Does browser speed matter?

At work, I have a high-speed internet connection. At home, I also have a high-speed internet connection. If ever I was to be on dial-up, I think I’d just browse with images turned off (or use a text-only browser, like Dillo). No matter what browser I’m trying or using, I always use tabs.

So, when I see debates on the internet about browser speed, I’m not sure what the point is exactly. This is how I browse:

  1. I visit the site I want to go to.
  2. If I see an interesting link, I middle-click it so that the tab for it loads in the background.
  3. I read anything that needs reading.
  4. If I see more interesting links, I middle-click those as well so that they load in the background.

The first page takes anywhere between .1 and 1.5 seconds to load. Then the load times for subsequent pages don’t really affect my browsing experience, because I don’t even see those pages until I close the one I’m currently viewing.

The only time speed has mattered to me is when the website’s server is slow (taking more than ten seconds to load), and that really has nothing to do with web browser I’m using.

What do other people think? Is browser speed important to you in picking which web browser you use most often? Why?


  1. I don’t think browser speed is important unless one use dial-up connection and even then it is hard to measure which browser is ‘faster’ than other.

    I used to compare IE/Mozilla/Opera to see which one is the fastest (I was using dial-up back then) and have noticed little different between them. The conclusion I had, back then, was that all browser perform roughly equal, given the same connection speed and if no multipart download is used.

    I think what people refers to when they talk of ‘speed’ is more like each browsers ‘style’ of rendering.

    For example, IE will display the text from the website first, then image later, while the early version of Mozilla will not display the web page until it’s finished loading everything, thus people will get the wrong impression that IE is ‘faster’ than Mozilla even thou the time both browser takes to finish loading the entire web page (text, image, etc.) is not that different.

    So browser speed have never been important to me. In fact I don’t even believe that each browser have a different ‘speed’. The thing that affects my browsing speed on dial-up seem to boil down to 2 things: ISP I’m using and server of a website that I’m visiting, not browser that I use.

  2. I think Zodmaner has it right.
    The only thing that seems to matter now (with broadband so prevalent)is the speed of the server your browsing.
    There might still be a difference with dial-up but I haven’t used that in 3 years so can’t really comment on that.

  3. Actually, when I hear the term “browser speed”, I think of the time it takes the browser to render HTML, CSS and JavaScript. In my experience, Opera has been significantly faster than all the browsers out there. A couple good links to test your browsers with, and you’ll see what I mean:

    What makes Opera so fast, is not only do they have solid software devs that seem to know what they’re doing, but Opera will pre-fetch pages following links, including any needed CSS and JavaScript before you follow the link, and caches them. Browse a determined set of pages and sites with Firefox, for example, then follow the same process of pages and sites in Opera, and you’ll understand “browser speed”, regardless of Internet connection.

  4. I should mention also, that there’s more than just rendering speed. There is cold start launching, warm start launching, image handling and history browsing. There is a lot that goes into browser speed, and it’s much more than just how fast your page loads. Just thought I’d throw that out there.

  5. Thanks for the reassurance, folks. So I’m not the only one who doesn’t care about “saving” that fraction of a second.

    By the way, I have used Opera and Konqueror, and I have seen how they are noticeably faster than Firefox. My point is that I just don’t see how that speed increase has any practical positive effect on my web browsing experience.

  6. No, it hasn’t too much sense… Yes, Firefox looks a bit slower than IE (maybe it’s just an ilussion like Zodmaner says), but I use it because it has a better perfomance: it rarely crashes (I can’t get IE start… for some reason it starts two program instances and crashes, unless I open Windows Update), it’s simpler and it’s more comfortable, at least for me. That’s what matters.

    With dial-up, to save a second can make a difference, but not because of the “experience”, but because of the bill. With DSL, I don’t see any practical reason to choose a browser by its speed.

  7. I agree… I follow the same “open in new tab” method of browsing, and it really doesn’t matter to me how fast the browser is. Hence why I tend to use Firefox with several extensions installed over everything else- functionality over speed I don’t need.

  8. Browser speeds are important.

    On this Celeron @ 500MHz with 192MiB, if I’m working with XFCE, Firefox is a huge pain, and almost litterally drags everything down with it. Opera is speedier at loading pages (But sometimes has trouble with very large CSS files) and more responsive, with a quicker startup.

    It’s also got better MDI management; open a ton of tabs in Firefox, and it’ll pause for a second while it’s tries to load them. At least on slower hardware. On Opera the only lag is when you switch to that tab.

    You really see the performance hits on slower hardware. Firefox using 100MiB for two tabs (A friend of mine saw that) when you have 1024MiB and as long as you’re not using lots of Java-apps, well it’s not a huge problem. But once ressources are tight, you really do see what browsers are faster.

    Dillo is pretty lame though. I wouldn’t reccomend it to anyone. Took over as default browser without warning and won’t return control to Firefox, horrible way of scrolling, general uglyness, and general weirdness. But I’m planning to try and rework the source, since the project is officially abandonned…

  9. Good point. For older hardware, I’d definitely use something lighter (Galeon isn’t too bad–despite what people contend, I’ve never found Epiphany to be a lightweight browser). And, yes, I’d use Lynx over Dillo. Dillo has very limited appeal… the worst of both worlds, as far as I’m concerned.

    But for older hardware, it’s not the browsing speed or rendering speed that affects my user experience so much as the memory use (Firefox is a hog). Luckily, I don’t use my older hardware as much. Even on my 256 MB of RAM on my Dell laptop, Firefox flies.

  10. Tyler, just curious: are there browsers that are more insecure than others?

    I’m a bit naive in asking, but I genuinely don’t know.

  11. Yeah, there are definitely browsers that are more and less secure than others. Firefox is more secure than IE7 (in no small part because of ActiveX, which IE users and other browsers do not. That’s also a big reason you run into sites that aren’t compatible with Firefox/Safari/etc) and IE7 is more secure than IE6, which has/had terrible security. And that mirrors Windows/Linux. Part of it is how they’re designed, part of it is market share painting a bullseye.

    By the way, I’ve been playing around with (K)Ubuntu on an old computer for about a year now, and I finally took the plunge and bought a Dell E1505N preloaded with Ubuntu a few weeks ago to use as my primary computer. Your guides and forums posts have been awesome in helping me get set up and getting through any snags along the way. So I just wanted to say thanks for that.

  12. Ah, good point, Count Shrimpula. I guess since I’m using Ubuntu, I don’t really consider IE a viable browser choice. I was thinking mainly of Firefox, Swiftfox, Opera, Galeon, Konqueror, Epiphany, Dillo, etc.

  13. Browser speed is not important to me. Perceived speed does play a role in my choice, however. For example, Firefox “feels” slow to me. Opening tabs seems to take longer. There seems to be a longer delay between clicking a bookmark and when the page actually starts trying to connect. It’s not that serving the page matters, it’s the “feel” of responsiveness. I imagine if I were to actually time these, I would find that Opera (the browser I choose) is actually slower on one or more of these things, but it’s human perception that matters more.

    It’s very hard to figure out where this comes from. Right now, I’m using Kazehakase. It “feels” fast. But it “feels” ugly. What about the UI is different? I don’t know. It has scroll bars. It’s grey, has little x’s for tabs, feet for the “Go” button, seems almost identical in every way I can evaluate to Opera/Firefox. But it feels ugly.

    Humans, myself included, are far too fickle.

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