​What's really the fastest Windows 10 web browser today?

Every company is claiming their latest web browser is the fastest one yet. So, which one really is the fastest? I took them to the test bench -- and here's what I found.

Opera claims its eponymous web browser is "far faster than Firefox Quantum 58." Mozilla claims its better use of CPU time makes Firefox really fast. And when I turned on Edge the other day, it claimed it's the fastest browser of all.

OK, they can't all be right. So, which Windows 10 web browser is the fastest of them all?

I put the most popular Windows 10 browsers to the test. These were Windows 10's built-in Edge 41 and the increasingly decrepit Internet Explorer (IE) 11. I also checked out the latest versions of Chrome 64, Firefox 58, and Opera 51.

Before I jump into the testing, I should mention Opera is something of a Google Chromium -- the open-source version of Chrome -- clone. It uses the WebKit/Chromium rendering engine. That's why Chrome and Opera's performance numbers are often close to being identical.

I benchmarked these browsers on my Windows 10 test PC, a Dell XPS 8910. It's powered by a 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-6700 Quad-Core Processor, backed by an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 750Ti graphics card with 2GB of graphics memory. This system is running with the latest Intel chip microcode, and this tower PC comes with 16GB of RAM and a 1TB 7,200 RPM hard drive. This system is also connected to a Gigabit Ethernet switch. From there, it links to the internet, with a 100Mbps connection. The operating system is Windows 10 Home, version 1709, build 16299.248.

For each round of tests, I ran freshly installed vanilla web browsers after rebooting the system.

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Which browser is the fastest of them all?

JetSteam 1.1

First up: JetSteam 1.1. This JavaScript benchmark builds on the foundation of the no-longer-supported SunSpider. It combines several JavaScript benchmarks to report a single score that balances them using geometric mean. JetStream includes benchmarks from the SunSpider 1.0.2 and Octane 2 JavaScript benchmark suites. This test suite also includes benchmarks from the LLVM compiler open-source project, compiled to JavaScript using Emscripten 1.13. It also includes a benchmark based on the Apache Harmony open-source project's HashMap and a port of the Cdx real-time Java benchmark, hand-translated to JavaScript. Higher scores are better on this benchmark.

The winner was Edge, with a score of 220.39. Edge was followed by Oper (193.56), and well within the margin of error, Chrome (195.43). Firefox Quantum, despite all the hype about how it's the best thing since sliced bread, was well behind with a score of 180.65. IE? It failed the test, so I'm putting it down as a "did not finish."

Kraken 1.1

Next up: Kraken 1.1. This benchmark, which is based on the long-obsolete SunSpider, also measures JavaScript performance. To this basic JavaScript testing, it added typical use-case scenarios. Mozilla, Firefox's parent organization, created Kraken. With this benchmark, the lower the score, the better the result.

Here, Firefox squeezed out a win, with a score of 1,028.5 milliseconds (ms). Close on its heels with 1068.6ms was Chrome. Barely behind Chrome, came Opera with 1,069.3ms. Edge took fourth with 1,108.7ms. IE was way, way in the back with 2,081.2ms.

Octane 2.0

Octane 2.0, Google's JavaScript benchmark, is no longer supported, but it's still a useful benchmark thanks to its scenario testing for interactive web applications. Octane is not Chrome-specific. For example, it tests how fast Microsoft's TypeScript compiles itself. In this benchmark, the higher the score, the better.

Here, Chrome took first, with a mark of 40,695. Snipping at its heels came Opera, with a score of 40,533. After that, there was a steep performance drop off. Firefox took third with 33,595, while Edge came next with 32,145. IE once more failed part of the test. Even if it hadn't, its score of 15,716 left it in the others' dust.

WebXPRT

WebXPRT remains my favorite browser benchmark. It's produced by the benchmark professionals at Principled Technology This company's senior staff were the founders of the Ziff Davis Benchmark Operation, the gold-standard of PC benchmarking.

WebXPRT uses scenarios created to mirror every day tasks. It contains six HTML5 and JavaScript-based workloads: Photo Enhancement, Organize Album, Stock Option Pricing, Local Notes, Sales Graphs, and Explore DNA Sequencing. Here, the higher the score, the better the browser.

On this test, Firefox came in first place with 529. Close behind it came Opera with 521, and then Chrome with 510. Edge fell way off the pace, with a score of 301. IE, of course, came in last with 280.

HTML 5 web standard

As a side note, I checked to see how well each browser complies with the HTML 5 web standard. This "test" isn't a benchmark. It just shows how close each browser comes to being in sync with the HTML 5 standard. A perfect score, which none got, would have been 550.

Developers have been working on HTML5 since the late 2000s. It became a standard in 2014. So, you'd think we'd finally all be on the same web page wouldn't you? Wrong.

Firefox came the closest at 529. It was followed by Chrome and Opera, which tied at 528. Edge came in much farther back at 301. In last place, as you'd expect, was IE 280.

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What does all this mean?

It means there is no top dog web browser today. There is, however, a clear failure: IE 11. No one should be running IE 11 on any version of Windows. It simply can't compete.

As for the others, even when the benchmarks showed a wide performance difference, I could barely see any real world differences between them.

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So, which web browser should you get?

It depends on which browser ecosystem works best for you. I use a lot of Google programs, so it's Chrome for me. Are you wedded to Windows? Use Edge then. Do you like what Firefox has been doing? Then go ahead and use it. Want something a bit different? Use Opera.

Just don't buy the hype that one or the other kicks the other's rump when it comes to raw speed. They don't.

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