install, without Flash, Opera consumed 1.8GB and just 6.6 percent of our CPU cycles. Pages seemed to load like shots from a gun: pow, pow, pow!

Firefox did swimmingly as well, when you removed Flash from the equation. It consumed 1.65GB, and needed only 24.5 percent of the CPU. But after I downloaded Flash, Firefox seemed to throttle itself. The browser never climbed above 29.1 percent of the CPU, but some tabs were unresponsive minutes after loading, and I had to manually check each tab's progress. That was totally unacceptable.

Chrome also consumed 4.23GB of memory, and 71.4 percent of the CPU, with Flash enabled. That was pretty good, just by itself.

For Edge, some redemption

Of all the features that Microsoft highlighted with Edge--its Web Notes, Cortana, the Reading View--the one that jumps out now is its ability to toggle Flash. All the messaging I've seen from Microsoft--and the reviews, to boot--have focused on its performance on a few canned benchmarks, rather than real-world browsing. With Flash turned on by default, that performance has been lousy.

I can't say for certain which pages require Flash to be functional, if only because I've tolerated Flash for so long. But the toggle at least offers the possibility that Edge can be the modern, streamlined browser that Microsoft hopes it to be.

Edge, however, doesn't offer a middle ground. Flash is either on, or off. Chrome used to have a "Click to Play" option for Flash, but it seems to have disappeared. In Firefox, you can set Flash in a "click to run" mode: Flash is installed, but it won't fire unless you manually tell it to. To do this, you'll need to find Firefox's Add-ons menu, then set the Flash plugin(s) to Ask to Activate.  


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