Plugin Performance Profiler – Does it Actually Work?

Plugin Performance Profiler

There is a lot to like about the Plugin Performance Profiler – especially at first glance.

It could be the rating (near perfect), the fact that it is regularly updated, or that it is designed by a reputable company (GoDaddy). You could look at the flawless compatibility ratings, and the top-notch support (with 8 out of 8 support threads being resolved in the last two months).

But what about its actual capabilities? What can it do to help you run a faster WordPress website? Or most pertinently – does it work?

What Does P3 Do?

The Plugin Performance Profiler (or P3) is marketed as a tool that can “narrow down anything causing slowness on your site”. More specifically, it intends to measure the impact of plugins on your site’s load time.

The simple logic is this – P3 allows you to identify resource-intensive plugins, so that you can make an informed decision regarding their continued usage.

In theory, this is a wonderful concept. In my opinion, one of the biggest issues with the WordPress.org plugin directory is that you simply don’t know how much of drain any particular plugin is going to place on your site. P3 promises to empower you with the kind of knowledge that can allow you to be more selective with the plugins that you use.

Does it Work?

In order to get a grasp of how effectively P3 adjudges the load time of different plugins, I ran a little experiment with my own blog. I carried out four scans over the space of a few days.

For those of you who don’t know, this is the main report that you are greeted with after a scan:

Plugin Performance Profiler

As you can see, the pie chart displays the plugins which took the longest to load, based upon P3′s scan. The number of plugins displayed in this pie chart varied from 7 – 12 across the four scans, so for the purposes of my data collection, I only counted the 6 plugins that were consistently displayed in every report.

When you hover over a slice on the pie chart, a popup box helpfully displays the estimated load time of the plugin in question. I took all of the load times and entered them into a spreadsheet, then calculated the percentage swing in load time (per plugin) across all four scans. Here’s what I found:

Plugin Performance Profiler Scans

As you can in the above spreadsheet, there are some impressive swings in load time between each scan. Furthermore, the data collected presents some curious anomolies.

For instance, the WordPress SEO plugin seems to be getting progressively slower – starting at 0.038 seconds, then jumping to 0.0665, then climbing further to 0.0717 and finally 0.878.

What does it all mean, and how are we supposed to translate such confused results?

The Culprit(s)

Kurt Payne

Kurt Payne – PHP programmer and all-round helpful chap.

I decided to query the variances in P3′s support forum on WordPress.org. Kurt Payne, the developer of P3, was quick to get back to me with a very detailed and considered response (as previously mentioned, support for this plugin is excellent).

It turns out that there are multiple external influences that can affect the consistency of P3′s reporting:

  • Other activity on your server (in the case of shared servers)
  • Server side processes
  • Traffic fluctuations
  • Plugin activity (i.e. what a plugin is doing at the time a scan takes place)

Furthermore, P3 actually “changes its environment” in order to measure it, so getting precisely accurate results is impossible.

Kurt recommended that I take a few different measurements at different times, but doing so provides such skewed results that it seems impossible to know what “reality” is.

So is P3 Worth Using?

My answer is “yes and no”.

P3 presents you with very detailed reports, which may well fool you into thinking it is taking accurate measurements – but it is not.

What it can do though is allow you to recognize general trends over a period of time. For instance, regardless of the fact that Digg Digg’s estimated load time swings from 0.0854 to 0.124 seconds, I can still reasonably adjudge that it is quite resource intensive. The same can be said for Hide Trackbacks. So I can take an average view on those plugins and decide if they are worth the lost millisecond or so.

But things get far more confusing when you come across something like WordPress SEO’s results. This plugin appears to be putting more and more of a strain on my site. Although I have already done four scans, I would have to do at least a couple more to figure out where this plugin lies in terms of its resource hunger.

In conclusion, the way P3 is presented implies that it is presenting highly accurate results, but it isn’t. If you recognize that fact and take its findings with a pinch of salt, it can be a good tool for highlighting really troublesome plugins.

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8 Comments

  1. managewp@clickbrain.com says:

    Love your product so far in my trial, but disappointed to see after running 3 scans on my site, that the ManageWP Worker plugin is taking up 60% and taking between .68 and .82 seconds to load. I noticed that someone above made a similar comment, but didn't see a reply.

    Are you guys working to optimize your performance? The functionality you provide is very enticing, but not sure if worth the load time hit it takes on my site. Would love to hear what you plan to do to address the issue.

  2. Interesting that whenever I tried to use this plugin, it broke my sites! Love what it does, but I'm still trying to ascertain what it's conflicting with. It's definitely a very useful tool for those of us that are 'plugin-happy'. :D – Brad

  3. vmialik says:

    I def agree that we should focus on general trends and not exact numbers at this point as there are many factors at play.

    But just an observation on my end. On all the tests I have run so far it seems that MWP Worker Plugin is taking significant % of the pie. Any comments on that

    • vmialik says:

      Any way to optimize the worker plugin. I would really hate to turn it on and off, as this makes it inconvenient. Also input to how the worker uses its resources would be nice to know, whether its just when its being updated or standby mode two. It would be nice to have a Stand By feature that shuts the plugin while its not in update mode.

  4. David Johnson says:

    Maybe I missed it, but if you run on a local dev server, wouldn't the results be a more acurate test? More than say a website on your hosting server as described above?

    BTW, I've heard good things about the ManageWP plugin. I'm at the point of needing a more automated solution to managing WP sites.

    • Tom Ewer says:

      Hi David,

      That's an interesting point – you could well be right. Perhaps a bit much for some users, but surely it must be a more stable testing environment.

      As for ManageWP, with a free trial on offer, what is there to lose… ;)

      Cheers,

      Tom

  5. Sonephet says:

    Great post. I felt just what you proved thanks to objective data and replaced the solution by something a bit more manual. I've been using the very simple "WP Overview (lite)" for a few days and am very satisfied. It indicates the memory load usage on the footer of my admin panel, that's it. No resource-intensive GUI but a simple and straightforward datum. It requires to check and compare the before activation/after activation load usage for each and every plugin to weed out any excessively resource-intensive plugin, an effort I found worthwhile.

    • Tom Ewer says:

      Hi Sonephet,

      Sounds like you have found an interesting alternative solution – thanks for the suggestion!

      Cheers,

      Tom