Is Internet Explorer 9 the new speed king?

Internet Explorer, once derided as the laggard among browsers, seems to have gotten a rocket-fuel injection with the release of Internet Explorer 9. It's so fast that one has to wonder: Is it the new speed king?

Microsoft recognized that Internet Explorer 9 needed to be fast. Web pages have more content every year and take longer to load. Increasingly, the browser replaces the function of an operating system -- it's a way to run Web-based applications and services. A slow browser is the kiss of death.

Toward that end, Microsoft developed a new JavaScript engine for IE9, called Chakra. It uses multiple processor cores, and compiles scripts in the background. Beyond that, IE9 also uses the computer's GPU to accelerate text and graphics rendering.

In my review of Internet Explorer 9 for Computerworld, I found that work paid off. IE9 aced the competition on the SunSpider JavaScript Benchmark. It took 280 milliseconds (ms) to complete the tests, followed by Opera 11.01 at 308.8 ms, Chrome 10.0.648 at 316.7 ms, Firefox 4 Release Candidate at 319.1 ms and Safari 5.0.4 at 410.2 ms. (I used a Dell Dimension 9200 with a 2.4-GHz Intel Core 2 Quad processor and 2GB of RAM running Windows Vista. I ran three sets of tests on each browser and averaged the results.) You can see the results below.

SunSpider tests for Internet Explorer 9

As a practical matter, there's no discernible difference between the top four finishers. A few ms here or there won't be noticed. So even though IE9 is faster on this test, it doesn't mean that in actual experience you'll notice it being faster. They all likely will perform similarly on those tasks measured by SunSpider.

Of course, measuring JavaScript is only one indication of browser performance. Microsoft and Mozilla are currently engaged in a very public spat over whether IE9's hardware-accelerated GPU capabilities or Firefox 4's similar features are similar. With no third-party tests to compare them, there's simply no way to know who's right.

So is IE9 the new speed king? Until objective tests about GPU acceleration are available, it's hard to know. But at a minimum, it's caught up to the competition, which is a big step forward for the browser.

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