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Opera 10.5 release in action
The new browser from Opera sports a sleek new Aero look, but is it the fastest? We investigate the claims..

While Norway's Opera Software is the king of the mobile browsing industry, in the PC browser industry it plays the role of the underdog.  Opera currently holds a small chunk of market share -- 2.35 percent -- trailing Microsoft Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, and Safari.  Still, 2.35 percent of the web's 1.7 billion users worldwide (according to Internet Web Statistic's 2009 survey) is still an impressive 40 million customers worldwide -- something not every tech company can claim.

Yesterday Opera released the final version of Opera 10.5 for Windows, a speedy build that brings a host of new features and improvements.  It offers a faster layout engine -- Presto 2.6 -- which also includes a host of bugfixes from the layout engine Presto 2.4 used in Opera 10.  It also offers a brand new Javascript engine Carakan, which should be substantially faster than the old engine, Futhark.

Rounding out the improvements is a new graphics library, Vega.  The browser also offers greater support of HTML5 and CSS3, cutting edge web standards that were partially supported in Opera 10.

The browser is now brought up to speed in Windows 7, as well, sporting a stylish new Aero-glass look and offering full support for Aero peek and jump lists.  Other newly supported Windows 7 features include Speed Dials, tabs and more from the Taskbar.

It also offers full thumbnail previews in the tabs section if you drag down the section's border.

Opera's popular Turbo (page compression for faster loads on slow connections), Unite (content sharing), and Link (synchronization of bookmarks, etc. over the web) make a reappearance in the new release as well.  They have been slightly tweaked and improved.  Users now have the ability to make any new tab a private tab, as well, and use private tabs alongside normal ones.

We took the browser out for a quick spin to evaluate Opera's claim that it was "the fastest browser on Earth."  In the interest of brevity we put it up against the latest test build of Google's Chrome -- Chrome 5 (Chrome is typically regarded as the fastest browser).

In the Peacekeeper browser benchmark, which measures a variety of performance factors including web graphics, database operations, and Javascript, Opera 10.5 managed a score of 3373 points, while Chrome 5 scored 4358 points (more is better).  In Celtic Kane's new JS Benchmark Opera 10.5 scored 211 ± 0, while Chrome 5 scored 498 ± 0 (more is better).  Lastly, in Sun Spider, another script benchmark Opera 10.5 finished in 353.4ms +/- 1.1%, while Chrome 5 took 409.0ms +/- 2.0% (less is better).

As you can see, against Google's top browser candidate, Opera 10.5 seems to trail just slightly in synthetic benchmarks, though Sun Spider did hand Opera a key win, somewhat of a surprise since the test is built on Web Kit and would seemingly give Chrome home court advantage.

We did not have the time or resources to conduct an exhaustive analysis of page load times on the top 20 websites, but from a basic feel approach Chrome 5 and Opera 10.5 feel neck and neck in page load speed on content-heavy pages like SI.com and Facebook.com.

The browser download weighs in at 9.4 MB.  If you want to give it a try, just visit Opera's homepage, here.

All tests were conducted on a MacBook Pro running 64-bit Windows 7 Professional.  The machine had an Intel Core 2 Duo T9600 processor clocked at 2.8 GHz and 4 GB of DDR3 RAM.




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