The 2013 Award for the Best Browser Goes to…

Tweet

Tom’s Hardware recently completed their 2013 browser benchmark. The thorough test looks at all aspects of browser performance including start-up times, rendering, memory use, reliability and standards support.

This year’s winner is … dum-de-de-dah … Firefox.

Yes, really. The browser’s reputation for speed and efficiency had been damaged in recent years, but Mozilla has turned the situation around. At least on Windows.

The test analyzed the five main Windows 8 browsers:

  • Google Chrome 27 (nine previous wins)
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer 10 (two wins)
  • Mozilla Firefox 22 (three wins)
  • Opera 12 (two wins)
  • the beta version of Opera 15 which uses Blink and V8 (the final edition was released this week)

Start-up

The start-up time for a single tab was won by IE10. It was followed by Firefox, Opera 12, Opera 15 and Chrome which was two seconds slower than IE.

However, when the test is performed with eight tabs, Firefox is twice as fast as Opera and Chrome with IE10 coming last. However, that’s a cold-start; when you restart the browsers again, IE10 is slightly ahead of Firefox.

The aggregated results put Firefox at the top, followed by IE10, Opera 12, Opera 15 and Chrome.

Page Load

Chrome takes the lead for loading a single page. As expected, Opera 15 is almost identical followed by Opera 12, IE and Firefox.

Loading 40 cached tabs yields a slightly unusual result: Opera 15 is the fastest and Chrome the slowest. This could be resolved in Chrome 28 when it moves to Blink, but I suspect a combination of Chrome’s multi-process architecture and calling home to Google may hamper it. Opera 12 was in second place. IE was in third although the testers experienced stability issues. Firefox was fourth.

Overall, Opera 15 comes out on top but version 12, Firefox and IE are only marginally less. Despite loading a single page fastest, Chrome falls to fifth.

Performance

The test uses aggregate scores from Webkit SunSpider, JSBench, RIABench, Futuremark, Rightware and Mozilla Dromaeo benchmark suites to assess JavaScript execution and DOM manipulation. Chrome wins, followed by Opera 15, Firefox, Opera 12 and IE.

However, benchmarking is rarely a test of real-world performance so the testers used a number of HTML5 and CSS3 suites which assess tasks such as applying a series of photo effects, face detection and games. The overall result still has Chrome ahead, but Firefox and IE10 are very close.

Finally, the testers looked at WebGL and hardware acceleration. It was a photo finish for Chrome and Firefox with Opera 15 a little behind. IE and Opera 12 don’t support WebGL.

Memory Use

The overall efficiency result placed Opera 15 and Chrome at the top followed by Firefox, IE and Opera 12. However, it depends on what you’re doing. For a single tab, IE leads with Firefox in last place. With 40 tabs, Firefox uses half the memory required by Chrome, but is a little less efficient at releasing it.

Reliability

During the 40-tab reload, the team assessed the reliability of each browser to ensure all pages had fully rendered. The results were surprising:

  1. Firefox loaded all pages correctly
  2. Opera 12 required four tabs to be refreshed
  3. IE10 required eight (and the browser crashed first time)
  4. Opera 15 required nine refreshes
  5. Chrome required twelve — 30% of pages were incomplete or incorrectly loaded

Standards Support

When you take HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript standards support into consideration, Chrome comes out top with Opera 15 a little behind. Firefox, Opera 12 and IE10 follow but the differences have narrowed considerably.

The Championship Results

Tallying the scores for all tests puts Firefox in a commanding lead:

web browser grand prix

Firefox comes top in relatively few tests but it’s often in a strong second or third place and offers good performance in all areas. Chrome leads in many speed tests but is let down by start-up times, multi-tab memory use and a slightly shocking reliability result.

A quick glance at the chart may lead you to conclude there’s a gaping chasm between the best and worst browsers. Don’t believe it. While tests such as this are interesting, the applications are closer than they’ve ever been — no single browser is an outright winner in all areas.

We’re at a fortunate point in web history where old IEs are (almost) irrelevant and it no longer matters which browser a user decides to use. Long may it continue.

Comments on this article are closed. Have a question about which browser is best? Why not ask it on our forums?

Free book: Jump Start HTML5 Basics

Grab a free copy of one our latest ebooks! Packed with hints and tips on HTML5's most powerful new features.

  • http://www.drakeintelgroup.com Karl J. Gephart

    Glad to see Firefox the overall winner! Yeah, after years of conditional coding for IE, now responsive design is the real challenge for some of us! Know of any good resources, Craig? :-D

  • Stevie D

    And then Firefox goes and throws it all away by removing the option to disable Javascript (OK, it may not be completely gone, but for most users it’s as good as), rendering the browser as “not fit for purpose”.

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      Strangely enough, I’m writing an article about that very topic now…

  • http://theheatexchange.wordpress.com/ H.E.A.T.

    Based on this article, I do not see how FF comes out on top. Unless each area is weighted differently, Chrome and Opera 15 seems to occupy most of the first and second place positions.

    In the areas of Page Load, Performance, Memory Use, and Standards Support, Chrome or Opera 15 is occupying the top spots. These are the most important areas for both developers and regular users.

    In the area of Start Up, IE10 comes out on top. Not too many users start their computers and open their browsers with eight tabs. Even still, IE10 beats FF on browser restarts.

    The only area where FF appears to command is Reliability during a 40-tab reload. Of course some will crawl out of the shadows, but who opens 40 tabs at one time in any browser? This is unrealistic and, if indeed weighted, highly subjective and suspect.

    You mentioned a strong second of third place, but those positions are held mostly by either Chrome or Opera 15.

    Again, I am going by the info in this article. I am not a big fan of any one browser. As you stated, not one of them does everything very well if at all. My impression is that claiming FF is the best browser based on these results is bias and irresponsible.

    In the areas where FF falls short, it appears to be a play to run a test to ensure it receives a mention. Yes, I am reading between the lines. I wonder what the Reliability score would have been if a typical, or more realistic, number of tabs were tested. I rarely open over eight tabs at one time.

    What I do take from these results is that Blink may be the rendering engine to beat.

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      Well, I certainly open at least eight tabs and currently have 43 in place! Tom’s Hardware tests are very thorough and Firefox performed well in all. Even when it came last, it wasn’t too far behind the leaders. Chrome came out top in many but dismally in a few; it’s aggregate score was affected accordingly.

      What would Tom’s Hardware gain from a biased test? Why would Mozilla — the only non-commercial vendor — pay for such a result? Why has Chrome won three-times as many awards? Who would trust the TH site again if that were found to be true? It would undermine their credibility and the whole reason they exist.

      Question the methods and results by all means, but at least read the original report before before making a judgment about bias and throwing accusations.

  • http://www.david-duval.com/ David DuVal

    Would have loved for you have to at least mentioned some of the other browsers like Maxthon which I find more stable than Firefox or Chrome. Comodo Dragon and Lunascape aren’t bad either. Right now I use Maxthon most, then Chrome, then Firefox, then IE just because my customers do too.

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      Remember that Maxthon uses IE’s trident engine. Where performance is concerned, it won’t do any better than IE10.

      • Mathias

        well, opera 15 is using blink…

      • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

        It is but, at the time this test was done, Chrome was using Webkit.

        The fundamental difference, however, is that Blink/Webkit are open source: Opera can change it, add custom functionality, etc. That’s not the case for Maxthon; the browser can only use the same engine as IE. In essence, it’s an alternative skin for IE.

      • Anvit Tawar

        No that’s not true. Maxthon has long back switched to a dual-engine system – it chooses which engine to use (WebKit or Trident) depending on the page. By default, it uses Webkit for most pages, and one can manually switch the engine for individual websites.

        Besides that, Maxthon has tons of other features, and its speed is commendable too. I’ve been using it for quite sometime (even switched to Chrome a while back, but came back for faster speed)

      • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

        Fair enough, but it’s speed can only be as fast as Trident or Webkit permit. Maxthon doesn’t have its own engine so, while there will be minor performance differences owing to different versions used, using it in a browser comparison test is fairly pointless.

        Put it this way: it’s a little like having a drag race between a yellow Ford Focus and a green Ford Focus.

    • A. Summers

      I also loved Maxthon until it sudddenly switched to Chinese and all my settings, links and the rest were lost. Luckily I had Seamonkey too and it has never caused any problems for me like FF, Chrome (Flash player!!!), IE.

  • http://charmingoo.com/ Josh Brancek

    Firefox???? No way!!! I am using Chrome daily and I think its much better!!!!

    • http://www.50secondsnorth.com Patrick Samphire

      Indeed. In the face objective evidence, head straight for your opinion instead…

  • Lamont Briggs

    It’s generally a toss up between firefox and chrome. It can go either way. And in the future there will be more competition from the smaller browsers like opera and torch browser that incorporate aspects of the big names while offering different options.

  • http://www.50secondsnorth.com Patrick Samphire

    It’s a shame that on Macs the memory usage is appalling for all the browsers. Don’t know if this is just a problem with Macs overall or that browser vendors don’t try as hard on Macs.

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      Is it anything to do with the way Unix/Linux manages memory? From what I recall, it’s not as straight-forward as Windows but usage matters less.

  • Jon

    I am using Waterfox the 64 bit version of Firefox. You guy’s should test the water. lol
    I would be interested to see how it stacks up. Later J

  • Albert Leo

    Firefox uses huge amounts of memory, and doesn’t release it when tabs and browser instances are closed. I’ve had FF over 1G of memory. Needless to say, it’s very slow in that situation. I open lots of tabs in multiple windows. It’s fine that the memory goes up with use, but it doesn’t go down when tabs are closed. I’ve closed everything except one tab and still had over 300 MB in use. I kill FF and restart it, and memory comes down to something reasonable. This has been going on for years, many versions, and on different PCs. Looks like memory leak/bad garbage collection, not exactly a cutting-edge issue. Very annoying.

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      Which OS are you using?

      On Windows, Firefox used to be a memory hog but, other that releasing memory, it’s now more efficient than the competition — especially with multiple tabs.

  • Naresh Rambatla

    Great article, and I agree, I have been using Firefox all along till today.
    Today I had to install firefox to a new machine and I realized the search engine had changed to Ask.com and try as I may I couldn’t change it to Google. and then in frustration I tried installing google toolbar and that was not available for firefox.
    While I am not really interested in corporate disagreements, Firefox without google search is definitely not the same firefox i used before.
    Actively looking for another browser.

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      As far as I know, Firefox uses Google by default — they pay Mozilla big money for the privilege.

      It sounds as if you may have malware or possibly pre-installed one of those “helpful” browser toolbars which is offered by other software. Check the add-ins.

    • http://www.onsman.com Ricky Onsman

      Naresh, did you install or update Java on your new machine? That process “offers” the installation of Ask.com as default search provider along with a browser toolbar. It’s very easy to miss the checkbox that must be unchecked to refuse the Ask installation.

  • Craig

    I have used all the browsers including Palemoon X64. Right now the best browser on Windows 8 is Opera 15. Chromium on Crunchbang 11 Linux defeats Opera 15 on Windows 8 by quite a margin. It looks like Google are in for it with Opera now about to take the reigns with the web kit/blink system. Its about time Opera got the credit it has always deserved. Firefox is an over-hyped browser. Internet Explorer is better than it ever was but it seem too messy for my liking.

  • Randay

    I have a rather old Dell with XP. Firefox no longer displays many sites correctly, including this one. I had to use IE to post this. Other sites that are not displayed correctly include Youtube and Patheos and CNET, which also would not register me. I like Firefox add-ons and all, but in the current state I am switching to Chrome.

    I give the latest version of 22 of Firefox a Big Zero.

    • A. Summers

      I use Seamonkey, un-bloated and clean version of FF and also much more reliable than FF and IE, with Opera giving a close performance. I gave up Chrome after its “Aw snap, something went wrong ” message began to appear whenever Flash Player runs, sometimes for a few seconds only. I tried every trick in the book and some more but for my setup Chrome is hopeless. I just hope HTML5 becomes the standard.

  • It’s Me Again

    This test doesn’t take into consideration the countless design flaws. If you have a couple of tabs open and your PC goes to sleep Firefox has a bug where you can’t switch tabs anymore and have to restart the browser. Firefox 22 also has the copy/paste bug.

    FF can’t win the best browser award with basic functionality not working.

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      That sounds like a problem with your PC crashing applications on sleep/hibernation. I don’t think it’s a specific Firefox flaw but it may be worth trying a re-installation.

  • http://realpowerblog.com Real Power Blogging

    Glad to see Firefox winning. I always prefer Firefox because of it’s reliability. It always loads every page without any error.

  • http://lovestudio.biz/ Marseiller

    great thing, I use greenbrowser, and google chrome, very well.