Browser Speed Tests: Chrome 19, Firefox 13, IE9, Opera 11.64

Firefox 13 is out now and it’s all about speed. Chrome and Opera also introduced new versions of their browsers recently, so we thought it was time for another browser speed test. We’ve once again pitted the four most popular Windows web browsers against each other in a battle of startup times, tab loading times and more, with some unexpected results.

We’ve been testing browsers for a while, and we’ve refined our method pretty well. It’s a good mix of both manually timed user experience measures, and hardcore JavaScript and CSS benchmarks, plus some new tests aimed at features such as Chrome’s pre-rendering and Firefox’s on-demand tab-loading. All tests take place on Windows.

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 each browser’s respective 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 and help you decide which one is best for you. Also keep in mind that everyone’s computer is different, and your numbers may differ from ours, but the comparison between the numbers should be the same.

Cold Boot-Up Winner: Opera!

Once again, we’ve slightly tweaked how we measure cold boot-ups, this time measuring until the moment you can actually type in the address bar and start visiting pages (since that’s when most people will consider the browser “usable”). Coupled with all the new updates, this produced some very different results, with Opera coming out way ahead of the competition, ready to use in less than two seconds. Chrome came in second at about four seconds, the other browsers trailing further behind.

Tab-Loading Winner: Opera!

Our test of loading nine tabs, from Lifehacker to Facebook to Gmail, Opera continues to rock our socks with seriously quick tab-loading times. Firefox seriously improved this time around, but not enough to catch Opera, while Chrome stayed agonisingly slow once again.

URL-Loading Winner: Chrome!

Not surprisingly, Chrome took home the prize for visiting sites from the address bar, thanks to its awesome pre-rendering feature. While most browsers were pretty quick, Chrome was near instantaneous, as long as you had visited that page once during that session. Firefox and IE took second and third place, with Opera nearly doubling their times.

Cold Restore Winner: Firefox!

In an effort to test the benefits of Firefox’s new on-demand tab-loading, we took the same nine tabs as above, saved them in a session, and did another cold boot of the browser on restart, timing how long it took to automatically restore that session of tabs. We measured until the browser had stopped its loading process, which meant after one tab loaded in Firefox or after all tabs loaded in other browsers. Of course, Firefox users will have to wait for those tabs to load later on, but the idea was to measure how much quicker Firefox was at being usable when you restored from a large session — something you really feel the weight of when you load nine tabs at once — and it didn’t disappoint. Opera came in a pretty close second, with Chrome trailing far behind due to its slow tab-loading times. Internet Explorer was left out for lack of an automatic session restore feature.

JavaScript Winner: Chrome!

Not much changed in the JavaScript and CSS realms this time around. Chrome once again took home the gold in JavaScript performance, with Firefox coming in a distant second, not far from the other browsers.

DOM/CSS Performance Winner: Opera!

Like the JavaScript tests, there’s nothing new here. Opera once again obliterates the other browsers with seriously awesome CSS performance.

Memory Usage (with Nine Tabs Open) Winner: Firefox!

Firefox continues to work on memory usage improvements, but all the browsers seemed to be on equally bloated footing this time around, at least without any extensions installed. After a few minutes, the memory usage of most browsers levelled out around 400MB, while Firefox was closer to 310MB.

Memory Usage (with Nine Tabs and Five Extensions) Winner: Firefox!

This was the really shocking result this time around: Firefox may not have improved much without add-ons, but when you pile on five different add-ons, it’s memory usage doesn’t change all that much. The other browsers had their memory usage jump nearly 200MB, while Firefox’s only jumped up by 60MB, making it a very clear first place winner. Its UI may still feel a little laggy, but when it comes to actually conserving memory, Firefox kicks butt.

Overall Scores

We debated ditching “overall scores” this time around, since it becomes harder and harder to tally them up fairly, and it’s more important to look at each individual category than some arbitrary score. But everyone likes a winner, so we’ve kept this section at the end for those of you handing out trophies, and the scores are:

  1. Firefox: 75%
  2. Chrome and Opera: 66%
  3. Internet Explorer: 45%

Firefox’s new tabs-on-demand feature brought it into first place, above previous winner Chrome. Opera caught up to Chrome with some serious speed improvements, while Internet Explorer once again took a fairly distant last place. As we said, you should look at the individual scores above to see which browser is faster in the areas you care about — if you don’t like Firefox’s new tabs on demand, for example, Chrome and Opera would still be the fastest in your world. As usual, we’re seeing that each browser is focusing on specific areas of improvement: Firefox with memory management, Opera with tab-loading and CSS, and Chrome with its JavaScript and pre-rendering features. So wherever you’re feeling the weight of your current browser, that might be a good place to see which browser is a faster choice.

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 in terms of speed. Let us know if your experience differs or if the speed losses are worth the browser’s other features in the comments.


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