I think you might be right.
Firefox probably thinks we are living in 1970 when there wasn't anything called virtual memory, so it allocates gobs of RAM for caches and does explicit file io.
A much better way would be to have just one cache in one huge memory mapped file, that way there is never any explicit io and the kernel is free to write stuff out to disk whenever it needs to.
It would make a persistent cache a bit tricky, you could never do anything with the cached files using normal tools and crashing would be interesting, though.
Someone working on firefox should take a peek at Varnish, which is incredibly fast because it lets the kernel do all the hard memory/io work.
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