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Browser comparison: How the five leaders stack up in speed, ease of use and more

Jon L. Jacobi | Sept. 18, 2014
The best browser for your desktop could be one you're not using. Whether Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, or Safari is your current choice, our tests found distinct differences in speed and ease of use. We also compared how each browser uses system resources, a near-invisible trait that could be discreetly bogging down your PC. For the online lifestyle, the right browser could save you time and frustration.

Minor issues aside, Chrome is still a top browser option because of its stability and speed.

Firefox 31 (Gecko): Looking good, running fast

Firefox is the long-time competitor to IE that staved off a Microsoft browser monopoly for years until Chrome showed up to "help." It's fast and very reliable. Despite a longstanding memory leak that forced the occasional restart, it was the browser I recommended for many users to avoid the malware attacks that once plagued IE.

The memory leak in its Gecko rendering engine seems to be gone and Firefox has recently received an upgrade that was radical enough to rile a few longtime users. (There is a way to bring back the old-style menus.)

I prefer the new look and find it the most intuitive of all the browsers for bookmarking and changing options. Firefox also has a vast array of add-ons, including one of the best video downloaders out there, the aptly-named DownloadHelper.

In our performance texts, Firefox tucked neatly into third place overall: It scored 4540 in BrowserMark; took 134.4ms to complete Sunspider (better than Chrome or Opera); and scored 3956 in Peacekeeper.

The feel is slightly slower than Chrome or Opera, but not enough that it should irritate you. It uses fewer resources than Chrome or Opera, spawning only a single process, and using only 510MB of memory. Only the super-thrifty Safari used less memory.

Keep reading for details on Internet Explorer 11 and more...

Internet Explorer 11 (Trident)

IE remains extremely popular and useful — if for nothing else that downloading your browser of choice with a fresh install of Windows. It's decently fast with HTML, exceptionally fast with Javascript, and renders pages reliably.

Also, because of its ActiveX technology, IE is sometimes easier to use with business-related sites such as Webex and HTML IT consoles such as Kaseya. These sites can seamlessly integrate their functionality into IE. With other browsers you must sometimes download and install an extension or background app. Windows User Account Control can prolong that process, so in a pinch I often simply switch to IE.

IE was unable to complete BrowserMark, a problem noted only after a recent update, but it did score 3670 on Peacekeeper. More notably, it took a mere 74.1ms to complete Sunspider, making it easily the fastest browser for running Javascript.

Sadly, it's every bit the memory hog that Chrome and Opera are, using 714MB in my nine-tab test. On the other hand, it used "only" 7 processes, half that of the WebKit-based Chrome and Opera.

Opera 23 (WebKit 537)

After a long, dark age of badly rendered pages, Opera's now near-perfect in that regard. I say this even after uninstalling it just a few months ago due to its incompatibility with PCWorld's own web tools. Updates have smoothed out those kinks, and it's only a hair slower than Chrome.

 

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