Accompanying every new web browser version release is a flood of claims that it’s faster than anything else on the internet. And why not? In a cramped market, where name value matters and personal preferences reign, anything that can shift attention for a few minutes is welcome. So with this week's drop of Firefox Quantum, the latest incarnation of Mozilla's stalwart browser, the company's boast about its new version being speedier than Google Chrome was pronounced more quickly than, well, you can open a new tab.
Mozilla insists that Firefox Quantum's "crazy powerful browser engine" makes the process of loading pages twice as fast as it is on Google's flagship browser. It also claims that it's 30 percent lighter in terms of memory usage. But is any of it true?
To slash through all the bragging and unearth some facts, I fired up a series of benchmark tests and did some real-world investigation to get a better idea of the performance of both browsers under typical usage. All tests on Firefox Quantum 57 and Google Chrome 61.0.3163.100 were performed on the same Windows 10 machine, a Dell XPS 13 laptop with a 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-7660U processor and 16GB of RAM.
Synthetic Benchmark Tests
Browser Start Time
Although you may frequently think about the boot time of your computer (especially if it's older!), the start time of individual programs tends to be overlooked more often. When you click on an icon, you want it to open, and if it lags, you notice. (We're looking at you, Photoshop — but you do a ton of stuff, so it's okay.) Given how simple a web browser is, it doesn't seem too much to ask that it open immediately.
The good news is that you essentially get that with both Firefox Quantum and Google Chrome. I used PassMark AppTimer to measure the timing of opening and closing 50 windows of each program, and I rebooted the computer before switching between them. With an average time of 0.287 seconds, Firefox again won. But since Chrome averaged 0.302 seconds, you don't have to worry either way.
If there's a natural enemy of web-browser performance, it's RAM usage. More or less since their advent, web browsers have tended to gobble up memory resources and compound the problem with each new tab or window you open. But although the gradual uptick of RAM amounts in most computers has mitigated this problem somewhat, it is still a problem — and something you want to be aware of.
In order to determine which browser (if either) was less of a mud-wallowing memory hog, I gathered together a list of 10 popular websites, including our own Tom's Guide and Laptop; CNN and ESPN; Facebook and Twitter; and others. I then opened them all in individual tabs within one browser window (with the YouTube tab playing a video), and used the Windows Task Manager to monitor the memory usage after 5 minutes. (As I did previously, I rebooted the computer before switching to the other browser.)
Again, the results were close. Yes, Chrome used marginally less memory just running its main app (an average of 126.3MB versus 145.3MB for Firefox), and it averaged a lower amount of memory across all the background processes it started when it ran (1,362.4MB across 13 or 14 processes, as compared to Firefox's 1,400.5MB across a consistent six). It's worth noting, though, that in two of our three tests, Firefox did finish leaner, but in no case did it live up to Mozilla's claim that Quantum consumes "roughly 30 percent less RAM than Chrome."
The news changed a bit when more tabs were involved. With 30 tabs open, Firefox Quantum averaged 3,883MB of RAM from six processes and Chrome averaged 4,151.3MB from 34. As Mozilla touts Quantum's facility with multiple tabs, this is good to know, though Firefox was more sluggish keeping up with multiple simultaneous YouTube video streams. (Both browsers flipped through and closed tabs snappily.)
Is Firefox Quantum Faster Than Chrome?
Firefox Quantum delivers on the spirit of Mozilla's promises. It did demonstrate speed increases, albeit ones that were generally modest and intermittent, and memory savings that were primarily noticeable only with loads of active tabs. What this proves, though, is that no matter which browser you choose, you're getting one that's decently fast and capable when both handle all of the content you're likely to encounter during your regular surfing sessions. And that, more than performance that's a tad better here or there, is what matters most.