What browser is the best? We have the information you need to decide

Last week Opera 10.0 was released in its final form.  DailyTechhad covered the development process of the browser exhaustively, so some may have been surprised not to see a piece on the browser.  That's because we were working on something, special -- a complete review of not just Opera 10.0, but all next generation browsers.

We have extensively benchmarked all of the next generation browsers -- Safari 4, Opera 10.0, Firefox 3.6 alpha 1, Internet Explorer 8, and Google Chrome 3 and 4.  In this first segment we will look at basic features, install time, and browser launch times of these next gen browsers, in comparison to previous editions.  In the second segment, we will look at CPU and memory usage, and briefly look at browser security.  And in the third and final segment, we'll look at performance in CSS and Javascript benchmarks, as well as a basic rendering benchmark.

1.  User Interface and Basic Features

Let's first look at browser features:

Browser License Prompts to Make

on Install
Prompts to Make Default on Open Uninstall Shortcut Uninstall Option to Delete Personal Data Spell Checking Colorized Tabs Favorites Tiled Homepage Built In Mail Client Compression Boost
Opera 9.6 Proprietary No Yes, popup No No Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Opera 10.0 (same) Yes, Unchecked Yes, popup No No Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Firefox 3.5 MPL, MPL/GPL/
LGPL tri-license, Mozilla EUL
Yes, Unchecked Yes, popup Wizard Via Control Panel Yes Yes Via add-on only Via add-on only Via add-on only No
Firefox 3.6 (same) Yes, Unchecked Yes, popup Wizard Via Control Panel Yes Yes Via add-on only Via add-on only Via add-on only No
Chrome 2 source-
BSD Executable – Google Terms of Service
Yes, Prechecked Yes, in frame Yes Yes Yes No Yes No No
Chrome 3 (same) Yes, Prechecked Yes, in frame Yes Yes Yes No Yes No No
Chrome 4 (same) Yes, Prechecked Yes, in frame Yes Yes Yes No Yes No No
IE 8 Proprietary Yes, Unchecked Yes, popup No, and harder to reach in Control Panel No Add-On (IE-Spell) only Yes No No No
Safari 3 Engine – GNU LGPL Everything Else - Proprietary No Yes, popup No No Yes No No No No
Safari 4 (same) No Yes, popup No No Yes No Yes No No

As you can see, when it comes to the user interface, Opera arguably leads the pack, with the most built-in interface features (favorites tiled homepage, built in mail client, server-side compression, etc.).  Firefox is a close second, with the most features supported, if you install add-ons (though add-ons decrease performance and can cause compatibility issues).  This assessment does not include security, which we'll look at in a later piece.

2. Installation

Google's Chrome is the easiest to install.  Microsoft's Internet Explorer 8, on the other hand, is the hardest to install, by far, requiring a full system reset. In retrospect, the controversy over IE 8 asking at installation if you want to make it your default browser, seems rather silly.  In fact, all the browsers ask you this on startup, and Google even goes so far as to pre-check an option during the install to make Chrome the default browser. We do like how Google's post-install browser check is incorporate as a less obtrusive browser window frame, rather than the popup that the others used (all the browser allow users to permanently dismiss these inquiries).

In our first benchmark, we did a clean install of each browser and measured the time the install took, using a lightweight, hotkey-driven timer for time measurement.  As you can see from the chart to the right, Internet Explorer (as with the uninstall) was the worst, taking the most time (by-far) and requiring a full system restart. Chrome 4 was the best, taking a mere 11.4 seconds to install after double clicking the installer package (Note: Time to import bookmarks, etc. was not included in this time, just the time to complete the actual install).

3.  Application Launch Speed

Our second benchmark looks at browser launch times.  We again used the hotkey timer and this time measured the time it took for the browser window to appear after double clicking.  Page-load was not necessary, the times measured indicated the time to get the address bar to a responsive state.

In our first run, we launched the browser "cold" after a full system restart.  Averaged over three trials, Chrome by-far launched the fastest, with Chrome 4 being the fastest of the Google browsers.  In close second was Opera 10.0.  Firefox 3.5 was strangely slow, taking 10+ seconds in more than one trial, so we launched it five times (stock install, no add-ons).  We finally concluded, that this was expected and not an error.  In the end Firefox 3.5 was the slowest to launch, but Namaroka (Firefox 3.6 alpha 1) launches much faster.  IE 8 was the second slowest in the cold launch trial.

In our second run we launched the browser "warm" after having already launched it once.  As can be expected, due to caching, the browsers launched significantly faster this way.  For warm starts, Chrome was yet again the fastest, while Opera and Safari came in second, though both of these browsers curiously showed slower start times in their latest versions (Opera 10.0 and Safari 4) than in their previous versions (Opera 9.6 and Safari 3).

In the next segment we'll look at memory and CPU usage.  We'll also examine how the browsers stack up in security.

Note: Note: All benchmarks were performed in 32-bit Vista on a Sony VAIO laptop with 3 GB of RAM, a T8100 Intel Processor (2.1 GHz), and a NVIDIA 8400 GT mobile graphics chip. The number of processes was kept consistent and at a minimum to reflect stock performance.

"Well, we didn't have anyone in line that got shot waiting for our system." -- Nintendo of America Vice President Perrin Kaplan
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