Chrome 17 is out with a new pre-rendering feature designed to make your pages load faster, and both Firefox and Opera have also released speedy new versions since our last round of speed tests. So, we’ve once again pitted the four most popular web browsers against each other in a battle of startup times, tab loading times,and more, with more surprising results.
As always, remember that speed is not the only thing each browser has to offer. Each browser has a number of unique features and characteristics, all of which you should factor into making your choice of which to use. However, while most features can be listed on their home pages, you can’t easily compare their speed just from each browser’s changelog, and that’s why we’ve put this together. It’s just one more way to compare the browsers as you make your decision. Also keep in mind that everyone’s computer is different, and it’s not really the numbers that matter here. Your own tests on your machine could produce very different numbers, but it’s the comparison between each browser that matters — on a level playing field, they should rank similar on any computer you test them.
Cold Boot-Up Winner: Chrome!
We’ve slightly tweaked how we test cold boot-ups since last time. Instead of waiting for the same home page to load, we’ve decided to time cold boot-ups only until the browser window appears, since that’s what really matters to most people: when you can actually start using the browser (clicking bookmarks, typing URLs and so on). In this test, Chrome came out the pretty clear winner, showing itself before any of the other browsers. It was a close match though, with Firefox taking only about a second more in last place.
Tab-Loading Winner: Opera!
Given nine tabs to load, ranging from Lifehacker to Facebook to Hulu, Opera once again blew everyone else out of the water with an insanely quick time of six seconds. Other browsers took nearly three times as long, with Firefox and IE hitting 17 seconds and Chrome moving like molasses with 22 seconds.
URL-Loading Winner: Chrome!
We wanted to test Chrome’s new pre-rendering feature to see what kind of difference it made in loading a page after typing it in in the address bar. So, we ran an AutoHotkey script that typed in Lifehacker.com, ran it a few times in each browser, and subtracted the time it took to type the address. While the results were fairly close — within a second from one another — Chrome was noticeably faster, loading pages instantly after hitting the Enter key (as long as you had visited that page once during that session). IE was surprisingly quick, taking a bit less than a half second more, while Opera and Firefox took their own sweet time at 1.35 seconds each to load a new page. It was one of the smallest scales on which the browsers did battle today, but it was still different enough that we though it worth including — and it’s actually quite noticeable when you’re browsing.
DOM/CSS-Performance Winner: Opera!
Once again, these results should be pretty familiar. Opera smoked the competition during the CSS tests, more than usual, while Firefox, Chrome, and Internet Explorer all ate its dust in 2nd, 3rd and last place respectively.
Memory Usage (with Nine Tabs Open) Winner: Firefox!
This time around, we’ve left our no-tabs-memory-usage scores out of the final tally, since we didn’t find that they really mattered in real world usage. When it comes to memory usage with nine tabs open, however, Firefox reigns supreme — which, even though isn’t a new result, is still shocking given the fact that Firefox used to eat memory like it was Pac Man and memory was little white dots. Unlike last time, this time Firefox edged out Opera, showing its truly committed to this lower-memory browsing, while Chrome and IE took up a fair amount more memory on their own.
If you’re curious about each browser’s memory usage without nine tabs open, we still measured it; we just didn’t put it in the graphs. Chrome actually wins the battle of base memory usage at only 42MB, with Opera close behind at 48MB. Firefox and IE use up closer to 63MB of RAM without any tabs open — negligible in the grand scheme of things, but interesting to know, considering how bad Chrome is at managing memory once you open up a few tabs (and how Firefox squeezes into first place).
Memory Usage (with Nine Tabs and Five Extensions) Winner: Firefox!
It looks like using extensions may raise each browser’s memory usage, but not in a way that differentiates them in these tests. Firefox still comes out ahead when you install five extensions, with Opera behind it and Chrome in last place.
We tallied the place rankings for each browser and assigned them point values, then divided them by the total number of points each could have gotten for an easily readable scale. This time around, we started counting the memory use scores for half, since with and without extensions they’re two sides of the same coin (and we didn’t want memory over-represented in the battle). The scoring system isn’t perfect, since it also doesn’t take into account by how MUCH each browser might win a specific battle — but everyone wants to see a winner, and it at least gives us that. We urge you to look closely at the above results and determine which browser fits your needs best rather than just looking at the final scores. If tab loading times are what really irk you, factor in tab loading times more so than memory usage or cold boot time when picking which browser fits your speed needs. And, as we already said, remember that there’s a lot more to browser choice than just speed — this is just supposed to rank them in ways one can’t see from each browser’s “feature” page. The scores are:
- Chrome: 69%
- Firefox and Opera: 63.2%
- Internet Explorer: 48%
It’s clear that each browser is improving quite a bit with each new version, and each has pretty clear strengths in the realm of speed. While loading a group of bookmarks (or restoring an old session) in Chrome is remarkably slow, loading a page from the URL bar feels instantaneous, while Firefox has learned its lesson with memory usage. Opera loads a group of tabs with shocking speed, as usual. Hopefully, this trend continues into the future and we see more competition between each browser for title of the fastest.
Our tests aren’t the most scientific on the planet, but they do reflect a relatively accurate view of the kind of experience you’d get from each browser, speed-wise. Let us know if your experience differs — or if the speed losses are worth the browser’s other features — in the comments.