Productivity

Browser Speed Tests: Firefox 4, IE9, Chrome 11 And More

It has been quite a month for browsers, with Internet Explorer and Firefox both dropping big new versions, and Chrome and Opera continuing their regular improvements. We tested all these browsers’ startup and tab-loading times, JavaScript powers, and memory use for your fast-minded enjoyment. Update: With 32-versus-64-bit IE 9 results.

We’ve been doing browser speed tests for some time now, and we’ve got a particular way of doing them. It’s part user experience, with manually timed start-up and tab-load tests, and partly based on JavaScript and CSS tests that combine parts of the popular benchmark frameworks used by Apple, Mozilla, Chrome and other browsers to pump up their releases. For this session, we’re trying out the brand-spanking-new Firefox 4, along with the much more web-friendly Internet Explorer 9, and the latest iterations of both Chrome and Opera.

Let’s get into it. Click any of the images below for a larger view (which you’ll likely need).

Cold Boot-Up — Winner: Opera 11!

Internet Explorer remains surprisingly not that fast out of the gate, despite having some elements of itself baked into Windows. You might note that we’re not including “warm start” results this time around; when looking at our preliminary results, we realised that all the browsers start up fast enough, after having already started once, that to rate a winner would require a near-certain faith in timer-finger speed. But that’s a good thing.

Tab Loading — Winner: Chrome 10 (Stable)!

Given nine tabs to load up — Google.com, YouTube, Lifehacker, Gizmodo and each of the browsers’ home pages — the wide-release version of Chrome won out. It’s a pretty tight competition, though, with just over two seconds separating the majority of the pack.

JavaScript — Winner: Chrome 11 (Dev)!

(Updated from original results) Call it naive, call it unaware, but this editor had no idea upon starting this batch of tests that 64-bit Internet Explorer 9 used a different, far weaker JavaScript engine than its 32-bit variant. If anything, I thought I was quietly giving IE 9 an inherent advantage by using its 64-bit version on a 64-bit Windows 7 installation. My results, like others, show differently.

In its 32-bit flavour, Internet Explorer 9 is competitive with Firefox 4, and actually bests Opera 11 – at least in this run through the multi-test Dromaeo suite. Chrome still handily picks up this category, in any case.

DOM/CSS — Winner: Opera 11!

It’s less recognisable and flashy than JavaScript prowess, but styling and CSS handling is increasingly important, given the continued expansion of interactive webapps. Opera pulls ahead of both Chrome release trees here, with Firefox 4 not far behind, and IE 9 again winning points over its predecessors for finishing the race.

Memory Use (No Extensions) — Winner: Chrome Dev and Opera 11!

Chrome’s bleeding-edge version obviously doesn’t take its memory use for granted, and neither does Opera. Those browsers use the least memory upon just starting, and after having loaded the same nine-tab load tested above.

Memory Use (with Five Extensions) — Winner: Opera 11 & Firefox 4!

Let it be said that the LastPass, Gmail-checking and Cooliris image display extensions available for Chrome and Opera are certainly lighter than the full-fledged extensions available for Firefox — but they are what’s available. With that stated, Firefox actually did the best out of all the browsers with five extensions and nine tabs, which is certainly brag-worthy. Opera 11 remains a tightwad with memory in all cases, and wins when its (lighter) extensions are installed on startup.

Overall Scores

Every browser has a unique value proposition for each user, and maybe you need certain features more than others… blah, blah, blah. What if you ranked each browser in a few major categories, first place through fifth, then divided their sum showings by the total possible?

Here’s how that would shake out, if the competition included cold starts, nine-tab loading, JavaScript, DOM/CSS and memory use.

  1. Opera: 76%
  2. Chrome 10 (Stable): 76%
  3. Chrome 11 (Dev): 68%
  4. Firefox 4: 60%
  5. Internet Explorer 9 (64-bit): 24%
  6. Internet Explorer 9 (32-bit): 28%

Update: With IE 9′s better 32-bit JavaScript engine factored in, Opera has a small amount shaved off for losing in the JavaScript test. Still, it holds up as a powerful overall pick.

A few caveats, then: Internet Explorer 9 is actually a pretty nice browser to use, once it’s loaded, and with memory as an out-of-mind concern. And Firefox 4 definitely feels faster, snappier and less prone to drifting into lagginess. And as for why Chrome’s Dev version seemed to fall behind the Stable version in certain tests, well, we don’t quite grasp all the vagaries of development, and it is, after all, a “no promises” download.

Historical Results

Want to see how Internet Explorer improved from version 8 to 9? Get a sense of where the (long) road from Firefox 3.6 to 4 ended up? Here’s a few charts combining results from our previous tests with today’s release.

Cold Starts

Nine-Tab Loading

JavaScript Tests

Memory Use with Extensions Installed

Those are our findings from a lot of timer-clicking, patient test-loading and memory measuring. Each browser has its own use case beyond pure speed or efficiency, of course, and all hardware is different. But tell us how our tests match up with your own experiments in the comments.