Stop Internet Explorer from bleeding Windows memory

If you abandoned Internet Explorer long ago then the news that it can waste a great deal of RAM probably won't come as much of a surprise. But if you still use the browser, even only occasionally, then it's worth checking your current configuration, because it could be using three times as much memory as is actually necessary.

To be fair, this isn't entirely the fault of Internet Explorer itself. The problem lies more with its add-ons. You may only have installed one or two yourself, but other applications may have added more, sometimes without telling you, and these can have a significant effect on your PC.

How significant? We took a test PC with a very ordinary configuration, nothing excessive (no Ask toolbar or other irritations), and found one browser window was consuming around 30MB RAM (private working set). Then we turned off all the non-essential add-ons, and this dropped to around 9.4 MB, immediately.

Okay, it's true, 20MB these days isn't a great deal. But keep in mind that this overhead (and a little more) applies to every tab. Four tabs open at Google consumed around 118MB with the add-ons active, for instance, and only 54MB with our pruned configuration, a very useful 64MB saving. If you have lots of IE tabs and windows open at any one time then excess add-ons could be chewing up a great deal of valuable system resources. Click Tools > Manage Add-ons within IE, then, to see what's installed on your system. It's sometimes surprising what turns up.

Problem Plug-ins

The Skype Plug-In, for instance, is used to launch Skype from a web page when you click on someone's number. If you use this, great. But if you don't, click it and select "Disable." This one step saved around 4MB of RAM on our test PC.

If you've installed the DivX player, you may see a couple of DivX add-ons, "DivX Plus Web Player HTML5 <video>" and "DivX HiQ." But if you only want to play DivX movies on your desktop then these can safely be disabled, saving you another 3MB or so.

Microsoft may have added the Windows Live ID Sign-in Helper or Messenger Companion Helper to your add-ons list. These can help you log on to Messenger or manage multiple Windows Live accounts, but this comes at a price, chewing up more than 5MB of RAM on our test system. Disable them and see if you notice any difference.

We also found our installation of Microsoft Office had inserted a few browser add-ons that we didn't need, including "Groove Folder Synchronization" and "Office Document Cache Handler." If you don't use Office Groove or work with SharePoint Server then these can probably also be disabled (this saved us 1MB of RAM).

And of course you'll probably have plenty of additional add-ons and toolbars of your own. If you find something you're sure you don't need, then disable it: if you're uncertain, Bing or Google the add-on name to find out more about what it does. Then, when you've finished, close and restart IE and you'll have left a little more RAM free for everything else.

And that should be it, although if you've accidentally disabled something important then problems may emerge later, but fortunately they're easy to fix. Just click Tools > Manage Add-ons, select the add-on, click "Enable" and restart IE, and everything should be back to normal.

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