Google Chrome 4.0: Fastest OS X browser by 34 per cent

Safari, eat Google's dust -- its Chrome Web browser has hit version 4.0 on the Mac, and our tests confirm it's now the fastest browser in the world on both PC and Mac OS X

Safari, eat Google's dust -- its Chrome Web browser -- under its developmental title Chromium -- has hit version 4.0 on the Mac, and our tests confirm it's the fastest browser in the world on both PC and now on Mac OS X.

Version 4.0 for Mac adds features we tested and discussed last week when the beta landed on PCs: an even faster version of Google's V8 Javascript engine, themes to skin Chrome in pretty colours, and a customisable 'speed dial' homepage.

But despite its 4.0 moniker and its impressive speed, Chrome for Mac is still riddled with bugs. Big ones, like those spiders in Eight Legged Freaks, only even more hellacious.

Performance improvements

As we said the other day, speed is central to Chrome's manifesto. Web site developers more than ever rely on oodles of JavaScript technology to make their sites as responsive and functional as possible, so browsers need to be able to process and render it with constantly increasing efficiency.

When benchmarking Chrome 4.0's rendering speed on a PC last week, it obliterated its previous record and scored 100/100 on the Acid3 standards-compliancy tests. On the Mac, it only gets better. It completed the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark in just 657ms. Only 4 per cent faster than its PC brother, sure, but 34 per cent faster than Safari 4.0.3, which scored 886ms on the same 2.0GHz Intel MacBook .

Keeping things in some sort of context, Firefox version 3.5.2 on OS X scored 1,508ms and Opera 10 beta 3 scored 5,958ms.

Themes and homescreen

As on PC, so on Mac. Chrome's themes and skins are universally supported across each platform using a standard file format. They spice up the look and give Chrome the option for some extra OS X-suited gloss.

Chrome 4.0 bookmarks bar
 

The 'speed dial' homescreen -- the default screen when you open a new tab or window -- differs a little on the Mac, however. Within version 3.0 on the PC, the Web pages you most frequently visit are displayed as six thumbnail images and can be rearranged and 'pinned' to your heart's content. This is now a feature of Chrome on OS X.

Below them on the PC version was a box of recently closed tabs and an adjacent box with nothing but the question, 'What will we put here?' This empty box doesn't exist in OS X, and the box of recently closed tabs is much smaller.

Chrome 4.0's home screen
 

Flash and bookmarks

Chrome 4.0 has better support for Adobe Flash now (ironically, the first version of the browser on OS X didn't work with Flash, meaning Google's own YouTube was unsupported). Problem is, it's still criminally inefficient, resulting in poor frame rates, excessive CPU usage and choppy playback -- three issues not present in Safari or Firefox on OS X.

But this new build provides slightly better bookmarking functionality. You can import bookmarks when installing Chrome on OS X for the first time -- <sarcasm>this is a truly remarkable breakthrough</sarcasm> -- but there's still no easy way to simply import an HTML file containing bookmarks exported from another browser. Guys, fix this.

Conclusion

You'd be forgiven for thinking version 4.0 of any piece of software meant it was sufficiently far through its developmental cycle to recommend, but it's really, really not. Frequent crashes and the lack of some rudimentary functionality means there's still a fair way to go before we start advising Average Joseph to haul ass into the OS X world of Chrome.

But it's getting there, and we reckon there's only a few more months of development to go before it's ready to go public, at least as a beta.

Update: Some readers point out that Chrome 4.0 on OS X is still in pre-alpha stages of development and shouldn't be compared to final products. What we're doing here is comparing how the browser works now in comparison to other products. Once released as a beta, it'll get tested again. Once released as a finished product, it'll get tested again. All we're doing here is taking a look at how the product currently performs, and nothing more. And incidentally, WebKit isn't a browser -- it's an engine that powers a browser. We assure you, as soon as Safari ships with an updated build of WebKit powering it, we'll be testing all over again.

 

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