Browser Showdown: Internet Explorer 8 vs. Firefox

By Nick Mediati, PC World |  Internet, IE8, Internet Explorer

Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 is here at last--the newest entry into the ongoing browser wars. Microsoft packed a healthy number of new features into IE 8, and made security a top priority in its newest version of this venerable Web browser.

But just as important as all that is browsing speed--that is, how quickly can IE 8 render your favorite Web sites? To get an idea of how IE 8 compares, we put it to the test.

Our Speed-Test Methodology

In our browser speed comparison, we pitted a near-final build of Internet Explorer 8 against Firefox 3.0.7, the current non-beta version of Mozilla's browser. We used a set of nine popular Web sites in our testing: Amazon, MySpace, Yahoo, PC World, YouTube, Microsoft, Apple, eBay, and Wikipedia. To ensure we could gather as accurate page-loading times as possible, we recorded our testing sessions for review later on.

We loaded each site ten times in each of the browsers and repeated the process the following day to rule out any network traffic or server issues. Prior to each test run, we cleared the browsers' caches as well. We also repeated the load tests to ensure that we had sufficient data to identify loading speed trends. To ensure consistent results, we performed testing on a fresh Windows Vista installation, and we reinstalled the operating system before each round of testing. Additionally, we removed the two best and two worst scores for each page load test to produce more consistent results.

Browser testing can be tricky, as different browsers measure page loading progress differently, so getting a read of page load times strictly by the browser's progress bar could result in inaccurate or inconsistent results. Have all the images appeared? Are there elements of the page that have yet to load even though the browser's status indicator suggests otherwise? These are questions we take into account when testing browsers. Given this, we took into account visual indications of a page's loading progress, rather than relying on what the browser's progress bars told us.

The Speed-Test Results

By and large, we found that Internet Explorer 8 performed well, and beat out Firefox 3.0.7 in the majority of our time trials.

However, IE 8's performance advantage is relatively negligible. In most of our testing, IE 8's advantage was half a second or less. One notable exception, however, was in loading the English-language Wikipedia home page, where IE 8 beat out Firefox by an average of one second (IE 8 took about 2.2 seconds to load the page on average, while Firefox 3 took about 3.3 seconds). Also of note: on average, IE 8 loaded Apple's home page nearly twice as quickly as Firefox.

IE 8 is Faster, But Will You Notice?

In practical, everyday use, you likely won't notice much of a difference between IE 8 and Firefox 3. Due to the fact that broadband connections are so commonplace today, and the fact that browsers in general can load pages faster than they could even a couple years ago, the page load time differences between the two are relatively moot. If you use Firefox and are happy with it, you may as well stick with it. That said, it is encouraging to see browser vendors compete with each other, and aim to ship the fastest Web browsers they possibly can.

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