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Firefox, Chrome virtually tied for JavaScript speed

The latest Chrome and Firefox versions edged ahead in performance, but Chrome edged more. Could Google's Native Client project make the test obsolete?

The latest version of Google's Chrome is only a smidgen slower than Mozilla's Firefox on the SunSpider test of JavaScript performance.
Google's Chrome now is only a smidgen slower than Mozilla's Firefox on the SunSpider test of JavaScript. CNET News

On Tuesday, Mozilla released Firefox 3.1 beta 2 and Google released Chrome, so it's time for the latest installment of JavaScript performance testing.

Here's the highlight: Though Firefox remains the leader on the SunSpider test, with a score of 2,110, Chrome edged very close with 2,140. A lower score is better; because of some variation in results, the numbers I quoted are an average of several runs.

Firefox and Chrome aren't the only browsers out there, but they're interesting to compare for a few reasons. First, they're both open-source projects launched to shake up the establishment with new ideas about the browsing experience. Second, given that philosophical alignment, they're likely to appeal to the same early-adopter crowd. Finally, both have new JavaScript engines, Chrome's V8 and Mozilla's TraceMonkey, which in the new beta is switched on by default.

JavaScript is used to build sophisticated Web sites such as Gmail or Google Docs, but it's also widely used for more ordinary operations, so faster JavaScript performance is desirable. One interesting possibility Google has raised for Web applications though is to bypass JavaScript altogether and use Google's new Native Client software, a research project that lets Web-based software run closer to the speeds of regular software on a computer.

Chrome is making steady gains in Google's JavaScript test; Firefox has a mixed record.
Chrome is making steady gains in Google's JavaScript test; Firefox is much slower and has a mixed record. CNET News

SunSpider is only one test, though; Google has its own JavaScript benchmark on which Chrome wins hands-down. A glitch in the first Firefox beta kept me from testing it on Google's benchmarks, but the new beta runs again, yielding a score of 182. That's lower than the earlier Firefox 3.1 beta's 235 score, so perhaps something is still amiss. Either way, it's a far cry from Chrome's score of 2,635.

The usual caveats: your mileage may vary; I ran these tests on a dual-core Lenovo T61 laptop with 3GB of memory and Windows XP. JavaScript is only one aspect of Web browsing performance, and indeed of browsers overall. Also, this software is still in beta, Chrome in particular a developer beta. Finally, I apologize to those who've been asking, but time constraints have kept me from trying the latest WebKit builds and Opera.

According to Mark Larson, Google's Chrome program manager, Chrome fixes a crash when opening the Options dialog box on 64-bit Windows and some issues using Hotmail. "Hotmail still does not properly recognize Google Chrome," though, Larson said in his announcement of the new version, though it can be fooled into thinking it's using a more mainstream browser. For details, check the instructions on the release notes.