Opera 10.5 Alpha features a gorgeous new Aero interface in Windows 7 and is the second fastest browser in 2 of our 3 synthetic benchmarks. We tested the latest test builds of all the major browsers.
We see how fast the latest crop of browsers really are

With search ad-revenue sharing agreements, browsers are becoming a viable business and not just another vaporous business plan.  Our four part series on next generation browsers aired earlier this year and can be found here ([1],[2],[3],[4]).  It looked at a variety of aspects of the next gen browsers -- including security, functionality, standards support, synthetic benchmarks, memory/CPU usage, and real world page load times.  And of course, by now it's quite dated, thanks to the tireless work of engineers at the major browser makers.

This time around we're offering a much briefer update on the state of the browser wars.  We've collected the latest browsers and release candidates -- the just released Opera 10.5 Alpha, Google Chrome 4.0.266 beta, Safari 4.0.4 (531.21.10), Internet Explorer 8, and Firefox 3.6 beta 5.

We ran each browser through three synthetic benchmarks -- FutureMark's PeaceKeeper benchmark, Celtic Kane's new JS Benchmark, and the tried and true Sunspider Javascript Benchmark.  All tests except for the Celtic Kane benchmark were a single run.  The Celtic Kane test was run 10 times and the average score was automatically calculated by the website.  The results are as follows (1st is best, 5th is worst):

Celtic Kane's JS Benchmark (more is better)
1.  Chrome 4 - 432 ± 24
2.  Safari 4 - 297 ± 3
3.  Opera 10.5 alpha - 252 ± 5
4.  Firefox 3.6b5 - 157 ± 4
5.  IE8 - 67 ± 3

PeaceKeeper (more is better)
1.  Chrome 4 - 3984 points
2.  Opera 10.5 alpha - 3597 points
3.  Safari 4 - 3570 points
4.  Firefox 3.6b5 - 2905 points
5.  IE 8 - 1006 points

Sunspider (less is better)
1.  Opera 10.5 alpha - 470.2ms +/- 5.1%
2.  Chrome 4 - 503.8ms +/- 3.9%
3.  Safari 4 - 622.8ms +/- 12.6%
4.  Firefox 3.6b5 - 883.2ms +/- 1.2%
5.  IE8 - 4539.0ms +/- 0.6%

As our longer series mentioned, these results should be considered just part of a larger picture of how the browsers stack up.  Really each of the browsers has some compelling features.  Many websites are designed to work best with IE 8, despite its poor Javascript engine and poor standards support.  Top webpages are tuned to the browser and it is also quite secure.  Firefox, meanwhile, also enjoys similar design advantages.  It also boasts an industry leading extensions system and is relatively quick.

Chrome features tab sandboxing (like IE 8), making it ultra-secure and it's the fastest browser according to our latest synthetic tests and our past real-world testing (its Javascript engine is particularly strong).  It also has good standards support and a nice interface.  Apple's Safari is one of the faster browsers and offers some of the pleasant perks shared with competitors like a top-pages start screen.

Opera 10.5 alpha, the first major release since Opera 10 (Opera 10.1 was a minor release) was just released in time for the holidays is another very attractive option.  We love the new layout of the browser, and the ability to open private mode tabs alongside public tabs is convenient.  The new version of Opera is also ultra-fast thanks to its new Vega graphics library and new Carakan Javascript engine (replacing the older Futhark engine).  Standards supports is also industry leading.

The alpha build also is one of the most attractive looking browsers on the market, with a pleasant Aero window and rich graphical look in Windows 7.  The only real downsides of the browser are that some web apps (such as Wordpress type journal programs) don't always behave as expected, due to the fact that they were written with IE 8/Firefox 3+ in mind.  Also, the alpha build is admittedly a memory hog and a bit unstable, though it hasn't crashed on us (once) yet.  On the other hand, one significant upside is that the new graphics library and JS engine will likely be pumped up to even quicker performance by release time.

We recommend you download Firefox 3.6 beta 5, Opera 10.5 Alpha, and Chrome 4 from these links and try them for yourself.  Picking a browser is largely subjective, so it'd be misleading if we said any one browser is better than the others, though there are some differences in features, which we've attempted to summarize.

Note:  All tests were run in Windows 7 on a 15" MacBook Pro with a 2.8 GHz Core 2 Duo Processor and 4 GB of DDR3 RAM, running at 1066 MHz (Boot Camp was used to boot into Windows 7).  The notebook has a GeForce 9600M GT, which has its own 512 MB GDDR3 memory, and a NVIDIA GeForce 9400M which shares 256 MB of the main DDR3 system RAM.

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