Battle of the Web browsers

Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, and Safari square off on speed, features, and HTML5 compatibility

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Battle of the Web browsers: Speed
The next big obsession for browser programmers is the speed of the JavaScript engine. Heck, I feel bad using the generic word "engine" because each of the browsers has its own special name. Firefox 3.6, for instance, relied upon TraceMonkey, but Firefox 4 uses JägerMonkey. Chrome has V8, and IE9 has Chakra. Opera's is called Carakan. All of the browser creators have been publicizing the names and bragging about their dramatic speed increases. Some of the browsers -- including IE -- are now seven times faster than they were just a year or so ago.

Below, you'll find a table I built up running the latest browsers on a quad-core Windows Vista PC with 3GB of RAM. Your mileage will vary, and performance will improve as the browsers get better at exploiting video cards and multiple cores.

JavaScript benchmarks

 SunSpider 0.9.1 (smaller is better)V8 version 6 (bigger is better)
Chrome 10.0581ms4,486
Firefox 4.0534ms2,100
Internet Explorer 9.0437ms1,321
Opera 11.10558ms2,040
Safari 5.0658ms1,517

It's important to regard these benchmarks with a certain amount of skepticism. Both the SunSpider and V8 benchmarks include computationally heavy tasks like encryption routines. These bit-banging operations can be a good test of raw performance, but they're not very common in real-world applications. Even when applications use encryption, they rarely do it thousands of times in a row. Your experience may be quite different unless you're constantly and repeatedly encrypting items.


The benchmark developers try to address this problem. Google's V8 designers, for instance, searched the Web for a number of common regular expressions like the ones used to trim white space off the end of strings, but again it's not clear how common these operations are in the wild. I'm sure the most important number for the user is how quickly getElementById is executed.


It's becoming more complicated to evaluate performance because raw JavaScript performance is no longer the only proxy for speed now that the browsers are off-loading some processing to the video cards. Microsoft circulates a benchmark test that calculates the frame rate at which bubbles can be drawn with vector graphics. Thanks to GPU hooks, IE9 runs dramatically faster than the other browsers with a frame rate that seems to be at least twice Chrome's on my machine. If you're playing games and enjoying slick presentations on your computer, you may want to trust this benchmark more than the computationally intense versions.

This game promises to get even more interesting because Microsoft recently brought up benchmarking the power consumed to load a page. This is sort of related to the speed, but it's increasingly important for laptops and tablets. We may turn to this soon.

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