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DailyTech, in Firefox 4.0 Beta 1
We check out what Mozilla's been cooking up

When we tested out Opera 10.6, we were hoping to test out Mozilla Firefox 4.0 Beta 1, the test version of the successor to Firefox 3.6.x.  Unfortunately, Mozilla had pulled that build offline, soon after its initial release, leaving behind a "currently unavailable" page.  Well the beta is back, and we got to work assessing its new traits, and, more excitingly, benchmarking it.

I. Look and Feel

Overall there are significant differences for Windows users in the Firefox looks department, thanks to a makeover embracing Aero Glass.  The buttons have been replaced with smaller, cleaner icons.  The stop and reload buttons have been merged into a single button.  Bookmarks are now accessible via button (though you can switch back to the classic toolbar).  The tabs have been bumped up, in a style called "Tabs on Top", leaving only a thin aero glass margin above them. 

The menu bar has been chopped up and spread out of across different parts of the interface.  Most of it, though, can be found inside the Firefox main menu dropdown, triggered by the orange button on the upper left-hand side of the frame.

One nice addition, that has been included in some past experimental builds of Firefox, but has been unreleased, is the ability to type in your URL bar to search for open tabs.  You can click on the resulting tabs that come up.  If you have a lot of tabs open, this can be a lifesaver for navigating to offscreen tabs.

Overall scrolling with a large number of tabs (50+) open feels much smoother in Firefox 4.0 beta 1, despite the graphical improvements.  This may be in part thanks to "rendering improvements", which Mozilla says it accomplished using lazy frame construction.  Direct2D acceleration has finally arrived, as well, and may make it even silkier.  Be warned it may cause your browser to crash.  However, if you want to try it go to the "about:config" in your URL window, click through the warning, and follow the rest of the instructions found here.

II. Web Technologies

Mozilla boasts that it's improved its API's handling of JS-ctypes.  The new Websockets interface offers similar API performance improvements for web devs and extensions developers. 

CSS Transitions are partially supported, as is the WebM video format, an HD HTML5 competitor to H.264 and other players.  There's also a new HTML5 parser and better support for HTML 5 form controls.

III. Benchmarks

We took Firefox 4.0 Beta 1 through the paces in three popular synthetic benchmarks -- Sunspider (Javascript, only), Celtic Kane's JSBenchmark (Javascript, only), and Futuremark's Peacekeeper browser benchmark (all around performance) -- and report the results below, compared to our previous tests on other browsers in similar conditions:

SunSpider Benchmark
Opera 10.5                   353.4ms +/- 1.1%
2. Chrome 6.0.408.1       489.6ms +/- 3.9%
3. Opera 10.6                  517.4ms +/- 5.7%
4. Safari 5
.0 (7553.16)   600.4ms +/- 1.1%
5. Chrome 5.0.375.86      635.0ms +/- 3.6%
6. Firefox 4.0 Beta 1        777.0ms +/- 13.9%
7. Internet Explorer 9      807.4ms +/- 12.1%
   (Trial Build 3)
8. FireFox 3.6.4            1396.6ms +/- 14.6%
9. Internet Explorer 8   7228.8ms +/- 9.7%

JSBenchmark (by Celtic Kane)
Chrome 5                     459 ± 0
Opera 10.6                  387 ± 0
3. Chrome 6.0.408.1       355 ± 0
4. Safari 5.0
(7553.16)   252 ± 0
5. Opera 10.5                  211 ± 0
6. Internet Explorer 9      177 ± 0
   (Trial Build 3)
7. Firefox 4.0 Beta 1     139± 0
8. FireFox 3.6.4              100 ± 0
Internet Explorer 8      59 ± 15

Futuremark Peacekeeper Benchmark
Opera 10.6                 5244 Points
2. Chrome 6.0.408.1      5162 Points
3. Chrome 5.0.375.86     4897 Points
4. Opera 10.5                 3323 Points
5. Safari 5.0 (7553.16)  2606 Points
6. Firefox 4.0 Beta 1       1976 Points
7. Firefox 3.6
.4             1939 Points
8 Internet Explorer 9      1919 Points
   (Trial Build 3)
9. Internet Explorer 8      829 Points

Overall, these results show the picture is relatively unchanged -- Opera 10.6 is still the fastest stable browser, with Chrome 5 (and the unstable Chrome 6) close behind.  The results do show Firefox 4 has already sped up versus Firefox 3.6, but they also show that Internet Explorer 9's test builds continue to beat it, or come very close to matching it in performance.

Microsoft and Mozilla appear to be in a dead heat approaching the latest round in the browser wars.  This may prove bad news for Mozilla, which has long enjoyed a large speed-lead over its more-adopted foe.

IV. Conclusions

Firefox 4.0 Beta 1's biggest assets are probably its revised look and improved rendering.  It's a must-have download for Firefox users and proved remarkably stable, despite a large number of tabs open during some points in our testing.  Mozilla will always have a bit of a lead in its excellent extensions development community (though Chrome can now use these extensions, too). 

Overall performance is slightly improved, but the memory footprint appears very similar, or perhaps barely reduced.  One major disappointment, though, is the lack of official inclusion of a 64-bit build (fan-made 64-bit versions of Firefox are available, but less tested).

Firefox 4.0 can be found here for download.  It weighs in at 8.96 MB in Windows, and can be installed in under a minute on most systems.

All tests were done on a MacBook Pro running 64-bit Windows 7 Professional.  The hardware onboard included a Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T9600, a NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT GPU, and 4 GB of DDR RAM.

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per that screen grab...
By Homerboy on 7/7/2010 10:23:33 AM , Rating: 5
.... am I to assume that the staff of DT runs an ad blocker on their webrowser?

RE: per that screen grab...
By The Raven on 7/7/2010 10:39:01 AM , Rating: 5
What do you mean? It looks just like mine...Ohhh...

RE: per that screen grab...
By MozeeToby on 7/7/2010 10:44:06 AM , Rating: 4
Who doesn't these days? And it isn't so much that I hate looking at ads, I'm perfectly willing to look at ads to support sites that I visit. The problem is when the ads take longer to load than the rest of the page combined (you know, the part of the page that I came to see in the first place).

Either they're flash based and have to wait for the player to start (and continue to chew up CPU cycles like mad) or they're being pulled from some overloaded ad server and download at dialup speeds. Or, of course, both. Host the ads on your own servers (if possible) and keep them as simple and quick loading as possible and I'll disable my adblock happily.

RE: per that screen grab...
By Homerboy on 7/7/2010 10:52:42 AM , Rating: 2
I don't. Rarely have I had "issues" waiting an extra sec for a site to load.

I just find it interesting that a site, supported by ad revenue would use and, per this screen cap, promote the use to ad blocking. I'm sure their sponsers LOVE that.

RE: per that screen grab...
By xsilver on 7/7/2010 12:10:08 PM , Rating: 2
Im sure the sponsors know exactly how effective their ads are by how many people are clicking on them. They would be really stupid to pay for the traffic this site generates rather than actual clicks on ads.

I've always thought that people who know how to block the ads/find the ads really annoying would be better served not actually seeing them. Well I did anyways, (eg. I had a neutral position on some tech companies but after seeing their lame flash ads here once, I dont hold them in such high regard as I used to)

RE: per that screen grab...
By MrBlastman on 7/7/2010 11:00:59 AM , Rating: 2
Better yet, who needs to when is your friend? Modify your hosts file and no adblockers or other annoying software is needed to be run in the background. :)

It isn't perfect, though, as some websites get _really_ pissed off when you try and hit the back button on them and they keep trying to hit localhost for an ad. As a side effect, if you keep it updated you'll block quite a bit of malicious websites too.

RE: per that screen grab...
By jonmcc33 on 7/7/2010 7:37:46 PM , Rating: 3
Adblock isn't annoying software that runs in the background. It is an extension of Firefox. The list is automatically updated for you, which is far better than you manually updating your hosts file.

RE: per that screen grab...
By Aloonatic on 7/7/2010 11:07:14 AM , Rating: 4
I'm kinda with you there.

I don't mind the flash adds generally, until they expand and intrude on what I'm trying to look at if I dare to move my mouse pointer near it, or they slow the page load down dramatically. The only other adds that really annoyed me were the adds that scan for key words and highlight them, bringing up a message box when you dared to move your cursor near them again.

Are these sorts of adds still present here?

One other thing (whilst I'm at it) that used to annoy me in my pre AdBlock days was logging into this site, which highlighted the problem that DT had (might still have) with the mount of adds being loaded. Sometimes I could not log in, which had me puzzeld. The information was correct, but still it said that I had entered the wrong info? However, I found that, for some strange reason, I had to wait for the page to stop loading everything before clicking log-in/pressing return. It used to be so slow at loading everything up that I was able to enter my details and click to log in before it had finished, and then it would fail, and the page would re-load, so we were back to square one.

I hope things are not that bad now, but you (DT) annoyed me once too often and I ended up seeking a solution which cost you (not that much, sure) in the end I guess.

RE: per that screen grab...
By Drainedsoul on 7/7/2010 10:47:02 PM , Rating: 2
Flash chews up CPU cycles "like mad"?

What are you running on, a Pentium III?

My PC's running 94 processes, 1639 threads, including 13 IE8 tabs (complete with dreaded evil CPU cycle consuming Flash ads), and I'm looking at ~2% CPU usage.

RE: per that screen grab...
By satveeraj on 7/8/2010 12:55:16 AM , Rating: 2
Well the question then becomes, what are you running??

I have a decent PC but agree that Flash laden sites are awfully slow compared to non-flash sites and I see significant CPU cycles taken up during the flash renderings.

Just tried Direct2D
By Goty on 7/7/2010 10:32:40 AM , Rating: 2
I just tried enabling Direct2D and it pretty much made the browser unusable. Sad times.

I guess I'll just have to wait until the next update.

RE: Just tried Direct2D
By Stoanhart on 7/7/2010 3:00:46 PM , Rating: 2
Using D2D on Win7 64 with the 64bit FF4 beta build on a HD4850 is fantastic for me.

I tried MS's IE9 canvas demos:

Where FF3.6 was getting between 5 and 10 FPS, FF4 was getting a solid 60FPS, no matter how many extra particles or objects I added to the various demos, and my CPU didn't break a sweat!

Fantastic! This is what is needed for HTML5 to take on Flash.

RE: Just tried Direct2D
By bug77 on 7/7/2010 5:20:49 PM , Rating: 2
It's working fine for me. However it's ridiculous to require Win7 and DX10 compatible hardware for 2D acceleration. I had 2D acceleration on a S3 Trio64 on Win95 using DX5 for cryin' out loud!
Plus, FF managed to position itself right at the bottom of the charts. Once IE9 is released, there will be no slower browser. And that's bad, because extensions alone won't keep FF alive forever.

RE: Just tried Direct2D
By Nihility on 7/8/2010 6:14:24 AM , Rating: 2
For what it's worth, acceleration also works on Vista.

The only reason it's supported on those 2 operating systems (7/Vista) and not others is because Microsoft makes it extremely easy to do. The basic version of GPU acceleration was done in less than a week.

It will take months to implement on other OSes but they are indeed working on it.

I don't get it
By Spivonious on 7/7/2010 10:20:24 AM , Rating: 3
Why is JS performance the only performance metric?

RE: I don't get it
By XZerg on 7/7/2010 10:29:49 AM , Rating: 3
because that's the most heaviest task on web-browsers that they can do. NOTE: Flash isn't part of web-browsers but an addon.

Now if you wonder how bad can the javascript sites be? Just go to Yahoo Finance, load up 100 stocks and have the live update on. Try refreshing or even going to different page from that page. You will see the browser stall.

RE: I don't get it
By Mitch101 on 7/7/2010 10:43:16 AM , Rating: 1
I dont know there are too many variables here to be fully accurate. One could probably make a page with 20 font types to crush another browser. Each element can have an effect on performance just find the elements your competitors dont like and load up a page full of them to make your browser look superior.

1. Java Versions.
2. Adobe Flash Versions and does it support all Flash options?
3. Website Coding because some aspects of a website can effect performance. Example one browser may interpret/draw an area of a div or table tag different from another so one site heavy in a table could effect a paticular browser in a bad way skewing the results. So one would have to test each website object for performance and accuracy. Acid?
4. Website Load even my servers can cause a delay because a paticular graphic image is/isnt buffered.
5. Most Important - Security some browsers may run code on a site through verification/security to ensure its secure/clean while some of the browsers may just let that code through while getting a performance boost by lack of security.
6. Network speed.
7. Web server response time.

I could care less about milliseconds the only report on a browser I would prefer to read is the most secure browser and/or an article on how to maximize security of a browser without breaking it from experiencing the web at its best. What good is the fastest browser if it compromises your computers security.

SSSE3 optimized Firefox 4
By segerstein on 7/8/2010 8:24:06 AM , Rating: 2
Has anybody tried to custom build Firefox 4.0 with Intel's compiler, optimized for Core2+ instruction set - that is SSE3 and SSSE3?

I'm wondering what the difference would be.

RE: SSSE3 optimized Firefox 4
By EricMartello on 7/10/2010 3:13:47 PM , Rating: 2
Intel's compiler can yield performance improvements of 40% or more in some cases but it tends to do so at the expense of stability. I think there's always going to be a trade-off.

Personally, I can do without heavy use of javascript. If a site "needs" something like jquery to work, it's a poorly designed site I like websites that load fast and respond quickly...I do not need fluff like zooming windows or whatever just to check the latest news.

Firefox is dying
By B3an on 7/8/2010 7:59:22 PM , Rating: 2
Jump the FF ship before it sinks people.

Lately it's got more and more unstable.
It's one of the slowest browsers too, and before anyone sayis it... browser speed does matter even on a 4.2GHz Hex Core i7 machine like mine - try running HTML5 demo's or something really script heavy to see a big difference.

I've gone from FF to Chrome 6 now that it has real addons. The addons have basically made it like FF but faster and more stable. Theres already tons of them too.
And it's the small things... for example, the "paste a go" option when you right click in the address bar.

RE: Firefox is dying
By hemmy on 7/10/2010 8:26:48 PM , Rating: 2
You and I must go to very different websites, because there is no performance difference on my computer (other than benchmarks).

Chrome extensions are weak
By SkullOne on 7/7/2010 10:58:26 AM , Rating: 2
The comment made about Chrome being able to use extensions like Firefox isn't totally correct. The underlying API's that Chrome needs in order to match what Firefox extensions can do are not there.

For example we will probably never see NoScript in Chrome.

Even the latest version of Chrome that has partial API's needed are still so half-assed that NoScript would be neutered.

Even the current ad blockers for Chrome are mere shells of their Firefox counterparts.

I had links for both of the above comments but they my post become "spam" somehow? o.O

By damianrobertjones on 7/7/2010 7:03:56 PM , Rating: 2

Is IE9 a beta, you know, a test version as its not clear?


People just browsing through will always have the perception of things from a simple heading

By hemmy on 7/10/2010 8:24:23 PM , Rating: 2
These browser benchmarks are really stupid. I see absolutely 0 performance difference between Chrome 6 and Firefox 4 on my computer, NONE. Not to mention I cannot use a browser that doesn't have a separate search and url bar, I would kill myself.

Bad UI
By icanhascpu on 7/7/2010 4:18:25 PM , Rating: 1
That UI needs work.

1. The reload/stop button is an improvement over what Chrome has. Good UI.
2. The rediculous waste of vertical space next to the new FF button is stupid as hell. Let me put my tabs/URL/bookmarks bar in that space.
3. More waisted vert space! Get rid of the damned bottem task bar when nothing is happening! No one needs to see "Done". Its a BS peice of UI design that should of been gone years ago!

Change your UI buttons. If I wanted UI buttons like that I would just use Chrome. Get your own flavor. If youre going to get UI ideas from Chrome, see #2 and #3 on the list is anything.

Thats the first 5 min of looking at this.

"I mean, if you wanna break down someone's door, why don't you start with AT&T, for God sakes? They make your amazing phone unusable as a phone!" -- Jon Stewart on Apple and the iPhone

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