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Internet Explorer 9 speeds past the competition

March 16, 2011 02:30 PM ET

I ran tests on IE9 and competing browsers using the SunSpider JavaScript Benchmark. 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.

IE9 beat all the others. It took an average 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.

As a practical matter, there's not much difference in these tests between the top four performers. It's not going to be noticeable by most surfers. But in previous tests I ran, Internet Explorer 8 took between five and six times the amount of time to complete the SunSpider tests as its next-slowest rival, Firefox, making this an astonishing speed improvement. And the fact remains: On this test, Internet Explorer beat all rivals.

Internet Explorer 9
When IE9 and competing browsers were run using the SunSpider JavaScript Benchmark, IE9 proved to be the fastest. (Lower numbers are better.)

It's an open question, though, as to whether Internet Explorer's hardware-accelerated GPU handling of processing-intensive work is superior to other browsers. The upcoming Firefox 4 also uses hardware acceleration, and Microsoft and Firefox have been trading fire over which browser is superior in that respect. We'll have to wait until a set of agreed-upon benchmarks emerge for measuring that capability before judging.

Keeping up with standard

Past versions of Internet Explorer have been criticized for not adhering to Web standards, something that Microsoft has fixed in Internet Explorer 9. Microsoft now has an Internet Explorer Test Drive page to demonstrate embedded videos and other features. However, the <video> tag didn't work in IE9 when I tested it with other sites. I tried Chrome and Opera, and they did somewhat better, although they also didn't display every video, either.

As a practical matter, this is moot at this point, because you'll have to search long and hard to find Web pages that use the <video> tag. If the tag ever becomes popular, I would assume that all browsers would end up supporting it.

To test overall HTML5 compatibility, I ran IE9 and other browsers through the HTML5 test page. IE9 scored at the bottom, with 130 out of 400, while Firefox 4 Release Candidate scored 240, Opera scored a 234, Chrome rated 288, and Safari came in at 228. Of course, given how little HTML5 is used at this point, it's not clear how relevant these numbers are at the moment. But Microsoft needs to do some work to prepare Internet Explorer for HTML5 when it becomes widely used. At this point, IE is the least compliant browser, at least according to the HTML test page.

IE9 came close to acing the Acid 3 Test, which tests the degree to which a browser follows a number of Web standards, especially JavaScript and the Document Object Model (DOM). IE9 scored a 95 on the Acid Test and rendered the page perfectly except for a minor error, getting one color wrong. This is a dramatic improvement over IE8, which in my tests had scored only a 20. Chrome scored a 100, and while it didn't render the page properly on one of my machines, did a perfect job on several others. Firefox 4 Release Candidate scored a 97 and, as with Internet Explorer 9, rendered the page perfectly except for a minor error, getting one color wrong. Opera and Safari both scored a perfect 100 and rendered the page perfectly.

As for normal Web browsing, IE9 displayed nearly every page I visited properly, with a few exceptions. On my iGoogle home page, it would not render the Web-based version of Google Talk. And on the Computerworld blogs, it didn't show any of the comments that readers made. I was able to solve the problem with Computerworld's blogs by clicking on IE9's Compatibility View button, which displays the page as thought it were being rendered by Internet Explorer 8. In subsequent visits to that page, IE9 remembered to display it using the earlier version of the browser. However, Compatibility View didn't solve the problem with rendering Google Talk.

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