Adobe Acrobat Reader Vs Foxit Reader

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I hang around a forum where often there is a default cry of “Foxit Reader” if anybody asks about free PDF readers, even if it’s just to ask about a technical problems with Adobe Acrobat Reader. “Is it worth upgrading to the new version?” “Just install Foxit Reader – it’s a lot quicker and not so bloated.” So it goes.

So, I thought I’d give them both a go.

I’ve used Foxit in the past but found its lack of browser integration and the fact that it wouldn’t handle embedded URL’s a bit of a problem. So I swapped back to Adobe but used a product called “Adobe Reader SpeedUp”. This strips out the often-unused functionality. However, with more recent versions of Adobe being a lot quicker I’ve stopped using it.

My plan was simple – run Adobe, do some tests, uninstall it, install Foxit and do some more tests.

First of all, Adobe Acrobat Reader version 9.

It’s a whopping 33.5 MB download, but an even worse 204 MB once installed (which took about 70 seconds). Running Acrobat on its own consumed 32MB of my system memory. I then launched a 17 MB document – which took under a second to display – and found it was now consuming 63 MB of memory (split across 2 applications for some reason).

The speed was great but the footprint wasn’t. Oh, and it doesn’t place an uninstall application in your startup menu – one of my pet hates.

So, that got uninstalled and I tried Foxit Reader version 2.3.

The download for Foxit is 2.56 to 3.64 MB, depending on the type you want (zip, installer, MSI). Once installed it uses 6.6 MB – obviously a lot better than Adobe. Not only that but it took about 11 seconds to install (that was with the default install option which, unfortunately, adds desktop and quick launch icons). Launching Foxit used 9 MB of system memory and just 15 MB when I launched the same document that I used with Adobe. Oh, and it took about the same time.

There you go – clear cut. It’s quick and has a small footprint. Case closed. Foxit is the winner.

Unfortunately not.

Did you spot the error? I opened a 17 MB document in Foxit and it only used 15 MB of system memory! What I found is that every time I scrolled up and down the document this memory usage increased dramatically and didn’t appear to stop. After a few goes I’d got the memory usage above that used by Acrobat – that sounds like a bad memory leak to me!

Not only that but Foxit does not integrate with the browser so documents have to be downloaded from the ‘net. It does now work with URL’s though. For me, though, one of Acrobat’s recent additions, which Foxit lacks, is the bigger problem – the page thumbnail view running down the side, allowing to quickly skim through the document pages.

However, it gets worse for Foxit.

When I had Acrobat installed I tried Adobe Reader SpeedUp again but that seemed to make little difference. However, I did try Adobe Reader Lite – a stripped down version of the full product. This is a 16 MB download which installs at 54 MB, and in just 26 seconds. Again, it comes without an uninstaller shortcut. It integrates with the browser, does page thumbnails, works with URL’s, the full works. But now it consumes 36 MB of system memory and 48 MB when my document is loaded (and now only running as one application).

Unfortunately, even Acrobat suffered from the memory leak problems and I managed to easily get memory usage over 100 MB. Why this is I simply don’t know, however the leaps weren’t as dramatic as Foxit.

So, conclusion. Both appear to eat memory (one more dramatically than the other) and both are quick. Foxit lacks features but has a smaller footprint. However, as memory usage doesn’t seem to create a winner, I hardly think it can come down to how much they use on your hard disk – the difference of a few dozen MB is hardly going to be a problem with current disk sizes.

Using the Lite version of Acrobat really cuts it down and would certainly be my own personal recommendation. It’s what I’ve left installed.

Join the conversation


  1. Can you explain why, in a world where all major OS platforms are based on modern virtual memory technology, (reasonable) memory usage matters? Or at least usage in the 100Mb range? If you have 1-2Gig of real RAM, which is mapped out to (at least) 4G – 100Mb is a drop in the bucket (which will happily get mapped out if you’re not using it).

    FYI: Readers’s memory increases as you scroll through a document – simple, caching for performance! As you view each page and it is rendered, a rendition is maintained so that returning to the page is instantaneous (as you would expect it to be). Certainly, Reader doesn’t cache EVERYTHING – but is smart enough to use your available memory wisely.

    Also, concerning disk space and installation time. You install software ONCE – so if it takes some time, does it really matter? And given the size of disk drives included with every computer today – is 200Mb really a big deal?

    So if you could explain some more your desires, it would be appreciated.

    Leonard Rosenthol
    PDF Standards Architect
    Adobe Systems

  2. Hi Leonard,

    Yes, you’re quite correct and that is why the extra memory that Acrobat uses in preference in Foxit didn’t result in me recommending the latter.

    Indeed, most of the review was intentionally aimed at the forum that I mentioned at the beginning where little things such as install time and memory usage matters. I don’t agree with that, but that’s what I was trying to address.

    Measuring download sizes and install time doesn’t appear relevant, but the vogue these days are for thorough reviews, and that was as thorough as I could get. If indeed it is relevant, then I’m sure most people won’t factor it into their decision.

    Thank you for the explanation on the memory usage – Foxit isn’t any quicker and appears to leach memory a lot more, but it’s good to understand why it happens. However, can you explain why it doesn’t release any of the past cached pages? If the file is only 17 MB, surely that is the maximum it will need to consume over the default application memory usage?

    However, my end recommendation was for Acrobat Lite in preference to the standard version. Obviously, this isn’t an Adobe version – any comments on why you don’t provide such a version yourselves?

  3. You are positing the argument as either or, when you overlooked competition that address all of your preferences (small footprint, no memory leak). Try SumatraPDF.

    I have used Acrobat, Foxit, and Sumatra extensively. Sumatra has it all.

    1. Not at all. As I said in my original post I was attempting to answer the “Foxit is better than Adobe” argument – I certainly wasn’t reviewing all the PDF viewers on the market.

      Having said that I’ve taken a look. Sumatra does indeed have a small footprint and can even be run from a USB key. The download is around 1.2 MB and it’s about the same once installed. Running without a document loaded it consumes a little over 7 MB of memory.

      I loaded Sumatra with a 10 MB document – this took quite a few seconds to appear (it says it is “rendering”). The same delay does not occur with, say, Adobe, where it appears instantly. Once loaded it consumes 17.5 MB of memory, which is consistent with the size of the application and the document loaded into it. However, scrolling around the document soon shot this up to 30 MB usage – again, consistent with the other readers that consume more memory as you scroll around the document.

      One thing is clear – Sumatra is quick to display pages and this may be due to the initial rendering that occurred. URL’s within the document are clickable and I haven’t seen any obvious issues with the page rendering. There isn’t any browser integration, however, and whoever thinks that bright yellow is a nice colour for application backgrounds needs shooting 😉

      The options available within the application are basic. Definitely no frills here – but if that’s what you’re looking for and aren’t bothered by the lack of browser integration then, to be honest, it’s not too bad. Having said all that, it’s now what I’m after so I’m sticking with Adobe Reader. The Lite version, though.

  4. “Can you explain why, in a world where all major OS platforms are based on modern virtual memory technology, (reasonable) memory usage matters? Or at least usage in the 100Mb range? If you have 1-2Gig of real RAM, which is mapped out to (at least) 4G – 100Mb is a drop in the bucket (which will happily get mapped out if you’re not using it).”

    I’m going to have to strenuously disagree with this. I am working on a 1 GB Ram computer (I would upgrade if it wasn’t at work), and though the processor is not slow, performance in all apps becomes horrendous once RAM usage by FoxIt ramps up to 250 Mb (which it did with just two documents). Application switching takes forever. Add in the fact that I need to have multiple documents open at once to do my research and writing and its a recipe for slow, slow, slow. Too bad you can’t turn page render-caching off. It would probably speed things up for browsing, commenting, and extracting text from the long text documents I’m working with.

  5. @ David,

    “If the file is only 17 MB, surely that is the maximum it will need to consume over the default application memory usage?”

    Actually memory usage could be more, why, maybe because there is a need to cache a set of thumbnails also, maybe a search index for faster searches.
    Anyway, Excellent article and Commendable research.

    @ Leonard,

    “is 200Mb really a big deal?”

    200 MB and installation time is certainly a big deal.

    “100Mb is a drop in the bucket”

    No, that is lousy coding. My Netbook has only 512 MB ram.

  6. @Hector Fine, et al

    Sorry to be slightly off-topic.

    1GB system RAM was appropriate for Win9x systems. It is insanity on WinXP systems and functionally impossible on WinVista and up.

    WinXP takes about 750KB once loaded in a fairly standard config. Yes, the literature says different; but the literature is just advertising in nerd format.

    If your hard drive indicator is on most of the time, all that’s happening is that you are wearing out your hard drive at a frightening pace while wasting 90% of your time waiting for the processor to swap data to and from the hard drive. In a system with sufficient RAM, your hard drive light should rarely come on unless you are starting or stopping a program, accessing the Internet, loading or saving a file, or have a background update going.

    Long story short, your employer is only hurting themselves by not updating your memory at the very minimum (the cheapest speed update there is). Rule of thumb? Minimum of 4GB for all XP and up (32 bit) configurations; 6GB for 64 bit WinVista and 8MB for 64 bit Win7. The next best update is a 24″ LCD monitor running at the max resolution of your video display card. And you’ll spend a lot less time clicking and more time working. The boss pays either way; speeding up your hardware just allows you to be more efficient (thus adding more to the bottom line).

  7. @Jim

    The minimum requirement for XP (which was the last 9X windows) is 64MB ram, and 128MB was recommended. That number was increased by SP3, but not to the insane specs you are suggesting.
    Minimum of 4GB on 32bit is crazy, as 4GB is the MAXIMUM number of SHARED ram (between system and video) that 32bit can access. Why would the maximum hardware a piece of software is able to handle be the minimum?

  8. hi
    i was looking for a cache document function.. on foxit or sumatra, i read on a noisy hdd laptop.. hdd spins down.. but gets back on after 2-3 pages

    @leonard – can you imagine every program needing 200M+ and having usually 5-8 program opened at a time?? the fact that you have a lot of resources does not mean u have to waste them:P win8 needing 20-30G just to install – what a waste… NO COMMENT (btw xp 1.5G clean)

    @jim – all your facts are wrong, u are confusing vista with xp; i am working on xp and task manager shows 70M at start, xp pro sp2 🙂
    those config you posted are for (crazy)game platforms… office xp is just fine with 1G

  9. dan I agree with you 1g on xp is more than enough. I have opened a 4.73 mb document in foxit reader and after like 2 to 3 hours I checked how much ram foxit reader is using and guess what + 500MB ram and sometimes it go beyond that 🙁
    shame I have always preferred foxit reader because it was liter than adobe reader . But until they fix the crazy memory leaks I am going back to adobe.
    I have 3 GB ram window 7 but since I am using android studio and Genymotion emulator I need every bite of free ram.

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