Which Browser Is Fastest?

Category: Browsers

I've been using the Chrome browser because it was rated as the fastest. Now I hear the new IE9 is winning the speed tests. Which browser is fastest in real life situations, and do you recommend one over another?

Does Browser Speed Matter Any More?

Another round of the browser wars is starting, with "new, improved" releases of the most popular Web browsers having been released within a few months of each other. So the question geeks are debating endlessly now is, "Which browser is fastest?" Internet Explorer 9? Firefox 4? Safari 5? Chrome 10? Opera 11? A few pundits are coming to the sensible conclusion: it no longer matters.

The only basis for speed comparison between browsers is how fast they render web pages. Rendering involves interpreting the HTML code that comprises a web page and displaying text, graphics, animations, etc., according to the instructions embedded in the code. No web browser will fetch a webpage faster than another; that's a function of your Internet connection's speed, Internet traffic between you and the website, and how fast the web server can transmit the requested page.

I find that last factor, the speed of the website you're trying to load, makes ALL the difference in almost EVERY case. Pardon the food analogy, but if the waitress brings your rice pilaf one grain at a time, it's going to take a long time to eat dinner, no matter how fast you can eat.
Fastest Browser

These factors are beyond the control of browsers, and they matter much more than the difference between browsers' rendering speeds.

Take a look at the first chart in ZDNet's comparison of several browsers' performance on four benchmark suites. It shows the time, in milliseconds, that each of the tested browsers takes to render a set of "real-world problems" such as frames, animations, forms, etc.

Who Wins the Browser Speed Tests?

It seems IE 9 (32-bit) wins this test. But note the difference between IE 9 and the "slowest" competitor, Safari 5: less than 140 milliseconds. Seriously, this is trivial; literally, a blink of the eye.

The 64-bit version of Internet Explorer 9 is the worst performer of the bunch, not only in the SunSpider benchmark but in all the others, too. That's because the 64-bit IE 9 is still using an older JavaScript Engine to do its rendering. Presumably, Microsoft will update that in the near future.

All of the benchmarks test JavaScript rendering because JavaScript is heavily used in web pages these days. Another testable factor is compatibility with HTML5, the next generation of the HTML markup language that underlies the entire Web. While some have claimed that IE 9 smokes all competition when it comes to HTML5 compatibility, the developers of HTML5 are quick to point out that the HTML5 benchmark suite is not yet complete.

What really matters in terms of "browser speed" is the user interface. It doesn't matter that your browser renders a page 0.14 seconds faster than the next guy's if it takes you 2-3 full seconds to find a bookmarked page. Being able to navigate a browser's many menus and features quickly is a much bigger determinant of browsing speed than how fast the software does its job. While Opera has always striven for simplicity, IE and Firefox are only beginning to clean up the clutter on their menu bars.

Personally, I use Firefox, but that's not because it's any faster than the others. I've become comfortable with the way it works and I enjoy some of the Firefox addons. I also tend to look for alternatives to Microsoft when I can. On the other hand, I do fire up IE and Chrome regularly, and they work great. Each has features that I like.

My bottom line is this: I'm glad there are 4 or 5 players in the browser market competing for a slice of the pie. The browser wars drive innovation, and that makes them all better. Without competition, we'd still all be using IE5, or something like it.

Do you have something to say about browsers, speed and what really matters? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Which Browser Is Fastest?"

(See all 35 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

12 Apr 2011

@RichF: here's a link that provides an answer to your questions: http://internet-browser-review.toptenreviews.com/

After having read it, I switched to Opera for my netbook (I'm travelling at the moment) and I'm quite happy with it, except for the fact that it doesn't function properly with Blogger.

Posted by:

12 Apr 2011


Posted by:

Joe M
12 Apr 2011

Since the day Microsoft changed the way "favorites" are saved (used to not expand the tree by default) I have cursed them every time I press + D to add a favorite. I have so many favorites filed in folders and subfolders that it scrolls 25 pages in the "create in" window! So my gripe isn't with speed as much as vendors changing the functionality and not giving end-users options of HOW THEY WANT THE BROWSER TO FUNCTION. It's fine with me if someone finds the new way of saving favorites to be better than the old, or if Microsoft's focus groups find "ribbons" easier than "toolbars and menus" but for crying out loud, give me the option to use the old style.

To the topic on speed, I find, even with a broadband connection, that web pages are bloated beyond belief. I don't like "bookmark" based browsers - Chrome or Firefox - and would prefer better interoperability between them when it comes to "favorites/bookmarks."

Posted by:

12 Apr 2011

Bob this is a well balance article. I personally only use Firefox myself, love the restore previous session and tap feature. IE is a joke.

Posted by:

13 Apr 2011

I know I didn't understand everything you said in this article, but I am sure that IE8 and Firefox take longer to display than Chrome on my particular system. There is such a great disparity between them that every single time I decide to again try IE8 and Firefox I absoltely have to go back to Chrome so I don't go crazier. I should mention I am on dial-up with a single core CPU.

Posted by:

13 Apr 2011

I am currently using Firefox, but I've long preferred Opera. I switched to Firefox because some pages did not display correctly in Opera. Opera's pop-up blocker beats all the others hands down, and has less baggage. In the immediate future I will give the latest installment of Opera a chance to win me back.

Posted by:

13 Apr 2011

IE9 is acceptable except for the lack of a good ad blocker. Chrome and Firefox both have AdBlock Plus. Chrome's advantage is that you can sync your bookmarks, form info, and web history with your Google account, making all this available in Chrome on any computer, and also on your Android phone/tablet. Firefox's advantage is the incredible number of add-ons available for it, not the least of which is GreaseMonkey.

So I think it's Firefox (plus Adblock Plus) for geeks, and Chrome (plus AdBlock Plus) for everybody else.

Posted by:

13 Apr 2011

I continue to use IE (now using IE 9). I've tried them all and for a while used Firefox, but got tired of the addons breaking everytime the browser was updated. I never worry about that happening with IE. It just works. PERIOD.

Posted by:

C. Lange
13 Apr 2011

I find that firefox crashes most of the time. Also I cannot absolutely use Chrome. When you look at my email address, you see that Chrome would be very easy for me to use. I don't know what else to do. Thank you for any suggestions you may have. IE works best.

Posted by:

13 Apr 2011

I'm sure there must be some logical reason why it's not my browser, but I haven't found it yet. I have Win7, IE8 and Firefox 3.6. I avoid add-ins on any of them. Same with toolbars. But, say loading a YouTube video, it will start to play in IE, then stop and download, taking inordinately long. Switch to Mozilla, and it downloads and hums right along.

I thought maybe some malware got into my system, but couldn't find any with the typical checks. So I attacked it like the Ebola virus, several different programs, safe mode, and even screening the Registry, temp files, cache, and everything else, if my computer ain't safe, nobody's is.

IE is fast with some, slow with others, and I'd blame the site, but Mozilla has no problem with any of them. I'm no anti-IE elitist, and need it on occasion. But with many past MS releases, I'm apprehensive about their hype.

Posted by:

13 Apr 2011

AS a regular Mac user for ages, I use both Firefox 4 and Safari 5; I don't see much difference between the two for speed or ease of use but Ff 4 is definitely faster than Ff3

Posted by:

13 Apr 2011

My experience tells Firefox is the best. It seems faster then IE8, but what's more important: it doesn't crush! Maybe it's my particular system (old computer + XP), but IE crushes on it all the time. The problem is I still need to use IE sometimes, because there are sites that doesn't work well on Firefox and work even worse on Opera - my favorite browser. So Firefox is the choice..

Posted by:

Steve Laz
13 Apr 2011

Nice one Bob! I find that Firefox (3 & 4) hangs a great deal on my system, and Chrome is probably most reliable. I'd love to get all their features in one, yes one, browser.

Posted by:

Bob Bowen
13 Apr 2011

I like and use Chromium. Open source. Worth a try.

Posted by:

Christopher Favorito
13 Apr 2011

I am always surprised that no one else seems to notice the biggest problem with IE through version 8 (they seem to have fixed this somewhat with IE9) is the unwanted creation of new browser windows. If I were to click through the same number of web links in various browsers, IE8 will leave me with multiple windows (not tabs) no matter how I set my preferences, whereas Chrome and Firefox will reliably open links in new tabs instead. I like the interface and speed of Chrome, but I find that despite the supposed isolation of the tabs from each other, I eventually find a web site that will lock up not just that tab, but the whole browser. I find Firefox has the best combination of speed and stability.

Posted by:

Steven booker
13 Apr 2011

I too am a huge fan of opera not just for speed,it has loads more features than firefox,also opera has a great password manager, form filler, spell checker but such a shame it is not compatable with some secure website

I switched to firefox about 2 weeks ago but after reading this article i'm gonna give opera another try. I think it's time the creators of opera put pressure on those websites who don't write there webpages in opera format.

Posted by:

Lin D
14 Apr 2011

Speed for me is dependent on my ISP.
All browsers have issues.

I don't use Firefox because it's a CPU hog.
Chrome has issues with certain script-based forms.
For all that Chrome is supposed to have GreaseMonkey capability built in, I can't get it to work.
I don't use IE because I've gotten out of the habit of using Internet Exploder. I think I really stopped trusting IE when IE7 wouldn't work with the operating system for which it was originally built, Vista.

Mostly I use Chrome, switching to Firefox when forms I'm filling out don't operate properly. Chrome is getting better.

When in doubt, delete all saved data, cookies, forms, passwords, all of it, and reboot your computer.

Posted by:

19 Apr 2011

I completely agree,it's not the browser as far as speed. I find it to be your ISP and the type of connection your paying for. My ISP has different levels of speed, of course if you take the cheapest you will get the standard basic speed. So if your not happy with your speed upgrade with your ISP (internet service provider) for a couple of bucks more. Find a browser you are comfortable with , dont delete the previous one until your happy with one. Thanks BOB for the article. Jewls

Posted by:

12 Jan 2012

Well, different people may have different experience. Why not installing all of them and use each one for some time? Then you will find out which one is suitable for you.
I'm now have three web browser installed in my Win7 64 bit.Firefox,Chrome and Avant browser. These three are the ones I like more. So I kept all of them. Most of the time I use Avant, because it has both firefox and chrome engine. Most of the time, one browser is enough.But there are the moments a browser just doesn't work as you want. Then just change to other browsers.

Posted by:

Robert Wickstead
02 Feb 2012

I agree that the ISP and the website is to blame with speed. What I would like to know, and was briefly mentioned by Lin D, is "Which browser is the LEAST memory hungry?"

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