Review: Chrome 17, faster than ever, more secure than ever.

Google's popular Chrome Web browser just keeps getting faster and more secure with every release.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Google s Chrome 17 Web browser is better than ever.

Google's Chrome 17 Web browser is better than ever.

Google's been really busy lately. They may be releasing "G-Drive," a personal cloud storage service ala Dropbox. They have released a beta of the Chrome Web browser for Android. And, with all that, their developers have also been hard at work keeping Chrome on top of the Web browser hill.

Chrome 17, the latest and greatest, is fast. But, then Chrome has long been faster than its competition: Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Opera, and Apple Safari. This latest update though has more than pure speed. It also comes with some new, useful features.

The best of these is security related. Besides such squashing potentially dangerous security bugs, Google now automatically runs checks on executable .exe and .msi files. If the program doesn't match a built-in white list of OK programs, Chrome then automatically checks in with its Safe Browsing site to see if the Website you picked the program is known for of malicious downloads.

If the file isn't from a known source, Chrome automatically sends the URL and IP of the host and other meta-data, such as the file's hash and binary size, to Google. The file is then automatically classified using machine learning analysis and the reputation and trustworthiness of files previously seen from the same publisher and Web site. Google then sends the results back to Chrome, which warns you if you're at risk.

Google also wants you to know that "It's important to note that any time Safe Browsing sends data back to Google, such as information about a suspected phishing page or malicious file, the information is only used to flag malicious activity and is never used anywhere else at Google. After two weeks, any associated information, such as your IP address, is stripped, and only the URL itself is retained."

Don't trust Google? Fine. You can turn Safe Browsing off. Mind you, I think you'd be an idiot to do this. Windows users, in particular, are in constant danger from malware and this is a simple, slick way of cutting down on potential viruses. From where I sit, you're in a lot more danger from malware than you are from paranoia about Google tracking your file downloads.

Another handy feature is what Google calls Omnibox pre-loading. What that mouthful means is that when you start typing a URL into the Chrome's address bar, aka the Omnibox, you'll see various suggestions about what site you might be looking for. That's in been in Chrome for a while Google has taken the next step though. If Chrome's is absolutely sure it knows what site you're going to, it will start pre-loading the site. So, for example, when I start to type in "zd," "plu," or "Fac," Chrome 17 will start loading, respectively ZDNet, Google Plus, and Facebook.

This can have the effect of making Chrome look even faster than it is... so long as it's guessed correctly. In my experience, Chrome gets it right almost every time, but then I tend to visit the same dozen or so sites over and over again. If you visit dozens or hundreds of sites, you'd be unlike to notice any improvement. If it doesn't seem to be working for you, or, worse still, it starts pre-loading the wrong sites so your performance seems worse, you can switch it off by un-checking "Predict network actions to improve page load performance" in Options > Under the Hood.

With that out of the way, let's move to the testing. I'd been running Chrome 17 on my usual mix of PCs. That includes several Linux desktops, including my Linux Mint desktop, several Macs running Snow Leopard and Lion; and a couple of PCs running Windows XP SP3 and Windows 7 SP1. It ran on all my platforms.

Like all modern browsers, Chrome gets a perfect score on the Acid 3 compatibility test, which checks how well a browser complies with various Web standards such as CSS, JavaScript, and Extensible Markup Language (XML),

On the HTML5 Test, which checks to see how compliant the Web browser is with the HTML5 Web page standard, Chrome 17 scored 374 out of a possible 450. Coming in second was Firefox 10 with a score of 332.

For performance testing, I ran Chrome against the latest releases of Firefox, 10.0, and Internet Explorer, 9.08, on a Gateway DX4710 Windows 7 SP1 test box. This PC is powered by a 2.5-GHz Intel Core 2 Quad processor and has 6GBs of RAM and an Intel GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) 3100 for graphics. It's hooked to the Internet via a Netgear Gigabit Ethernet switch, which, in turn, is hooked up to a 100Mbps (Megabit per second) cable Internet connection.

For my first performance test, Chrome went up against the other contenders on Mozilla's Kraken 1.1 benchmark. In Kraken, which like most Web browser benchmarks measures JavaScript performance, lower scores are better. Here, Chrome left Firefox and IE eating its dust with a score of 3677.6ms. This was actually slower than Chrome 16. Still, that was far faster than the others. Firefox came in next with a score of 4342.6ms. To Firefox's credit that's much faster than Firefox 9.

On Google own JavaScript V8 Benchmark Suite, where higher scores are better, Chrome, roared by the others with a score of 8,153. Firefox, once more, was much better than it had been, but it still came in far behind at 5,145. IE trailed well behind the open-source browsers with a score of 2,230.

On the oldest JavaScript test, SunSpider 0.9.1, where lower results are better, Chrome didn't show well at all. IE won this one with a score of 282.6ms, Firefox came in second with 274.8ms, and Chrome was in the rear with 307.1.

On the Peacekeeper Web browser test suite, which looks at JavaScript performance and also glances at HTML5 compatibility, video codec support and other Web browser features, Chrome won once more. On this benchmark, where higher is better and Chrome took first with a score of 2,425. IE took second with 1,626 with Firefox hot on its tail with 1,619.

Taken as a whole, Chrome remains the fastest browser around. When you include its new features, it's clear to me that Chrome is continuing to be the top Web browser.

Related Stories:

Google Chrome Web browser finally comes to Android

Can Firefox be a Web browser contender again? Firefox 9.01 Review

Review: Chrome, the Sweet 16 Web Browser

Opera 11.6: Better but not good enough (Review)

Google Chrome, I love ya but…

Editorial standards