OS X Browsers Wars: Which browser is the fastest on Mountain Lion?

Brian Bojan Dordevic
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I’ve been using Safari ever since I switched to Mountain Lion. It was pretty much a no brainer. I’ve used to love Chrome, but with the new OS, Safari simply obliterated all other browsers combined. This is the first time I can verify this with some more or less empirical data from Lifehacker:

Cold Boot-Up Winner: Safari!

Having an SSD in our computer made all of our browsers start up insanely fast, and it’s one of the reasons we recommend an SSD as your next upgrade. However, there were still some differences between each program, with Safari inching in at almost a second to start up. Opera was the only other standout, taking above 1.5 seconds on average.

Tab Loading Winner: Firefox!

Firefox shockingly took the front spot when it came to loading nine tabs at once, taking a mere 7 seconds to finish loading all nine. Chrome was close behind, with Safari taking about 9 seconds and Opera coming in last place with over 10.

URL Loading Winner: Chrome!

Once again, Chrome’s prerendering feature shows its genius, opening pages nearly instantaneously when visited from the menu bar—as long as we had visited that page once during that session. Safari was surprisingly close behind, with Firefox in third place, taking a bit under a second. Opera, on the other hand, didn’t fare so well, more than doubling the time of the next slowest browser.

Cold Restore Winner: Opera!

This is still our toughest test. It’s designed to test Firefox’s on-demand tab loading feature, which aims to make the browser usable more quickly when it restores a large session of tabs. As such, we tried to test a cold restore with nine tabs and stopped the timer when the browser finished its initial “work”—that means Firefox and Opera smoked the others, since they only loaded one or two tabs at a time (and then stopped or loaded the others leisurely), while Chrome and Safari tried to load all of their tabs at once, crushing the browser and making it slow down. Despite Firefox’s “load one tab only” approach, Opera still does a fantastic job of loading your first tab and being ready to go in just a few seconds flat.

RoboHornet Winner: Safari!

Mozilla’s Dromaeo tests have not only become outdated, but we’ve started having trouble with crashes trying to run them. So, we’re using the brand-new RoboHornet benchmark that’s been the buzz around town. It’s a community-driven benchmark that tests things like scrolling, canvas, DOM, SVG, and JavaScript to try and give a more accurate, well-rounded picture of your browser’s speed. It’s still in the early stages, and it’s facing lots of praise and a fair amount of criticism. However, that’s to be expected as a microbenchmark, and while it isn’t the most real-world test, we’d be remiss not to include it. Safari and Chrome came out on top, while Firefox and Opera lagged behind a bit in their tests. for more information on RoboHornet’s scoring system, check out this page.

Memory Usage (with Nine Tabs Open) Winner: Safari!

Safari absolutely smoked the other browsers in terms of memory usage. It wasn’t very consistent—sometimes it would take up only 50MB or so, other times it would jump up to 100MB—but it was still nowhere near the huge levels of memory the other browsers ate up. Firefox and Opera took up around 300MB, while Chrome gorged itself on over 500MB of RAM.

Memory Usage (with Nine Tabs and Five Extensions) Winner: Safari!

Even with five extensions, Safari absolutely pummeled the other browsers in memory usage. Chrome stayed absurdly high, taking up over a gig of RAM, while Opera gobbled up enough memory to push Firefox into a nice spot at second place.

Overall Scores

As always, overall scores are pretty meaningless, but everyone likes to see a winner. So for those of you handing out trophies, the scores are:

  1. Safari: 78%
  2. Firefox: 64%
  3. Chrome: 60%
  4. Opera: 46%

The results speak for themselves. I know that you might love all your Google Chrome Extensions, but empirical data is there, in your face. I know I want my browser as smooth as possible, and Safari delivers, oh boy it delivers. And with new social media integration with Facebook and Twitter, I don’t even have to consider social browsers as Rockmelt. Everything I need, is already there, the very moment I turn my laptop on for the first time.


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