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Safari challenges Chrome on Web app speed

Google's browser rules the roost when it comes to JavaScript speed, but Safari is the first to come anywhere close on Google's V8 benchmark.

Google's latest version of Chrome has claimed the lead in my JavaScript speed tests, but Apple's new Safari 4 beta is the first browser to challenge it on Google's own performance benchmark.

JavaScript is a programming language that powers not just innumerable ordinary Web sites, but also many Web-based applications such as Google Docs. With the computing industry's major push to cloud computing, Web application performance is increasingly important, and there's a race on to see who's got the best JavaScript engine. JavaScript engines even have become a named feature, with Chrome's V8, Firefox's TraceMonkey, Opera's Futhark and upcoming Carakan, and now the Safari's newly branded Nitro, which is Apple's version of WebKit's Squirrelfish.

On the SunSpider test, the new Safari 4 beta scored third place.
On the SunSpider test, the new Safari 4 beta scored third place.Photo by Stephen Shankland/CNET News

I use two tests: The SunSpider benchmark from the WebKit project, and the V8 benchmark suite from Google, both of which run a variety of computing tasks rather than real-world applications. Such synthetic benchmarks are always tricky business, often not aging well as technology improves, but these two are widely used.

The upshot: Chrome wins both tests handily, with Firefox in second place on Sunspider and Safari in second place on the V8 benchmark.

I'm using raw versions of these browsers, though. Chrome is available in three versions, stable, beta, and developer preview, and I'm using the latter, which is the least stable. The latest Chrome developer preview,, includes a significant new component to the V8 engine.

On Google's V8 suite of JavaScript tests, the Safari 4 beta was the only browser to get close to Chrome.
On Google's V8 suite of JavaScript tests, the Safari 4 beta was the only browser to get close to Chrome.Photo by Stephen Shankland/CNET News

Also in my tests are Safari version 3.2.2 and the beta of 4.0, Mozilla Firefox 3.1 beta 2, Microsoft's Internet Explorer 8 release candidate, and Opera's version 10 alpha.

The results are an average of three runs on a dual-core Lenovo T61 running Windows XP with 3GB of memory. Results may differ on Apple Macs, of course, and of course bear in mind that there's a lot more to browsing than just JavaScript speed.

The Safari 4 beta had a respectable showing on version 3 of Google's tests, for which a larger number is better. Its score of 1,396 meant it's the first browser to come anywhere near Chrome, which this time around achieved a score of 2,240. Opera scored 202, Firefox 181, Safari 3.2.2 173, and IE a pathetic 63.

On SunSpider 0.9, the results were a more even distribution. Chrome scored 1,775--and bear in mind that here smaller numbers are better--to Firefox's 2,671, Safari 4's 4,257, Opera's 5,513, Safari 3.2.2's 6,345, and IE's comparatively feeble 7,168.