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The hunt for the Fastest Browser on Earth - Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari and Internet Explorer fight it out

By Soumya Deb | Published 19 Mar 2010
The hunt for the Fastest Browser on Earth - Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari and Internet Explorer fight it out


This is the Part I of the two-part article, CLICK HERE for Part II


The Browser Wars are heating up again. First there was the funeral party for Internet Explorer 6 (let's hope it stays buried), then we had the EU mandate for the Browser Ballot, a feature which has lead to the corrosion of the IE's install base, Firefox overtook Internet Explorer 7, and recently, we saw the release of Opera 10.50 - the self-proclaimed Fastest Browser on Earth... As we were putting up the finishing touches on this article Microsoft released a sneak peek of Internet Explorer 9; and not a moment too soon as you will learn soon. 


Opera has long been playing the role of best supporting actor in the browser theater for the past 14 years. The past few years have seen relative upstarts - Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome - steal market share and mind share from this browser of yore. Popularity notwithstanding, Opera has always been the melting pot for new ideas and features, to which Turbo, and Unite are some of the latest additions. Opera's newest weapon - its brand new JavaScript compiling engine called "Carakan" (pronounced 'Jarakan') is claimed to sprint seven times faster than its previous "Futhark" engine. This definitely makes the browser faster than its predecessors, but how does it compare to its competitors?


When Opera proclaims something as bold as "Earth's Fastest Browser", we had to take a closer look and check the validity of this claim. Its competition is surely not sitting idle: Google Chrome's V8 engine is constantly being improved, as it evident from the performance gains in each dev release; Mozilla is polishing their SpiderMonkey engine with each new version, and en route to creating a new JavaScript engine, and Safari is tweaking its SquirrelFish engine - all trying their best to squeeze every drop from their JavaScript engines. With that in mind, we felt that the browsers needed to go against each other and show us what they've really got.


This article then is purely about which one of our favourite browsers is the Fastest. We haven't covered all the browsers under the sun but certainly all the usual suspects.

To that end, we will take a look at our favourite browsers' performance across two parts. The first part will take you through the tests we will throw at these browsers, describing in detail our reasoning for picking these tests and what to make of their results. In the second part, we shall produce the comparison data and benchmark details with the conclusion crowning the performance winner. 

So before spilling out the names of the gladiators, let's checkout the proving-ground and the gauntlet each competitor will run through. Here's the list of tests that each of the browser took (spoiler alert - some failed these tests):


  • Acid 3 Test

      This one needs little introduction. Our good-old Acid test is a standard tool for testing a browser's standards-compliance and any browser test is incomplete without it.


  • Dromaeo Test

      Once warmed up, we let the browsers battle it out using the Dromaeo tests. This set of tests gives us a detailed break-up of nearly all aspects of JavaScript interpreting, rendering, and CSS rendering performance. The great thing about Dromaeo is that, despite being a Mozilla project, it includes all the tests of the Apple WebKit (SunSpider) and Chrome's (V8) JavaScript tests, besides the Dromaeo tests (Mozilla's own test suite) itself.
      Furthermore, it has the CSS Selector test that uses some JavaScript libraries for DOM (Document Object Model) queries and gives us a CSS performance chart. We performed all tests to ensure that the results have as little bias as possible. This is a pretty extensive test, with a very detailed result sheet. While we won't delve into its depths in this discussion, we shall put the links of the detailed comparison data to whet the appetite of the uber-geeks among us.
      A note on Internet Explorer 8 here: we could not include Internet Explorer 8 into this test as the browser behaved very erratically. We could not save its test sessions, it failed to complete the entire test on many runs; reporting script alerts often. IE8 did not play nice with Dromaeo and was thus kept out of this round. Considering that these tests used commonly used functions, this ia quite a failure on the browsers part.


  • PeaceKeeper Test

      Peacekeeper is a web browser benchmarking service from FutureMark. It takes into account the PC hardware configuration. PeaceKeeper simulates a realistic web surfing workload: JavaScript usage and implementation of the most visited categories of websites such as social networking sites, online video sharing sites, and so on. It also performs an intensive and complex graphics rendering test with the use of the new HTML5 (canvas) implementation for the major browsers. 


  • JSNES Speed Test

      Lastly, we ran our good-ol' Contra in a JavaScript NES emulator to give our champs a real workout and recorded their frame-rate. Ben Firshman has come up with this cool new emulator for the Nintendo Entertainment System inspired by Matt Westcott's JSSpeccy which runs on the dual-power of JavaScript and HTML5's Canvas element. While describing a browser's performance on his page, Ben mentioned the performance of Google Chrome to be best, with Safari close behind. Firefox's somewhat playable framerate was also noted; but he completely skipped any comment on Opera. We didn't forget though. Every one of the browsers were stress tested using this tool.


We ran all the tests on the same test machine, under the same test conditions.

Now let's take at our champs, while they are warming up for the big battle:


NOTE: We've also thrown Internet Explorer 9's platform preview into this mix but as Microsoft's licensing restricts us, we cannot publish the benchmarking data. We will suggest how it did across these tests though. We will refer to this preview build as IE9 for the rest of this article.

The test-bed we selected had to strike a delicate balance: it needed to be common enough such that it reflects the "average" computer used to browse and yet it needed to have enough juice to run these applications. We went with a value notebook with the following specs: Intel Core Duo T2300 processor at 1.67GHz on an Intel G945 mainboard, with 1x2GB 667MHz DDR2 Transcend memory and an on-board GMA950 display adapter. Windows 7 was our operating system.
Before we get to our tests - we would like you to give these browsers a spin as well. You have the ingredients right here, get your hands dirty and take your favourite browser for a spin, then let us know your experience and results. Ideas, experiences, comments and suggestions are most welcome at the ThinkDigit Forum.

If you do run these tests do post the links to the results in the forum, and if we get enough samples, we will post aggregated results from across the variety of configurations you test on.


Click here to continue reading Part II  - where the browsers meet their fate...

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