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

In the last segment of our next generation browser benchmarking and comparison, we looked at user interface features and installation details.  We also benchmarked install times and application launch times.  We now will turn our attention to CPU and memory usage in this segment.  We'll also briefly contrast security in the next gen browsers.  This segment will be followed by a third and final installment in which we'll examine performance in popular benchmarks and standards support.

4.  Resource Usage

One of the most critical aspects of a program is the amount of resources it uses per the amount of work it does.  We measured memory and CPU usage for each browser with ten tabs open and loaded -- DailyTech, AnandTech, CNET, CNN, Sports Illustrated, Gamefaqs, Google, Yahoo, Bing, and Facebook (logged in).  We then took measurements after 15, 20, and 25 minutes of operation.

When it comes to memory, Firefox really shows its worth.  This may be surprising to some as early in its development the Firefox browser was known as a memory hog, due to memory leaks.  This has completely turned around and it is now the slimmest entry. Namoroka uses significantly more memory than 3.5.2, but hopefully this is just one of the rough edges that are to be expected of an alpha release.

Looking at the rest of the pack, Opera deserves an honorable mention for a close second in memory usage.  Safari and Chrome, on the other hand, were both memory hungry.  However, no application was quite as bad when it came to memory as Internet Explorer 8, which used nearly twice the memory of its closest competitor.

Turning to the CPU, Opera was in the lead for least average use.  Opera 9.6 also led for the lowest maximum observed CPU use.  Opera 10.0 did show a rather high maximum usage.  This is due to a brief, rather uncharacteristic, spike.  This appears to be a rather isolated occurrence, but nonetheless we kept the result.

Chrome, Safari, and Internet Explorer were all rather poor when it came to CPU use.  Chrome 4 ate up the most CPU, topping at an unpleasant maximum of 64 percent.  Firefox, on the other hand, showcased low usage (with no add-ons installed), though 3.6a1 was a bit more CPU hungry than 3.5.2.  Again, hopefully these issues will be resolved before release.

5.  Security:

Having looked at the resources used, its also important to look at what is being done with them.  We already concluded that Opera provides the most built in features (non-security) in our first review (though Firefox wins when add-ons are considered).  But what about security features?

The below table illustrates some highlights of these browsers' track record:

Browser Tab/Process Isolation Private Browsing Mode Popup Blocking Ad-Filtering (JS, Flash) Anti-Phishing Malware Blacklist Unpatched Security Flaws, Secunia Unpatched Security Flaws, SecurityFocus
Opera 9.6 No No Yes Yes, click required Weak Weak 0 2
Opera 10.0 No No Yes Yes, click required Weak Weak 0 2
Firefox 3.5 No Yes Yes Via add-on Moderate Moderate 0 0
Firefox 3.6 No Yes Yes Via add-on Moderate Moderate 0 0
Chrome 2 Yes Yes Yes No Weak Weak 0 0
Chrome 3 Yes Yes Yes No Weak Weak 0 0
Chrome 4 Yes Yes Yes No Weak Weak 0 0
IE 8 Yes Yes Yes Yes (via InPrivate Filter) Strong Strong 2 16
Safari 3 No Yes Yes Via add-on Weak Weak 0 0
Safari 4 No Yes Yes Via add-on Weak Weak 0 0

As you can see, security is a rather confusing topic to rate the browsers on.  On one hand, IE 8 offers an excellent private browsing mode, tab isolation, and great blacklisting of malicious sites.  On the other hand, its InPrivate Filter doesn't catch all ads.  IE 8 is also the most frequently attacked and exploited browser, though Microsoft puts great effort into patching as quickly as possible. 

Despite this, IE 8 for the very inexperienced/naive user is probably the best bet as it blocks more blatantly malicious sites than the rest of the field.  Microsoft-sponsored research puts this block rate at 81 percent versus the next closest competitor -- Firefox -- at 27 percent.  This may be a bit of an exaggeration, but Microsoft deserves praise for its progress on this front. 

Chrome offers good overall protection with tab isolation, a private browsing mode and less vulnerabilities, but it is victim to probably the most ads of any of the browsers.  Firefox is a close runner up to IE 8, especially when add-ons are considered.  However, it lacks tab isolation.  Opera and Apple have both put a fair deal of thought into their security efforts, but they just aren't as strong or focused as those of Microsoft, Mozilla, and Google.

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.

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more graphs not matching the text
By invidious on 9/8/2009 12:15:33 PM , Rating: 2
When it comes to memory, Firefox really shows its worth.
How do you figure? FF 3.5 is the best on the chart but their latest installment 3.6 is slower than Opera 10. You can't pick and choose which version of the program to use for which test depending on the results. Either use 3.6 or 3.5, not both.

FF and Opera are so close in that category that they are essentially the same. Declaring one winner short sighted because you margin of error is likely higher than the margin of victory.

RE: more graphs not matching the text
By JasonMick on 9/8/2009 12:21:31 PM , Rating: 5
First, Firefox 3.6 is an alpha build, versus Opera 10 which a release build. I'm not knocking Opera 10 at all -- I like it -- but you have to cut FF 3.6 a little slack due to its alpha status. The facts stand that in my testing FF 3.5 consistently had the leanest memory footprint.

Opera was also very good when it comes to memory, as I pointed out.

When it comes to benchmarks, all need to be taken with a grain of salt. Just because Anandtech says a certain AMD 4850 graphics card on a specific set of hardware will get 42.2 fps in Crysis at a certain screen resolution doesn't mean that it will always get that (well, perhaps in *some* synthetic benchmarks, but not typically in custom usage-based benchmarks). There's always a margin of error.

When viewing benchmarks its also important to approach them with the mindset of -- "Which products lead the crop? Which lag?" That way you can draw more accurate conclusions, accepting that there may be a small margin of error in the results.

RE: more graphs not matching the text
By invidious on 9/8/2009 1:45:15 PM , Rating: 2
After posting my comment I immediately realized I was going to get hung out to dry for only criticizing the FF example.

All I was trying to say was that you can't cherry pick your results from various versions and then pull them back under the same umbreall for your conclusions. I could say this for several of your conclusions, not just the FF ones.

By invidious on 9/8/2009 1:46:14 PM , Rating: 1

damn we need edit buttons.

RE: more graphs not matching the text
By inighthawki on 9/8/2009 12:24:13 PM , Rating: 2
Firefox 3.6 isnt out yet and is still in its beta stage, which means its not optimized. The average user will not be USING FF3.6 so it's safe to say that for the benchmarks, 3.5 is what's being counted.

RE: more graphs not matching the text
By PhoenixKnight on 9/8/2009 2:11:54 PM , Rating: 2
It's not even as far as beta stage, it's still in alpha.

RE: more graphs not matching the text
By PitViper007 on 9/8/2009 2:53:39 PM , Rating: 3
Which begs the question, why is in this list at all competing against fully released browsers?

By fatedtodie on 9/8/2009 3:00:44 PM , Rating: 3
It is an attempt to say "even an alpha build of FF beats IE" though because the author didn't state that it is left as a "silent" jab.

By Divineburner on 9/8/2009 12:26:01 PM , Rating: 2
The problem is, the stable Firefox release is 3.5, and the stable Opera release is 10.0, thus it makes sense to compare the memory of the different browsers in their respective stable release.

Look, Firefox 3.6a1 is still an alpha, not even a beta, and you want to compare it against the full-released Opera 10?

Anyway, the point of having several versions is to let us know what the future of the browsers are like, as well as what the currentbrowsers are like.

"I'm an Internet expert too. It's all right to wire the industrial zone only, but there are many problems if other regions of the North are wired." -- North Korean Supreme Commander Kim Jong-il
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