Web browser dragster races: Firefox 3.1 beta vs. Chrome beta

I like Chrome, Google's beta Web browser, a lot. It boasted the fastest Web-rendering engine I'd ever seen, until now. Starting last night, there's a new Web speed-demon, Firefox 3.1 beta 1.

I know, I know. Some people aren't seeing this speed boost. My colleague, John Brandon, found that "Compared to Chrome, in testing my most frequently visited sites, Firefox 3.1 now lags well behind Chrome." Brandon's right. For daily Web browser visits, Chrome is still faster.

The blame for that goes, from what I can see, to the fact that Firefox 3.1 beta has a lot more beta error-checking code in it than does Chrome. Before either one goes gold that code will be stripped out.

While I was looking under the new Firefox beta hood though at Firefox's new JavaScript rendering engine, TraceMonkey, I saw killer performance that leaves Chrome's V8 JavaScript engine eating its dust.

By default, Mozilla hasn't turned on TraceMonkey, but since I don't know of any show-stopping errors in TraceMonkey, I switched this speed-booster on. You can do this yourself by editing about:config and setting the javascript.options.jit.content to true. For more on how to tweak Firefox for maximum performance and how to edit about:config, check out Serdar Yegulalp's Hacking Firefox. It's a must for serious Firefox speed freaks.

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John Brandon: Firefox 3.1 Beta 1 no speed demon, lags behind Chrome

Speaking of speed, let's get down to the numbers. I installed Firefox 3 Beta 1 on an older Gateway 503GR. This PC uses a 3GHz Pentium IV CPU, 2GB of RAM, an ATI Radeon 250 graphics card, and a 300GB SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) hard drive. On this, I was running XP SP3. I also ran Firefox 3 Beta 1 on my main openSUSE 11 PC, but since Chrome still doesn't run natively on Linux, I tested both browsers on the XP computer.

I then put both browsers, and some others, to the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark test. The results? Last place went to IE 7 with 59,694.3 milliseconds; Firefox 3.03 came in third with 11,249.1 milliseconds; Chrome came in second with a zippy 3,621.8 milliseconds, and Firefox 3.1 Beta 1 easily took first prize with 2,596.4 milliseconds.

That's great, but it doesn't mean I think you should switch Web browsers today. The best Web browsers today are beta browsers and that means they have their share of quirks.

For example, while I've made Chrome my daily Windows browser, it does have some nasty bugs if you try to write with it in a blog or the like. Since I almost never write directly into a Web page I can live with that, a lot of people couldn't. On the Firefox 3.1 side, I'm finding that the Web browser does slow down on some CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) heavy pages

I suspect that the blame for that goes to Firefox's reworked Gecko layout engine, which handles HTML page rendering. The new Gecko comes with improved support for CSS 2.1 and CSS 3 and, again, what appears to be a lot of debugging code. I should also note in passing that Firefox 3.1 broke every Firefox extension that I normally use.

I see both next-generation browsers as extremely promising works in progress. Best of all, since both are open source, they'll be sharing speed tricks as they continue to develop.

Neither is ready for Joe Laptop-packer yet, but if you want to get a taste of what really fast Web-browsing is like, you should try both of them. And, just think: both of them are only going to get faster, a lot faster, before they go final.

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