Friday, June 20, 2008

And the winner of the browser speed wars is... not Firefox 3.0


With Firefox and Opera getting massive updates in quick succession, I thought it was high time I joined the party! So I crash-tested the following browsers to find out which was the fastest:
  • Mozilla Firefox 3.0
  • Opera 9.50 (build 10063)
  • Flock 1.2.1
  • MS Internet Explorer 7.0
  • MS Internet Explorer 8.0 (beta)
  • 32bit Web Browser
You probably haven't heard of a few names on the list. Let's just say you're in for a few more surprises as well.

How I tested
The only thing I'm concerned with right now is speed. IE8 for instance, is still beta and it would be unfair to bring in factors which would make it look silly. ElectraSoft's 32bit Web Browser doesn't have tabbed browsing, so I had to throw out any comparisons that had to do with tabbed browsing as well. Finally, I didn't go for memory consumption statistics, or JavaScript or CSS tests, primarily to be fair to IE8, and also because I think all these browsers have very different working mechanisms.

All that being said, I used Robin Keir's basic timer to track the loading times of webpages. The sites I browsed are: Digg, Slashdot, GameSpot and techqi, which is this blog (ahem). The reason I chose these sites is because collectively they range from being graphic-intensive to largely text matter. Each site was loaded 5 times, and prior to loading each and every webpage, I cleared the respective browser's cache and deleted other privacy settings. Plus, I used Tracks Eraser Pro to clean up everytime, just in case to make sure everything was perfect.

I waited till each webpage loaded completely, i.e. including ads, images, etc. I also turned off any (all) pop-up blockers or add-ons in general that could hamper the browsing experience. My test rig specs are as follows: 1.5GHz Celeron M, 256MB RAM, Windows XP SP2. Yes, I know it's old, but that's all I have right now. All times are in seconds.

If you're running tests of your own, of course you'll end up with a different set of stats. But that's because your machine is different from mine, and irrespective of the numerical disagreements, the ratios should be roughly the same provided you followed the same kind of procedure.



Winner: 32bit Web Browser
Runner-up 1: Mozilla Firefox 3.0
Runner-up 2: Opera 9.50

How-why-what 32bit Web Browser!?
I discovered this browser many years ago in a mag CD. I was blown away by the speed, and it's still good enough to make any netholic skip a heartbeat or two. It's really that fast: besting the latest Firefox -- the second-fastest of the lot -- by 1.3 secs on average across 25 webpages is pure badass. However, speed is all about this software. It's plain ugly: the interface looks like it's from the medieval ages, and it also behaves erratically. Sometimes it goes astonishingly fast (techqi in 2.296s, compared to Opera's fastest 4.563 and FF's 3.062), and sometimes it takes much longer for the same site (techqi in 5.687s). Of course browsers always behave like that (which is why I gave each browser 5 tries per site), but -- perhaps because it is so fast -- 32bit's delays are stupefying.

Again, sometimes you can compose emails in Gmail on it like on any other browser, but sometimes it'll ask for your permission on strange certification issues which you've never seen before, and once Gmail has loaded, the mail editor will act as if it doesn't like you. (I wasted five minutes of my life yesterday just trying to add a line break to my email.) I've had similar experiences with the browser across a variety of websites: Plurk,, BBC.

ElectraSoft doesn't really give out much info about their browser. The company website claims that their software has won dozens of awards and is used by the US military, the US senate, IBM and millions of individuals alike.

You can download 32bit browser from here; it's basically free but you can't change the homepage (for which you'd have to shell out $19.99). Don't forget there's no tabbed browsing.

Firefox 3.0 vs Opera 9.50
There's been a lot of bad blood between these two major brands, and fans from both sides have their own reasonings. Firefox most probably (heck, who am I kidding? It did) picked up Opera's 'awesome bar', and Opera added a hefty malware blocker.

Irrespective of which side you're one, both browsers in their current incarnations are pure awesomeness: Firefox 3.0 is a giant leap from its predecessors, and Opera feels leaner and looks better than ever before. In fact, although I'm not indulging in memory stats for reasons stated previously, Opera beats Firefox hands down when it comes to being easy on your system.

Nevertheless, Firefox 3.0 is the way to go, according to my book -- you probably won't be using 32bit on a regular basis because of the cons. FF3 is the fastest mainstream browser around, but perhaps just for the moment -- Opera is barely milliseconds away from snatching its record. Unfortunately for Opera, its undoing is (and possibly always will be) not being dethroned of the speed crown, but its lack of compatibility with many major websites and web-based services .

The simplest browsing nuances -- such as using both enter and tab to toggle checkboxes -- are enough to turn off seasoned surfers like me for good. I just plain hate it when I have to use the tab key twice in Opera to get to my Gmail inbox. There's also no StumbleUpon for this sleek browser, and many startup web projects frequently ignore Opera users (Social Thing comes to mind).

Opera's many built-in add-ons -- my favorite is Notes -- will sadly lose out to the vast legion of Firefox assortments built by its loyal fans, but the fact that all these great things are right there built into the browser speaks volumes of the care that's gone into the making of this product.

Final words in this already long section: I had a hard time importing my bookmarks from an HTML file in FF3. There are also hiccups that go away once you refresh the page, but that might be just me being over-scrutinizing. New bugs and holes are popping up, but they hopefully will be taken care of soon.

Internet Explorer 7 and 8.0 beta
It's high time Opera got some popularity and web developers who remember it -- IE7 absolutely doesn't deserve its number 2 spot alongside FF. IE8.0b looks like an improvement, but it's really too early to tell. Case in point: how much of an improvement will the final product really be? It still follows the behavioral traits of (IE7 and) its ancestors for similar websites.

More on this later -- Flock is primarily a web browser for social networking addicts, and it's grand in that department, FYI. It's clearly slow on graphic-intensive websites.

  • What are your thoughts on my findings? Leave a comment.
  • I'm sorry this post got so long, but I had to be specific.
  • I haven't tested Safari for this post. Unfortunately it won't run on my machine. (Apparently a Windows version of Safari does exist -- thanks Nachik)
  • Subscribe to my feed, via RSS or email.
The last one is shameless self-promotion, but I hope you'll overlook that aspect :)

About the Author

bored_product_guy / Author & Editor

Has laoreet percipitur ad. Vide interesset in mei, no his legimus verterem. Et nostrum imperdiet appellantur usu, mnesarchum referrentur id vim.