A Very Low-Resource Browsing Option For Old PCs

Opera Mobile Browsing 320 x 480

Just over a year ago, I looked at the little known browser K-Meleon and deemed it a very good way to keep computer resource usage low when browsing the Internet. Thus, it represented a great solution for very old PCs with low RAM availability. After a recent update, K-Meleon is still very much fulfilling that brief, but more options are always good, so in this post I’m looking at a different, if rather unusual approach…

The Opera Mobile Emulator is actually built for Web developers who use desktop machines, but need an instant means of testing their design projects for mobile compatibility across a range of devices.

However, the Opera Mobile Emulator also happens to be very light on resources, and it differs from most developer mobile emulators in that it’s self-sufficient, running stand-alone rather than within an existing desktop browser. Therefore, it acts as a desktop Internet browser with an extremely economical footprint. It’s completely free, so it falls into the category of “Why not give it a try?”.

After download and a quick installation, the Mobile Emulator powers up to a selection screen, which allows you to choose a device you’d like to emulate. The options will correspond with the operating system you use, so if, like me, you’re using Windows, your mobile OS will be Android.

There are plenty of options, all of which can be additionally, and easily customised, and the range includes both mobile phones and tablets, with varying screen sizes to suit your taste. At the top of the post I’ve compiled some captures from a typical mobile phone emulation. On power-up, these standard 320 x 480 mobile emulations use less that 25MB of RAM on my machine. You then need to budget for whatever the websites you visit add to that, but it’s going to be way, way less demanding on RAM than a modern desktop browser.

Opera Mobile Tablet

The small mobiles will generally force the sites you visit to display compact mobile themes – which help further in reducing resource consumption. But if you select the tablet options, you may see the sites in their standard view, and that could guzzle rather more RAM. Again, though, the very fact that you’re using a much lighter browser should mean you’re still saving resources. Above I’ve added a capture from a typical tablet selection, which has defaulted not to Twitter mobile, but to the desktop Twitter view. Just experiment until you find a formula you like.


As you might expect, this system is not perfect. Firstly, you’re not using a real phone or tablet, so interacting with the screen will be different. If you’re using a mouse you can shift the page up and down the screen by clicking and dragging, and with some of the sites’ functions you may need to click and hold the mouse (left-click or right-click) in order to get a dialogue or menu to appear. It does take a bit of getting used to, but if you really are desperate for RAM, it’s still a lot quicker than using a massively heavy desktop browser and constantly waiting for it to churn through a clogged up virtual memory. Even down to machines with 256K of RAM you shouldn’t be dipping into virtual memory very often with this setup.

There are also some issues with display. Again, it’s not a real mobile, so it can sometimes get confused as to how it should be displaying certain elements of sites. And of course, some sites are not properly mobile-compatible anyway, so they’re going to be a problem even for real mobile users.

And you may also find some of the page loads quite slow. The browser tends to load pretty much everything on a page before deciding to display it (whereas a desktop browser will more typically display the page immediately and then load the elements progressively), so it’s not really slower per se – it just appears that way because of the logic it uses.

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I find this tool good fun, and it can be refreshing to get away from the deluge of JavaScript and flash routines of popular sites to calm down in the more placid and basic haven of their mobile versions.

Also, if you do publish content and want to check how it looks on a much bigger raft of devices than simply your own phone and computer, the Opera Mobile Emulator has another set of benefits. Being aware of what other people see when they visit your site is invaluable, and can save you some embarrassment. Don’t take everything the Emulator does as gospel though – don’t hack a site apart because it doesn’t display well on one particular selection. Emulations do get things wrong.

If you’re in doubt about a potential problem with your own site, head for MobileTest.me, and don’t forget to triple check with Google’s own mobile friendly test. If all of these resources show the same error, you probably do have an issue, but if the Opera Emulator is the only one showing a wonky display, I wouldn’t worry too much.


Don’t forget that the K-Meleon browser currently provides a simple option for the desktop user with low RAM. I’ve explained more about it in last year’s K-Meleon post, but bear in mind that the browser has been updated recently, and is now on a different version. I’m sure this will see it continuing to deliver well into 2016.

Author: Bob Leggitt