Increase Your Windows Resources, Use the Most Efficient Software
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When you choose a certain piece of software, what are your criteria for selecting it? Maybe you prefer the aesthetics over the competition or need features that its competitors don’t offer. These are valid reasons, but some people decide by another value: resource usage.

Whether you’re trying to conserve battery on your laptop Should You Leave Your Laptop Plugged in All the Time? Should You Leave Your Laptop Plugged in All the Time? Is it better to keep your laptop plugged in, or use it on battery power? Turns out, the answer isn't entirely straightforward. Let's take a look. Read More or have an older computer that’s running slowly 7 Warning Signs It's Time to Replace your Old PC 7 Warning Signs It's Time to Replace your Old PC When should you buy a new computer? Read More , choosing the least resource-intensive programs is important. Using the lightest app to do the job can save resources for other programs.

Let’s take a look at four main categories of Windows programs — browsers, text chat clients, PDF viewers, and media players — and test the three most popular options in each one. We’ll see how they stack up in RAM and CPU usage.

My PC Specs and Testing Methods

I recently built a new desktop PC with modern specs. Thus, none of these programs will put a heavy strain on my test system. However, I wanted to provide what’s in my computer for a point of reference:

  • Operating System — Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
  • CPU — Intel Core i5-7500 @ 3.4 GHz
  • RAM — 16 GB DDR4
  • Graphics — ATI Radeon RX 480 Graphics, 8 GB
  • SSD — Samsung 850 EVO 250 GB

To test these programs, I’ll use the following data. Obviously, I’ll have each program at the forefront, not minimized, when capturing the stats.

Let’s see how the programs stack up! Note that because CPU and RAM usage change constantly, I took these numbers from a single snapshot from each. If you ran these same tests, your results would vary.

Browsers

For browsers, we’re testing Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Microsoft Edge. While Edge is the default browser in Windows 10, it’s somewhat underwhelming 5 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Switch to Microsoft Edge Yet 5 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Switch to Microsoft Edge Yet Is Microsoft Edge worth using while Chrome, Firefox, and Opera are still around? Is Edge good enough to be your primary browser? Read More despite Microsoft’s claims that it’s faster and more secure than Chrome. Thus, we wanted to put it to the test.

Google Chrome

With MakeUseOf as the selected tab, Chrome’s main task used between 0.0 and 0.1 percent of the CPU and about 76.2 MB of RAM. However, this doesn’t account for Chrome’s many background processes. For a better picture, we could use the Process Explorer. But Chrome includes its own built-in task manager, too.

chrome task manager

In one snapshot, Chrome was using 3.2 percent of the CPU and 745.9 MB of RAM. Chrome is known for hogging RAM Why Is Chrome Using up So Much RAM? (And How to Fix It Right Now) Why Is Chrome Using up So Much RAM? (And How to Fix It Right Now) But why does Chrome use up so much RAM, especially compared to other browsers? And what can you do to keep it in check? Read More , so you’d expect to see high numbers here. This isn’t atrocious, but three-quarters of a gigabyte is a lot for just five tabs. You probably have many more than that open on normal days!

Mozilla Firefox

Firefox only keeps one process in the Task Manager, making it a lot easier to check its usage. With the MakeUseOf tab opened, Firefox was using 0.1 percent of the CPU and 324.9 MB of RAM. This is a lot more efficient than Chrome for the same tabs!

Microsoft Edge

Like Chrome, Edge breaks its tabs into separate processes. Thus, the main process of 0 percent CPU usage and 36.4 MB of RAM isn’t telling the whole story. Adding everything up shows that Edge uses about 18.5 percent of the CPU and 1,458.6 MB of RAM. For the same five tabs, that’s a lot more resource usage than Chrome.

microsoft edge task manager

Text Chat Clients

Instant messaging is a flooded market 5 Best Free Messaging Apps for Android 5 Best Free Messaging Apps for Android Need a free way to send messages to friends and family with your phone for free? Check out these apps. Read More . In addition to the three popular services we tested, you might use iMessage, Google Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, and more. However, some of those services don’t have a dedicated desktop app, so we can’t include them. Your choice of messenger probably depends more on which one your friends use than its resource usage, but it’s still interesting to compare.

WhatsApp

Like Chrome and Edge, WhatsApp keeps a few processes open. When idle, the main process used 0.1 percent of the CPU and 45.9 MB of RAM. The three background processes add up to 0.5 percent CPU and 155.5 MB of RAM. Thus, WhatsApp’s grand total is 0.6 percent CPU usage and 201.4 MB of RAM. This may differ if you have chats with more people open.

Telegram

It might surprise you that Telegram is much lighter on resources than WhatsApp. Telegram used 0 percent of the CPU and just 26.9 MB when open. I have many more active chats in Telegram than WhatsApp, making Telegram the clear winner.

Viber

Many have ditched the giant WhatsApp for Viber 5 Reasons Why You Should Ditch WhatsApp for Viber 5 Reasons Why You Should Ditch WhatsApp for Viber WhatsApp is the biggest instant messaging app out there, but is it the best? Hit the link to find out why Viber might just be a better choice. Read More — can we add lighter resource usage to the list of reasons to switch? With a few public chats open, I measured 0.1 percent CPU usage and 169.8 MB of RAM. This is a bit lower than WhatsApp with a similar number of chats open. Viber is also the only service of the three to include ads, which definitely wastes some resources. I noticed a spike in CPU usage when the ad changed.

PDF Viewers

Nearly every browser can open PDFs now, but there’s still value in keeping a PDF reader installed PDF Reader vs. Browser: Which PDF Viewer Is Best for You? PDF Reader vs. Browser: Which PDF Viewer Is Best for You? A PDF reader is often one of the first tools people install on their new computer. It's not glamorous or sexy, but it's a vital tool in your productivity arsenal. Or is it? Read More . Let’s compare the standard (but unnecessary This Is Why You Don't Need Adobe Reader This Is Why You Don't Need Adobe Reader Adobe Reader is bloated, slow, and a liability. In short, it's unnecessary. Do you need a PDF Reader at all? We show you how to open PDF files without Adobe Reader. Read More ) Adobe Reader with popular alternatives Foxit Reader and the ultra-light SumatraPDF 4 Very Light Alternatives to Adobe Reader 4 Very Light Alternatives to Adobe Reader Are you still using Adobe Reader for PDF documents? It's time to move on to an alternative PDF reader that is lightweight, launches quickly, and yet keeps your documents save. Read More .

Adobe Reader

Acrobat Reader is certainly the heaviest of the three tools, but does this apply to resource usage? We found that it used 0 percent of the CPU, but a fairly heavy 96.1 MB of RAM with the small test PDF open. However, Adobe Reader also includes a few background processes such as the Adobe Acrobat Update Service and the cloud features shown in Adobe RdrCEF. These use an additional 78 MB of RAM or so for a total of roughly 174.1 MB of RAM.

Foxit Reader

The Reader alternative clocked in with 0.1 percent CPU usage and 43.3 MB of RAM. As with all three apps, CPU usage was higher when scrolling through the document.

SumatraPDF

SumatraPDF carried similar stats when the PDF wasn’t moving. It used 0 percent of the CPU and took up about 56 MB of RAM. For a lighter install than Foxit, we would have expected to see less RAM taken up as well.

Media Players

Even though the rise of streaming has made local media apps less important, many people prefer to listen to music and watch videos locally. Let’s test three popular players The Top 5 Free Media Players for Windows The Top 5 Free Media Players for Windows Strong media player apps always rise to the top and it's not important which one you use. The best media player for you is the one you most enjoy using. We suggest the following... Read More : VLC Media Player, the included Windows Media Player, and Media Player Classic — Home Cinema (MPC-HC). We’ll start at one minute into the video.

VLC Media Player

During playback, VLC measured between 3.0 and 4.5 percent CPU usage with 108.9 MB of RAM used. Our test video is in 1080p, but it’s not too graphically intensive because it’s a screen recording. You could expect to see this usage go up if you were watching a movie scene or something similar.

Windows Media Player

Using the built-in Windows Media Player (WMP) offers better resource usage. It used between 0.5 and 2.6 percent of the CPU and 94.8 MB of RAM. It’s clear that WMP is lighter on CPU than VLC and uses slightly less RAM.

MPC-HC

Media Player Classic is a great alternative if you find VLC too bloated but still need a player that can handle all sorts of formats. In our test, MPC-HC used between 0.4 and 1.1 percent CPU. For RAM, it took up 100.4 MB.

The Winners

Let’s take a quick look at the results for each category.

For Browsers, Firefox uses the fewest resources by far. Chrome used over double the RAM than Firefox did, and Edge used almost double that! In addition, we saw some high CPU usage from Edge. Of course, there are slimmer browsers that would be even smoother than Firefox, but of the big choices, it’s the best.

In the Text Chat Clients category, Telegram blew away the others. Its tiny RAM footprint was a fraction of WhatsApp or Viber, adding to the reasons that it’s an excellent chat app Telegram Provides A Secure & Fast-Growing Alternative To WhatsApp Telegram Provides A Secure & Fast-Growing Alternative To WhatsApp Read More . Plus, it doesn’t have any ads like Viber.

When we looked at PDF Viewers, Foxit Reader takes the crown. Of course Adobe Reader was the heaviest, but it’s odd that SumatraPDF didn’t fare better. It’s smaller than Foxit in terms of installation size!

Finally, the lightest of the Media Players is a tie. Windows Media Player used the least RAM by a small margin, but Media Player Classic consistently took up less of the CPU. Thus, the winner depends on which resource you’re trying to conserve most.

Time to Change Your Apps?

Are you surprised by any of the winners here? We’ve learned that just because a service is the most popular in its category, it’s not the most efficient. Of course, real-world use is different from taking a snapshot of an idle program, so the real results might be a lot different. And unless you have a minuscule amount of RAM How Much RAM Do You Really Need? How Much RAM Do You Really Need? RAM is like short term memory. The more you multitask, the more you need. Find out how much your computer has, how to get the most out of it, or how to get more. Read More , an extra 50 MB isn’t going to cause any issues.

But it’s still fun to test and see which programs use the least resources!

Which of these results surprised you the most? Do you use the heavier or lighter apps on this list? Let us know what you think of our testing by leaving a comment!

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  1. Keith Collyer
    May 25, 2017 at 9:04 pm

    I actually switched BACk to Adobe Reader. I tried both Foxit and Sumatra and both had issues, The worst was Sumatra. It might have been lighter on memory, but when I tried to print something (probably around twenty pages of mostly text with a few pictures) it choked and never finished. The resulting print file was over 2GB, compared to around 200k from Reader.

  2. Jonathan
    May 25, 2017 at 7:27 pm

    I would have liked to see Opera on the list.
    Maybe you could do one on light weight web browsers (although I'm sure you have, but can always update), although from using it for a few weeks now (again after forgetting it's existance, maybe years ago it was my standard, I think around the time Mozilla had come out of Netscape or something), it feels like a skinned Chrome, with different shortcut keys.

    But looking at this, maybe I should move to Firefox. It is already installed afterall.