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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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How about which browser "looks" the best?
By mitchelvii on 9/8/2009 12:27:24 PM , Rating: 2
I've tried them all and in the looks department, I have to say it is a battle between Opera and Safari . Safari makes text look nice and video seems to stream especially well on it. There is just something kind of "smooth" in the appearance of Apple products.

On the other hand, while Opera is not far behind Safari in the appearance of web pages, the browser itself is better looking and more intuitive. Also, and this is a big one to me, navigating favorites in Safari is a MAJOR PAIN, whereas in Opera it is a pleasure since you can leave your favorites open in a pane on either side of the screen.

Because of the favorites treatment and the overall look of the browser itself, I have to give the WIN to OPERA!

RE: How about which browser "looks" the best?
By mitchelvii on 9/8/2009 12:30:18 PM , Rating: 3
As a follow-on to my original comments, I know there are many fans of Firefox, but I honestly DO NOT like how web pages look on that browser.

It is as if they need to add more anti-aliasing or something to smooth the edges of things. Webpages just look harsh somehow to me.

By Alexstarfire on 9/8/2009 4:11:22 PM , Rating: 1
I'm pretty sure that that has little to do with the web browser since it only does what the web page tells it to do.

By Spivonious on 9/8/2009 12:35:35 PM , Rating: 2
I agree. I've been an IE user since version 7 (Firefox 2 before that).

I downloaded Opera 10 when it was released and I've been pleasantly surprised. It is fast to start up, fast to load pages, and is very full-featured. The only thing it's missing that I use is IE8's "Web Slices". I don't know if this is something that other browsers can implement readers for, but it's quite useful for me.

By gstrickler on 9/9/2009 2:25:05 PM , Rating: 2
I also like Opera and Safari. Clean, easy, etc. My main complaint about Opera is speed, compared to Safari or Chrome, it's just plain sluggish. Opera 10 is better, but still sluggish in some areas.

Chrome shows promise, but it's not quite there yet on compatibility and features. Speed and stability are very good. I'm not crazy about the appearance, but it's ok.

FF 3.5 is nice. Doesn't look as "clean" as Safari or Opera and it uses too much space for it's controls, leaving less of the web page visible than the others. Not a major difference, but if you're working on a small screen (e.g. a netbook), every little bit helps. It's similar to Opera in speed, but can't keep up with Safari or Chrome.

Right now, Safari 4 is my main browser on both Mac and Windows, mainly for the speed and clean appearance. The speed is addictive. On Windows, that latest builds of Chrome can keep up with Safari. On the Mac, none of the major competitors come close to Safari on speed, Chrome isn't available yet, FF 3.5 is a distant second and Opera is notably slower than FF.

IE I use for Window Update only, and I wouldn't use that if "automatic updates" gave you more control over which updates it displays.

"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov
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