Firefox is Pissing Me Off: High CPU Usage When Displaying Flash

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My friend Ian Bell runs Digital Trends, a great site, but lately I’ve been cringing whenever I’ve visited it. Why? Because invariably I see the same thing every time: a Pioneer Flash ad that causes the CPU usage of any computer I’m on to shoot to 100%. It’s not just Digital Trends or Pioneer ads that cause the problem: all sorts of Flash ads cause this problem and it’s only ever in Firefox. It’s been going on for years, yet no one at Firefox or Macromedia/Adobe has ever bothered to fix it. Particularly on my small laptop with it’s single-core 1.2 Ghz CPU, when it’s gunning at 100%, the whole system will grind to a halt. It’s getting so frustrating I’m getting close to switching back to IE7.

UPDATE: I did a bit more testing after updating to Firefox 2.0.0.3 and it seems that there’s only certain frames in the Pioneer Flash animation that’s causing the problems. If you look at the Pioneer ads on this page, you’ll see there’s a part where the rain starts falling in the ad…that’s when my CPU spikes:

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This mirrors what I saw with some Pocket PC Techs banners that were running on Pocket PC Thoughts for a while – the designer used a special type of Flash animation to move the snowflakes across the screen, and it caused the CPU spikes as well – falling snowflakes, falling rain…I’m seeing a pattern here.

  • Vinny

    And it’s not just FF for Windows. Both my Macs have the same issue. One has a Core Duo 2.0 and the other a Core Duo 1.8.

  • idawgik

    I haven’t had any CPU usage problems with Firefox and flash. I even just checked that site in Firefox, I hit a max of 31% CPU usage when it was loading and that went down to 8% after that. I’m using firefox 2.0.0.2 and flash 9 on Windows Vista Ultimate with a Core 2 Duo E6400.

  • idawgik: did you refresh the page a few times? There are probably several banners in rotation and my hunch is the problem is only attached to certain banners. You might be interested in watching your CPU as you surf to a variety of different sites – it might be happening without you knowing.

  • ctmagnus

    I’m with idawgik on this one. I hit refresh on that site until I got a Pioneer ad and still virtually no CPU hit.

  • ctmagnus

    Also, there’s a new FF release today: 2.0.0.3. That might help some of your speed issues.

  • jf

    Have you tried Flash Block? Does the trick for me 😉

    https://addons.mozilla.org/firefox/433/

    JF

  • Flash block? Nope – I will not block banners ads and deprive Web site owners of the ability to make a living. If you visit a Web site to get the content, accepting the banner ads is part of the deal – the reason why 99.99% of the Web is free and open to everyone is because of the banner ads. You block those, you slowly kill the Web because people like me would vanish.

  • I did a bit more testing after updating to Firefox 2.0.0.3 and it seems that there’s only certain frames in the Pioneer Flash animation that’s causing the problems. If you look at the Pioneer ads on this page, you’ll see there’s a part where the rain starts falling in the ad…that’s when my CPU spikes:

    http://news.digitaltrends.com/talkback176.html

    This mirrors what I saw with some Pocket PC Techs banners that were running on Pocket PC Thoughts for a while – the designer used a special type of Flash animation to move the snowflakes across the screen, and it caused the CPU spikes as well – falling snowflakes, falling rain…I’m seeing a pattern here.

  • Sorry guys. I have asked Pioneer repeatedly for new tags, and they are ignoring the request (probably because these ads are working good for them).

    The campaign is over April 1st and they will be gone hopefully.

  • I build stuff in Flash every day… I can tell you that the ad you are speaking of most likely involves scripted animation. Basically a particle effect written to generate rain. Ultimately, this is because of the file size restrictions of banner ads. (30K) More and more developers are resorting to relying on heavily coded animations instead of relying on the built in timeline animation in Flash. This results in a higher CPU usage but less file size. Sometimes MUCH higher CPU usage or MUCH lower file size. Unfortunately, the poor developers have been backed into a corner. Clients expect so much from their ads, that they simply need to resort to these measures. Unless the file size restraint budges, it will just happen more and more! If they would just go up to even 50K for an ad, you would see far less of these problems. I would rather wait one or two more seconds than have a lagging animation and overall poor user experience any day.

    Even worse, most sites wont even allow you to use Flash 9… which has a 97% penetration rate! Flash 9+ is so much more efficient than it’s predecessors that it makes most CPU problems a thing of the past. And if any sites still require you to use anything less than Flash 8, they are in for some real damage to their site. Flash 8 introduced some features that allowed you to reduce the file size of your banner by relying on built in filters such as drop shadow and blur. This allowed ad makers to finally use more vector art instead of heavy bitmap imagery. Having more bitmap imagery means you have to optimize the crap out of the imagery till it looks like crap just to get it under the file size. AND possibly rely on even more actionscripted animation!

  • We've built a tool that people working with online advertising can use to check CPU usage of flash ads before they go live. It's available att http://www.advalidation.com