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What's the fastest Linux web browser?

Firefox is the default web browser for most Linux distributions, but is it the fastest choice?

Firefox is easily the most popular Linux web browser. In the recent LinuxQuestions survey, Firefox took first place with 51.7 percent of the vote. Chrome came in second with a mere 15.67 percent. The other browsers all had, at most, scores in single percentages. But is Firefox really the fastest browser? I put them them to the test, and here's what I found.

Ubuntu Linux Web Browsers

Firefox is the default web browser on Ubuntu and most other Linux distributions, but is it the fastest? I put the most popular Linux web browsers to the test to find out. (Image: sjvn)

To put Linux's web browsers to the test, I put them through their paces on Ubuntu 16.04, the current long-term support of the popular Linux desktop distribution. This ran on my older Asus CM6730 desktop PC. This has a third-generation 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-3770 processor, an NVIDIA GeForce GT 620 graphics card, 8GB of RAM, and a 1TB hard drive. This four-year-old PC has horsepower, but it's no powerhouse.

Linux used to have numerous web browsers. That's no longer the case. True, the code is still out there, but the browsers themselves are no longer maintained. For example, KDE's Konqueror is no longer supported. Even Kubuntu, the popular Ubuntu-based desktop that uses KDE for its desktop environment, now has Firefox as its default browser.

So, after looking at the most popular, still-supported Linux web browsers, I tested the following ones: Firefox 51, GNOME Web 3.22, formerly Epiphany; Google Chrome 56; Google Chromium 56, Chrome's open-source prototype; Opera 43, which is also built on Chromium; Vivaldi 1.7.7, an open-source fork of the old Opera code for power-users.

For each round of testings, I ran freshly installed vanilla web browsers after rebooting the system. Then, I ran the following benchmarks.

JetSteam 1.1: This JavaScript benchmark builds on the foundation of the obsolete 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. On this benchmark, larger scores are better.

Here, the fresh-from-the-developers Chromium took first place with a score of 180.89. Close on its heels came Chrome with 179.77 and Opera with 178.84. Vivaldi was right behind the top three with 176.84. Web came in next at 172.94. In last place, by a considerable distance, was Firefox with 163.38.

Kraken 1.1: This benchmark, which is descended from 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.

In this run, Opera took first with a score of 988.84 milliseconds (ms). A hair-breadth's behind came Chromium at 989.5ms. Chrome took third place with 993.0ms. Right behind Chrome was Vivaldi with 988.4ms. Then, there was a big performance drop off. Firefox avoided last place with a score of 1,088.3ms, while Web landed at the bottom at 1,121ms.

Octane 2.0: Google's JavaScript benchmark also includes scenario testing for today's interactive web applications. Octane is not Chrome-specific. For example, it tests how fast Microsoft's TypeScript compiles itself. On this benchmark, the higher the score, the better.

Chrome emerged on top of this benchmark with 31,737. Chromium, to no surprise, took second with a score of 31,453. Opera came in third with 30,979. Fourth place went to Vivaldi at 30,772. It was followed by Firefox at 30628, and in a distant last place, Web at 27,949.

Speedometer: This WebKit-designed benchmark is meant to move away from simply measuring JavaScript performance to looking at how well web browsers do at reacting quickly to users' actions. It uses TodoMVC to simulate user actions for adding, completing, and removing to-do items. Speedometer repeats the same actions using DOM APIs (a core set of web platform APIs used extensively in web applications) and six popular JavaScript frameworks (Ember.js, Backbone.js, jQuery, AngularJS, React, and Flight). On this test, results are measured in runs per minute. The higher the score, the better.

Once more Chrome took the top spot with a score of 113.2. Vivaldi was close behind it with 112.3. Opera took third with 108.5. Web was right behind Opera with a result of 107.2. Then, a ways back, came Chromium with 97.23. I would have said that was a surprisingly poor showing, but Firefox turned in a disastrous score of 44.6.

WebXPRT: This is today's most comprehensive browser benchmark. It uses scenarios created to mirror everyday 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 faster the browser.

Firefox finally emerges on top in this benchmark with a result of 353. This is far above Web with 294. Chrome and Opera both tied for third with scores of 282. Vivaldi came next at 244, and Chromium took last place with 231.

HTML5 Test: Last, but never least, 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 received, is 550. If your web browser has trouble with today's web standard, it doesn't matter how fast it is.

By this yardstick, Chrome is the best at 519. It's followed closely by Vivaldi with 517 and Opera with 512. Chromium occupies the next step down with 505. After that, Firefox falls far behind with a result of 471. Web, however, is the worst of the lot with a mere 386.

Taken all-in-all, I think Linux users should look to Chrome for their web browser use. When it's not the fastest, it's close to being the speediest. Firefox, more often than not, really isn't that fast.

Of the rest, Opera does reasonably well. Then, Chromium and Vivaldi are still worth looking at. Web, however, especially with its dreadful HTML 5 compatibility, doesn't merit much attention.

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