by Bill Snyder

Fastest Browsers? IE9 and Opera Mini, Believe It or Not

Apr 07, 20123 mins

Internet Explorer 9 on the Windows desktop and Opera Mini on Blackberry (!) are the surprise winners in a new browser speed test. But when factoring in browser use on a Mac, Chrome wins the race.

When a performance management company called New Relic analyzed the download speed of millions of Web pages last month, the results were not what they expected. It turns out that on the mobile front, a browser called Opera Mini, running on, of all things, the Blackberry, was nearly twice as fast as its closest competitor — Safari on the iPad. “Blackberry came out of left field,” says John Essex, New Relic’s marketing chief.

And on the desktop: Internet Explorer 9 was the fastest Windows browser, but any version of Chrome (which is becoming ever more popular for home use) when running on a Mac blew away all of the competition running on the Windows platform. (You can see complete test results here.)

I’d be skeptical of some of these results, but New Relic’s test was certainly extensive. The company monitored page downloads on 20,000 customer sites for three hours on March 22, clocking as many as 690,000 page views a minute, Essex told me.

Slideshow: The Big, Bad Browser Quiz

When they did the math, New Relic found that Opera Mini on Blackberry downloaded pages in 2.6 seconds, while Safari 5.0 took 6.2 seconds to load on an iPhone. Oddly, the newer Safari 5.1 was even slower, taking 6.6 seconds to load. Of course, the edge in speed would hardly make up for the Blackberry’s deficiencies as a smartphone. Indeed, a small edge in speed is probably not going to make many people switch their browsers; things like stability, ease of use and the availability of add-ons and extensions are much more important.

Browser differences aside, the New Relic tests underscores just how slow the Web is when viewed on a mobile device. Even the slowest browser on the desktop was faster than all mobile browsers with the exception of the Opera Mini. That’s probably a function of several factors, including overall wireless network performance, as well as the optimization of Web sites, the devices and the browsers themselves.

Microsoft’s IE9 was significantly faster than its competition on the Windows desktop, downloading pages in an average of 3 seconds. Next were Firefox 11 and Chrome 17 at 3.5 seconds. Two older versions of IE, and one in the works  — 10, 8, and 7 — were right behind, just a few tenths of a second slower. But Chrome 13 on the Mac was clocked at 2.4 seconds, 25 percent faster.

I was disappointed to see that Opera Mini on the iPhone, a browser I like and reviewed a while back, was not included in the test results. That wasn’t the result of a conscious decision by New Relic; Opera Mini on the iPhone simply didn’t register on the radar, apparently because it just isn’t widely used.