So, rather than crack out the synthetic benchmarks, I took the latest versions of Internet Explorer 8, Opera 10, Safari 4, Firefox 3.5 and Chrome 3 for a quick spin around the internet to see if I could feel a difference in performance between them. The results were quite an eye-opener.
Note: All browsers are clean installs with no favorites of add-ins installed.
Firefox 3.5 had a noticeably slower load time. IE8, Opera 10, Chrome 3 and Safari 4 all felt pretty much the same to me.
Flash heavy websites feel best in Chrome. Not only that, but the browser also feels the most responsive when under heavy Flash load. IE8 once again seems to be under the greatest strain, and the rest of the pack all feel the same.
When it comes to the actual performance of the browser itself, in terms of flipping through tabs and so on, Chrome 3 is way ahead of the pack, IE8 is trailing way behind, and nothing separates the rest.
To be honest, despite having all five browsers installed side-by-side on several test machines, I've never actually taken all of them on a test like this before. Given my experience of the browsers under synthetic benchmark tests, I'd expected Chrome 3 to be the fastest and IE8 to be the slowest, but I honestly didn't think that those milliseconds difference in synthetic benchmarks results would translate into anything noticeable in the real-world. The fact that there is a noticeable difference means that we have all benefited from this latest round of browser wars because we're all enjoying faster browsers.
This side-by-side comparison also puts it into perspective how shockingly bad some older browsers (such and IE7 and IE6) must have been given that we've seen huge performance gains from all fronts over the past year or so (largely thanks to Google Chrome). If you're still using an old, outdated browser, whichever one it is, update it and enjoy the performance boost.
Bottom line is that a few milliseconds do make a big difference!
[UPDATE: Here are a few links to previous synthetic benchmarks: