Browser Speeds & Stability Compared; Should You Switch Browsers Now?

3 minute read
J. Angelo Racoma avatar

Web browsers are often a highly personal choice. You would usually have a preference based on speed, feature set and compatibility. With the recent release of IE9 and Firefox 4 claiming to be faster than ever, tests have been run to determine speed and stability on each.

Microsoft launched Internet Explorer 9 last week with a party, and Mozilla's Firefox 4 release is said to have beaten IE9 in terms of volume. Both new versions were touted to have been tweaked for speed. Lifehacker did some tests in six criteria to see which browser fares better in terms of speed or stability (or both).

Among the browsers tested were Google Chrome 10, Google Chrome 11 (beta), Opera 11, Internet Explorer 9 and Firefox 4. These were the latest stable versions, except for Chrome 11, which is currently in beta. The tests focused on:

  • Cold boot-up
  • Tab loading
  • Javascript
  • Memory use (without extensions)
  • Memory use (with 5 extensions)

How Each Browser Fared

Tests showed that browsers generally had approximately the same coldboot start times, with IE9 coming in as a slow outlier. This comes as asurprise, given that one would usually assume that IE9's being builtinto Windows should be an advantage. Both stable and developmentversions of Google Chrome were fastest in terms of loading tabs withcontent, and running Javascript.

browser tab loading performance.jpg


In terms of laying out pages as designed, Opera showed the best handling. In terms of bare-bones memory use, Chrome beta and Opera beat the others. Opera 11 and Firefox were best at handling memory with five extensions.

The Verdict -- Opera Takes the Lead

The analysis found Opera to be the best of the bunch, followed by Chrome, Firefox and IE9. The stable version of Chrome fared a bit better than the new beta version, but that's probably due to the beta version still being tweaked for final release.

Learning Opportunities

While IE9 was determined to be the slowest in terms of cold-boot times, Microsoft's latest browser is said to be as fast as its competition when the browser has already launched and resides in memory. IE9 is also a big improvement over its predecessor in terms of handling new technologies. For one, IE9 uses hardware acceleration, which takes better advantage of the computer's graphics processing unit (GPU) for displaying video or graphics-intensive content in Flash, HTML5 and Silverlight, rather than take up CPU cycles. IE9 is also designed to handle HTML5 more efficiently. 

Mozilla claims that Firefox 4's hardware acceleration trumps that of IE9, as it supports more platforms and rendering standards.

Should You Change Browsers Now?

Most browser releases have been made on the basis of being the fastest, cleanest or most feature-packed. However, if you're planning to change browsers, consider a few things first.

Consider the platforms you're using. Opera offers synchronization of bookmarks and other information across desktop and mobile variants. Chrome works on virtually all desktop platforms, including Windows, OS X and Linux. IE, of course, comes default with Windows.

Then, you will also need to consider if you use special extensions or add-ons. You can't simply move to another browser and expect everything to work as with the first one. For example, I can only use IE for mobile banking, since my bank stubbornly wants to use certain ActiveX controls.

Upgrades to newer versions are often necessary for better security and stability, though. So unless you're using some specialized software that relies on IE6 (like 12% of the world), an upgrade should be in order.

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