Mac Browser Comparison

Browsers are updated quite often, so it’s not unusual to reevaluate your browser choice. So, I updated the 4 most popular Mac browsers I had, and ran a few tests. I tested Google Chrome, Opera, Safari, and Firefox 4.

The benchmarking tool I used was the PeaceKeeper benchmark. Named for it’s ability to calm internet debates over browsers by offering unbiased results. It tests Javascript performance, standard web rendering, and the new HTML5 canvas element on each browser. It then averages these scores out.

I also tested the amount of memory used by each browser. For this, I added up the real memory (your ram) and the virtual memory (stored on Hard Drive) to get a total amount. For this, I opened the same 5 tabs on each browser.

For those who don’t want to read much, here’s a rundown of the scores and memory usage.
PeaceKeeper benchmark score (higher is better):

  1. Google Chrome: 8358
  2. Opera: 7055
  3. Safari: 6779
  4. Firefox: 5006
And the memory totals (lower is better):

  1. Firefox: 511.9
  2. Opera: 731.3
  3. Safari: 1133.3
  4. Google Chrome: 1370.1
As you can see, Crome performed the best on the browser benchmark, but used up the most memory. Next is Opera, which was second best in both categories. Safari came in third in both categories. Finally, there’s Firefox, which used the least amount of memory, but was also the slowest. 
Also, there’s one more test I should mention. The Acid 3 test. This test measures how well your browser conforms to new web standards. Below are the results from this test.

  • Safari: 100/100
  • Google Chrome: 100/100
  • Opera: 100/100
  • Firefox: 97/100
As usual, this can’t be as cut and dry as that. Ah, if only things were that easy. Unfortunately, there’s still a lot more to consider. Those PeaceMaker benchmark scores are the overall scores. We’re going to need to break those down better. How often do you encounter HTML5 canvas elements? Pretty rarely. On the other hand, how often do you render a webpage? Every time you load one. Not only that, but how reliable are the browsers, what are their addons and interfaces like? These are important questions that just can’t be answered with some numbers. So, I’ll review each browser individually to help you with your decision.

Google Chrome



Google Chrome wasn’t the first browser to use the WebKit rendering engine, but it certainly is the most popular. Chrome had the highest score, but that score comes with a few issues. First off, with Chrome, each tab is it’s own process on your computer. That means if one tab crashes, the rest are unaffected. It also means that it uses up more memory.

As for a breakdown of the score, you can see that most of the speed improvement came from an extraordinarily high data score. It also had a high Complex Graphics score, which measures the performance of the HTML5 Canvas element.

Now for the bad news. Chrome is a bit unstable. It would occasionally render pages incorrectly, and I needed to install a ClickToFlash-like add-on to even get Flash to appear on my pages. Speaking of add-ons, Chrome doesn’t need to be restarted when you install these extensions.

Safari

Results are from an older test

Safari was the first browser to use the now quite popular Webkit rendering engine. Safari has the 3rd highest score on the PeaceKeeper benchmark, however it did score the highest in the “Social Networking” category. In fact, the scores are all decently high on average. While one score doesn’t stand out, this means Safari is a consistent performer. Also, Safari uses slightly less memory than Chrome.

Safari also has extensions now. This means that you can add functionality to the browser easier. Apple has listed all the third party extensions on their page, which is quite easy to search through. While it has less extensions, I prefer the format of these. Safari, like Chrome, doesn’t need to be restarted when you install a new extension. 

Safari is also very stable, and displays webpages quite well. While it may not have scored the highest, features like top sites, an easy to use undo close tab (just press command+z), extensions, and steady performance make this a great browser.

Both Safari and Chrome come with Webkit’s built in debugger, the web inspector. It’s a great tool, and easily surpasses the tools Opera and Firefox come with. I even like it more than the popular Firebug add-on for Firefox.

Opera

Just when Opera started fading into obscurity, they introduced a few updates that made Opera a lot faster. While Opera had the second highest score, a breakdown of that score reveals some moderate stats, with a few outliers. Text parsing and Complex Graphics take the cake, but Opera scored lower than Safari and Chrome with DOM operations and Data (common). It did score well in rendering, however, which is good.
Opera’s interface is a bit odd, and there’s a lot of features that you probably won’t use or like. However, I’ve found that it can perform quite well, and the option to move around the tab bar is pretty cool. Opera’s still an oddball. It’s different, and while it’s fast, it’s not necessarily the fastest in all categories. Opera also has Unite and Widgets. These let you make standalone apps out of web apps. It’s a neat feature.
Opera also has a “Turbo” feature. This compresses websites using Opera’s servers, then sends you the compressed website. It’s a decent solution to a slow network. However, if you have a fast connection, it’s actually a bit slower. 
Opera’s the oddball out of the bunch, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. 
Firefox

Here’s an old standby for many of us. Whenever I’d get on a new computer, I’d almost always start out by installing Firefox so I wouldn’t have to use Internet Explorer. It was faster, more secure, and had extensions. However, Firefox has gotten more competition, and, is starting to show it’s age. It’s no longer the fastest browser. However, it’s still open sourced, so if that’s important to you, Firefox may still be a contender for you. 

As for the stats, Firefox uses the least amount of memory, which is good for older computers. It also happened to be the slowest, which can make your older computer look even older. It performed quite well in Data and Text parsing, and outperformed Safari in complex graphics, but it’s stats for Rendering and Social Networking were very low. Firefox has the oldest and largest list of add ons, which is vital for some. While the built in developer tools are lackluster, you can install Firebug, which is great for web development.

For users of the new MacBook Pros with graphics switching, I should note that Firefox causes the discrete graphics card to activate. This means it’s going to lower your battery life, without boosting performance much.

Also, these stats come from the beta version of Firefox, which is a lot faster than the current version. This makes these low stats even more dramatic. Currently, Firefox’s only chance is that it uses the least amount of memory. However, Opera only uses slightly more, and is a lot faster. I wish I could say more that’s good about Firefox, (really, I do) but time hasn’t been as kind to my old favorite.

And there you have it. Is there one “best browser”? No. Each browser has it’s pros and cons, and only you can make the right choice. I do hope this has helped you narrow things down though. Personally? I use every browser for web development. However, my favorite is Safari. Why? It’s consistent, fast, has useful development tools, top sites lets me see the updates on news sites, and it has some good extensions. That’s why I like the browser. That’s my opinion, and I could start using another browser in a heartbeat. They’re all great, so you’ll have to make a decision for yourself. 

10 comments on “Mac Browser Comparison
  1. Excelent post, thanks! I'm an old Opera fan, but since Safari got extensions, and for some reason Chrome seems really unstable, i'll stick with Safari for while. Thanks!

  2. Excelent post, thanks! I'm an old Opera fan, but since Safari got extensions, and for some reason Chrome seems really unstable, i'll stick with Safari for while. Thanks!

  3. Wow, thank you for this!! I've been trying to decide between Firefox and Chrome–I'm not THE most tech-savvy person, but I know enough to occasionally check these things out when there are updates and such–and it looks like I need to reevaluate Safari…

    For a 2008 macbook with 250GB of memory (I THINK this is ram??) which one would you recommend?

  4. Wow, thank you for this!! I've been trying to decide between Firefox and Chrome–I'm not THE most tech-savvy person, but I know enough to occasionally check these things out when there are updates and such–and it looks like I need to reevaluate Safari…

    For a 2008 macbook with 250GB of memory (I THINK this is ram??) which one would you recommend?

  5. At 2GB you could run any browser of your choosing. Back in February I did this same test on a MacBook with 2GB of ram. While I do notice a difference in performance on a MacBook Pro, it's one that goes across the board.

  6. At 2GB you could run any browser of your choosing. Back in February I did this same test on a MacBook with 2GB of ram. While I do notice a difference in performance on a MacBook Pro, it's one that goes across the board.

  7. Great article! Chrome is highly unstable on my Mac. I run the other 3 browsers simultaneously, along with Camino and Omniweb, each for a different purpose. They all gobble memory. Personally I'm a die-hard Opera fan so that's still my #1.

  8. Great article! Chrome is highly unstable on my Mac. I run the other 3 browsers simultaneously, along with Camino and Omniweb, each for a different purpose. They all gobble memory. Personally I'm a die-hard Opera fan so that's still my #1.

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