The best browsers go beyond benchmarks, racing through real-world webpages as well as canned routines. They’re easy to set up, flexible and extensible, and connect other devices and services into an ecosystem.
Look, throwing a few benchmarks at a browser just doesn’t cut it any more. Just as you expect us to test graphics cards against the latest games, we think your browsers should be tested against a collection of live sites. Can they handle dozens of tabs at once? Or do they shudder, struggle, and crash, chewing through your PC’s processor and memory?
To pick a winner, we put Google Chrome, Microsoft’s Edge and Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera to the test, barring Apple’s abandoned Safari for Windows. We used the latest available version of each browser, except for Firefox, which upgraded to Firefox 40 late in our testing. And we also tried to look at each browser holistically: How easy was each to install and set up? Does Opera make it simple to switch from Chrome, for example?
You’ve already seen part of our tests, where we showed you how much of an impact enabling Adobe Flash can have on your system. Disabling or refusing to load Flash can seriously improve performance—some sites, like YouTube, have begun to transition to less CPU-intensive HTML5 streams. Still, other readers pointed out that they simply need to run Flash on their favorite sites. That’s fine—we tested with and without Flash, so you’ll have a sense for which browser performs best, in either case.
Oh, and Microsoft: We found that your new Edge browser isn’t quite as fast as you make it out to be. (Sorry!) But it still demonstrated definite improvement over Internet Explorer.
The benchmark numbers favor Chrome and Firefox
We do consider benchmarks to be a valuable indicator of performance, just not a wholly defining one. Still, they’re the numbers that users want to see, so we’ll oblige. We used a Lenovo Yoga 12 notebook with a 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-5600U inside, running a 64-bit copy of Windows 10 Pro on 8GB of memory as our test bed.
We tested Chrome 44, Windows 10’s Edge 12, Firefox 39, Internet Explorer 11, and Opera 31 against two popular (though unsupported) benchmarks—Sunspider 1.0.2 and Peacekeeper—just for reference purposes. But we’d encourage you to pay attention to the more modern benchmarks, including Jet Stream, Octane 2.0, Speedometer, and WebXPRT. The latter two are especially useful, as they try to mirror actual interaction with web apps. We also tested using Oort Online’s graphics benchmark as well as the standardized HTML5test—which is not so much a benchmark, but an evaluation of how compatible a browser is with the HTML5 standard for Web development.
From our testing, Chrome and Firefox topped the Speedometer and WebXPRT tests, respectively. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Google was the fastest browser under the Google-authored Octane 2.0 benchmark. But Microsoft’s Edge led the pack in the Jet Stream benchmark—which includes the Sunspider tests, which Edge led as well. (For all of the benchmarks, a higher number is better; the one exception is Sunspider, which records its score in the time it took to run.)
What’s surprising about Edge is that it led the pack in the Jet Stream benchmark, but fell way behind on Speedometer, only to record a quite reasonable score in WebXPRT. (Microsoft claims that Edge is faster than Chrome in the Google-authored Octane 2.0 benchmark as well, but our results don’t indicate that.)
Chrome flopped on the Sunspider test; the only test Firefox failed equally miserably in was the Oort Online benchmark, which draws a Minecraft-like landscape using the browser.
For whatever reason, I noticed some graphical glitches as Edge rendered the Oort landscape, including problems drawing a shadow that slid across the bay in the night scene. But Oort proved even more problematic for Firefox, rendering “snow” as flashing lights and rain as a series of lines. (We’ve included the test result, but take it with a grain of salt.) Internet Explorer 11 simply couldn’t run the Oort benchmark at all.
We also included the HTML5test compatibility test, which measures how compatible each browser is with the latest HTML5 Web standards. Although some developers focus extensively on each browser’s score, even the test developer isn’t too concerned:
HTML5test scores are less interesting to me than people think. Any browser above 400 points is a perfectly fine choice for todays web.— HTML5test (@html5test) August 2, 2015
And the only one that fails that test, of course, is the semi-retired Internet Explorer 11.
What does all this mean? It doesn’t indicate a clear win for any specific browser, including Chrome. Based on our benchmark tests, many of the browsers will handle the modern web just fine.
Next page: Real-world testing and "the convenience factor."