What’s New in Opera 10 (Part 2: Performance)

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Opera 10In yesterday’s preview of Opera 10 we examined the interface, new features, standards support and developer tools. Today, we look at the browser’s performance.

Opera 10 is no slouch. It starts instantly, pages render quickly, and web applications remain responsive. It’s certainly a match for Chrome.

Memory usage appears to be far more efficient than other browsers. In a typical browsing test, I would estimate Opera 10 uses around half the memory of Firefox 3 (with no add-ons) and minimizing the browser reduces it further (whether Firefox has config.trim_on_minimize set or not).

JavaScript benchmarks

JavaScript benchmarks do not tell the whole story; bandwidth, rendering speed, and DOM manipulation all contribute to the efficiency of web applications. However, the SunSpider JavaScript Benchmark does provide an opportunity to pit browsers against each other:

Safari 4 beta 1,879.0
Chrome 1,957.4
Firefox 3.0.10 6,811.0
Opera 10 beta 7,865.4
IE8 10,847.2
IE6 still awaiting results!

I would add that these tests were hardly performed under strict laboratory conditions but, although Opera 10 is around 15% faster than Opera 9.6, it still has some way to go before catching the webkit-based browsers.

Opera Turbo – the killer feature?

Opera Turbo has the potential to make your Internet experience over 4 times faster – and it’s even better on Opera Mobile. This is achieved by compressing files before they are downloaded so it could prove invaluable on slower networks.

Turbo mode is enabled or disabled by clicking the icon on the left of the status bar. The number indicates the approximate speed increase:

Opera Turbo icon

Opera can be configured to switch to Turbo mode automatically when bandwidth becomes limited and warns you when it could be an advantage or a disadvantage:

Opera Turbo settings

The download size reduction is achieved by routing your Internet traffic through the Opera Turbo proxy server. The main noticable difference is that JPEG images are compressed at a far higher rate and will lose quality:

Opera Turbo image comparison

GIF and PNG images are not affected, possibly because they are not lossy formats. I suspect Opera is using other compression methods for HTML, CSS and JavaScript files, such as GZIP or file merging. However, the code is not changed in any way and even white-space is retained.

Opera Turbo graphOpera Turbo really works and download speeds are significantly faster. The JPEG graphic quality may cause issues on some sites, but it’s rarely a major problem. However, there are a number of caveats:

  • Videos, Flash and other media is not compressed, so heavy YouTube users are unlikely to experience a speed increase.
  • Secure HTTPS traffic will not pass through the proxy server. This ensures security is not compromised for systems such as online banking (and it prevents CAPTCHAs becoming even more unreadable!) However, security could be an issue on some HTTP websites.
  • The Opera Turbo proxy server could raise privacy concerns. The company has a strong commitment to privacy, but Opera could identify individuals and collect usage statistics.
  • Is the service scalable? It works well now, but what will happen once several million users start using Opera 10?

Overall, Opera Turbo is a great feature and I suspect other browsers vendors will implement similar systems. As for security and privacy concerns, it’s no worse than using a public network – and public networks are where Opera Turbo users will see the most benefit.

Should you switch to Opera 10?

The beta version of the browser has a few quirks and is best used for testing or out of curiosity. However, Opera 10 is excellent and I would recommend you try the final release.

Would I switch from my default browser? No – I still prefer Firefox and have come to depend on several add-ons which I would miss if I switched to Opera full-time. I would consider it for browsing only but, once Firefox has loaded, I’m not convinced I’d bother?

The areas where Opera really shines include:

  1. the additional features, such as email, newsgroups, IRC etc.
  2. it’s low resource requirements, and
  3. the bandwidth-saving Opera Turbo mode.

These make the browser perfect for mobile devices. I will certainly install it on my netbook where it could replace Firefox and Thunderbird (especially if Xmarks ever release an Opera bookmark synchronization plugin).

See also:

What do you think of Opera 10? Would you use Opera Turbo or are the risks too great?