Which Web browser is best?
- — 12 August, 2010 15:58
Browser developers are making a big fuss over page-loading speed right now--after all, everyone likes to be the fastest.
Though we saw some very slight speed differences in our page-loading tests--see the chart here for a summary--our findings indicate that most browser speed claims are overblown. (For more, see "Does Speed Still Matter?")
As we were wrapping up this review, Opera Software released version 10.6 of the Opera browser. It came out too late to be included in our live-site testing, but I did have a chance to run it through the SunSpider Benchmark. Although Opera claims that the new release offers a 50 percent increase in performance over version 10.50, it finished about even with Opera 10.53 in the SunSpider tests.
Google's browser surpassed its four major competitors by a fair margin on this particular test.
Though Chrome was the fastest of the group in our page-loading tests, the speed differences among the browsers were negligible.
Internet Explorer 8 put up a respectable showing overall and was the fastest browser in five of our tests, but Chrome's average page-load time of 1.75 seconds was the speediest of the five browsers we looked at. Safari 5 came in second overall at 1.89 seconds.
In many instances page-loading speeds were close. For example, in our ebay.com test, four of the five browsers loaded the page within eight- or nine-tenths of a second; only Opera took over 1 second to load the page, and even then, at 1.09 seconds, its page-load time wasn't horrible.
That said, Opera was the slowest browser in three of our eight live-site tests. In two of those three tests (pcworld.com and en.wikipedia.org), Opera lagged significantly behind the rest of the pack, loading pages over a full second slower than the next-slowest browser. In real time, a second isn't that big of a difference, but in terms of percentage, it's significant. On the other hand, in our internal-network tests, Opera came out ahead in two of the three tests we performed. We weren't quite able to explain why this difference exists--our live-site page-loading tests put up repeatable results, by and large--but it's possible that other browsers handle network latency better than Opera does.
In real-life use, browser speed claims are probably overstated. Though your results will vary depending on your PC, its operating system, and which sites you visit, among other factors, you likely won't notice the difference between browsers in regular Web surfing unless you perform tests similar to the ones we did. Ultimately, any browser you select will be fast enough.
BEST PAGE LOADING: Chrome
In this speed test, Chrome enjoyed only a slight lead over the other four browsers we examined.
Which Browser Should You Choose?
All five of the browsers we looked at are free, so it never hurts to try a different one. But jumping from browser to browser has one hidden cost: your time. It can take a while to set up a browser to look and behave just the way you like it. So with that in mind, if we had to pick only one browser, Chrome would be our top recommendation. We like Chrome for its clean and friendly interface, good performance, and strong security. It covers all the basics for most users, and offers plenty of customization for power users.