Google Chrome Is Fastest Browser in Site-Loading Tests

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Last fall, Google claimed that its Chrome 2 Beta browser was “many times faster” than rival browsers at running JavaScript. In February, as it launched the beta of its new browser, Apple asserted that Safari 4 Beta was the world’s fastest browser. And this month, Microsoft started marketing Internet Explorer 8 with videos purporting to prove that it’s faster than its rivals.

They can’t all be right, so PC World undertook detailed real-world tests to determine how quickly each of four browsers--the three mentioned above and Firefox 3.0.7--loaded a series of popular Web sites. The results: Google Chrome 2 Beta beat the field. Its average page load speed for our nine test sites was 1.3 seconds, half a second faster than runner-up IE 8. Safari and Firefox tied for last with an average loading time of 2.12 seconds for each of the test sites. Detailed test results for each browser appear in the accompanying table.

We saw the most significant difference in page load times with the English-language Wikipedia home page and the MySpace home page.

Chrome 2 Beta completed the job of loading Wikipedia in a mere 1.12 seconds, easily outpacing the competition. Internet Explorer 8 chugged to a second-place finish, loading the page in 2.24 seconds on average. Firefox 3.0.7 and Safari 4 Beta lagged behind, however, with average load times of 3.31 seconds and 3.38 seconds, respectively.

Chrome 2 also dusted the competition in loading the MySpace home page, getting it done in an average time of 1.43 seconds. Internet Explorer 8 loaded the page in 2.59 seconds, while Firefox took nearly 3 seconds on average, and Safari well over 4 seconds.

Safari's overall results were disappointing, especially given Apple's claim that Safari is the fastest browser on the market. To its credit, though, Safari did load the Amazon home page faster than any of its three competitors.

Our Speed-Test Methodology

In our browser speed comparison, we pitted a near-final build of Internet Explorer 8 against Firefox 3.0.7 (the current nonbeta version of Mozilla's browser), the beta version of Chrome 2, and the beta of Safari 4. We used a set of nine popular Web sites in our testing: Amazon, MySpace, Yahoo, PC World, YouTube, Microsoft, Apple, eBay, and Wikipedia's English-language home page. To ensure that we measured the page-loading times as accurately as possible, we recorded our testing sessions on video for review later on.

We performed all of our testing on a Gateway P-7811FX notebook running a clean installation of Windows Vista Service Pack 1; we reinstalled the operating system before testing each browser. For each browser, we cleared the browser's cache and then loaded each page in our test suite. We repeated the process ten times per site per browser to ensure accurate results, to factor out fluctuations in network traffic, and to build a sufficiently large sample size to identify trends. In addition, we threw out the two best and the two worst scores for each page load test to further reduce the influence of fluctuations and to produce more consistent results.

Some browsers will report that a page has finished loading even though parts of the page haven’t yet appeared. We didn’t base our determination of when a page was loaded on the browser's opinion. Instead, we relied on whether all visual elements of the page were loaded and ready to use. For example, on Apple's home page, we judged the page to be ready when all of its graphics and images were loaded, and when the custom search field was ready to use.

Faster, But Should You Care?

The ironic thing about browser makers’ speed claims is that many users probably won’t notice the difference between the fastest and slowest browsers in our tests. What with fast broadband connections and a bunch of pretty peppy browsers to choose from, few of us spend a lot of time waiting for pages to load. On the other hand, if you're stuck on a slow connection, not even the fastest browser in the world will help you.

Our conclusion: All four of the modern browsers we tested are fast enough that the key factor to consider in determining which one to use shouldn't be "Which one's fastest?" Rather, you should ask "Which one do I like most?" “Which has the features I need?” and "Which one is safest?" That said, it is encouraging to see browser vendors compete with each other, and aim to ship the fastest Web browsers they possibly can.

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