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Best web browser: Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Opera go head-to-head

We take a look at the performance and features of the big four internet browsers to see which one will serve you best.

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Benchmarks

With the overview of our four contestants out of the way, let’s get down to business. To see which browser is worthy of your bandwidth in 2019 we used a variety of testing

tools. For judging JavaScript we used JetStream and the now-unsupported Octane 2.0 and SunSpider 1.0.2 benchmarking tools. Then we turned to WebXPRT 2015 and Speedometer to test the browsers under simulated web app workloads.

Finally, we took a look at CPU and RAM usage by loading a set of 20 websites in a single window in quick succession. Once all tabs began loading, we waited 45 seconds, and then checked the CPU and RAM usage. The idea was to see the amount of system resources the browser would use during a heavy workload.

For this test we ignored the Flash settings and left each browser in its default state. In recent years, most browser makers have de-emphasized Flash, enabling it as “click-to-play” and blocking nonessential website elements that use Flash. Since Flash is on its way out (and most users are unlikely to mess with Flash settings in the first place) we decided to leave everything as is. During the tests there are no extensions running, account sign-ups, or deliberate tinkering with settings: Just raw browser action.

Our test rig was an Acer Aspire E 15-575-33BM laptop loaded with Windows 10 Home. The October 2018 update hadn’t rolled out to this machine yet so it’s still rocking the April 2018 Update. The laptop also has a 1TB hard drive, 4GB RAM, and an Intel Core i3-7100U. Each browser was tested over an ethernet connection.

The performance picture

Looking at both JetStream and SunSpider, Edge 17 won top marks again just like in May 2018, and again by a wide margin. SunSpider has been deprecated for some time and is no longer supported, but the result was expected based on previous tests.

sunspider Katherine Stevenson / IDG

Firefox’s JetStream score (higher is better) keeps getting worse, dropping from 125.43 in November 2017 to 120.31 in May 2018 to 112.39 in January 2019. Its SunSpider score stayed within the margin of error at 331 in January compared to 330.4 last May. Lower is better for SunSpider, and Firefox’s recent scores are much worse compared to the 290 it scored in November 2017. 

jetstream Katherine Stevenson / IDG

For Octane 2.0, which is also no longer supported, Firefox won the top spot this go-round, followed closely by Chrome and and then Opera, with Edge coming in at the bottom. That’s quite a difference from May 2018 when Opera was in the top spot with Firefox taking third place. 

octane Katherine Stevenson / IDG

Moving on to the more modern Speedometer test, which quickly iterates through a bunch of HTML 5-based to-do lists, Chrome came out on top, with Google’s Blink-based cousin Opera a close second, the same as we saw in May 2018; however, the numbers were noticeably worse in this test for all browsers. Last time Chrome and Opera scored 110 and 106.7, respectively, while this time around the scores were 51.5 and 50.2. Firefox took third place at 42.8 and Edge was in the bottom at 30.2.

speedometer Katherine Stevenson / IDG

The numbers were much closer for WebXPRT 2015, and once again things stayed about the same as May 2018. WebXPRT 2015 uses a wide number of web apps, from photo collections to online note-taking to data sets. This test is kind of like a PCMark for browsers, and to my mind, one of the most significant tests. Firefox came out on top here, with Chrome and Opera quite close to each other, followed by a trailing Edge. Again, higher is better.

webxprt Katherine Stevenson / IDG

Finally, we come to the memory and CPU tests. Slamming an average PC with 20 tabs of mostly media-rich sites all at once is going to chew up a good chunk of CPU and memory. Most of these browsers did not disappoint in that respect. That said, most of the browsers scored better than just a few months ago in terms of CPU usage, and memory use was about the same. The exception to memory would be Chrome, which had an unusually low memory score in May 2018 but returned to its memory-munching antics in January. 

Opera was the best performer in terms of CPU usage by quite a bit, with Chrome coming in second, followed by Edge, while Firefox was the biggest hog of them all this time around. That’s not to say that Firefox got worse. In fact, its CPU percentage isn’t that far off from the 86 percent it had in June 2018. All the other browsers, however, made noticeable improvements over their previous scores. 

cpu Katherine Stevenson / IDG

Second place went to Chrome, followed by Edge, and Firefox a little further out in the CPU stratosphere. 

The results were a little different for memory. This time around Edge was kicking butt with the lowest score yet for Microsoft’s browser of death. Don’t get too excited, however, as Edge’s scores are always a little tricky to get. We had similar problems to last time, where the PC often froze from overloaded system resources once the tabs were loading. We managed to get the task manager front and center quick enough to jot down the scores, but the screenshot we took didn’t go off for a noticeably long time. The bottom line here is that power users with multiple tabs open in Edge are still going to feel some serious pain trying to get work done. The next lowest memory hog was Opera, followed closely by Chrome, with Firefox at the back, but with results not that far off from Opera and Chrome.

memory2 Katherine Stevenson / IDG

And the winner is...

So who wins? Here’s the way we see it.

Opera wins our top spot for a good showing in the stress test and winning out in a few other key measures.

Chrome earns second place this time. It performed well in the live stress test, and was close to Opera in many respects. Many people love Chrome, and don’t get us wrong, it’s a great browser. But if you want to get away from Chrome without losing all of its advantages, Opera is a great choice since it can support nearly all the same conveniences Chrome can. Plus the social sidebar is a unique feature that you won’t find in the other browsers.

As in May 2018, we had to give Mozilla’s browser the bronze. Performance scores for Firefox 64 weren’t all that different from last time, while the others had noticeable improvements. The new Quantum versions of Firefox are dramatically better than their predecessors, but the goods just weren’t there to move up in the rankings. The fact that Firefox is a top performer in WebXPRT is a great sign, and if the stress test had gone better it might have taken the top spot or at least second place.

As for Microsoft’s browser...well, this time around Edge doesn’t even get an honorable mention. These days Edge is more of a “well, who cares?” It has always been the lesser browser and while we’ve seen some performance improvements, they’re really unimportant at this point. Edge is serviceable at best as a day-to-day browser, and it’s doubtful anything will change now that Edge as we know it is headed for the dustbin. That’s the bad news. The good news is that Microsoft Edge (assuming the name stays the same) should be a dramatically different beast before the end of the year. 

To sum up: Give Opera a try and see if it performs as well for you as it did for us. If you love Chrome too much to give it up, then stick with it. Firefox, meanwhile, is still a solid option if you want something that isn’t built with Chrome DNA. That’s no small matter either, because once Edge gets its overhaul in the coming months, a non-Chromium browser will be a rare thing to find.

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