Who’s the Fastest Browser of Them All? Firefox 9 for Windows 7, Safari 5 for OS X Lion

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Tom's Hardware

Every so often, Tom’s Hardware runs what it calls a “Web Browser Grand Prix,” putting the latest browsers through a battery of grueling benchmarks. The last throwdown took place in August, and was notable for its inclusion of a “hackintosh” computer, except that wasn’t enough for Mac-heads, who worried the results might be biased for lack of an authentic Mac in the mix.

Until today: TH just published one of its multipage, exhaustive benchmark features, pitting Chrome 16, Firefox 9, Internet Explorer 9, Opera 11 and Safari 5 against each other. The test machine? An 11-inch MacBook Air with a 1.8GHz Intel Core i7 processor running OS X Lion and Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit (via Apple’s Boot Camp) — about as apples-to-apples as you’ll get in cross-platform Mac/Windows testing.

(MORE: Google Demotes Itself in Its Own Search Results)

The results are fascinating if you have time to comb through them, derived from what TH calls “core, observation, dated, and quarantine” tests, each keyed and weighted to reflect TH’s experience with the benchmarks and how trustworthy their results are. The tests consist of routine activities, ranging from startup times and cached or uncached page loads to each browser’s chops running stuff like Java, Silverlight, Flash and HTML5.

And the winners: On Windows 7, Firefox 9 (Safari took last place) and on OS X, Safari 5 (Firefox took last place). But here’s the interesting bound-to-be-contentious part — the overall winner was Firefox 9 on Windows 7. TH writes:

The red bars that occasionally appear in our charts denote when an OS X-based browser beats all of the Windows 7-based competition. We use the word occasionally because we only had to switch the Mac OS X green bars to red four times. That’s four out of 35 eligible charts, as opposed to the 10 out of 29 OS X earned on the Hackintosh system we used in Web Browser Grand Prix VI: Firefox 6, Chrome 13, Mac OS X Lion. While many Mac fans expected to see OS X really hammer Windows 7 on a genuine Mac, the home court advantage didn’t do Apple any favors.

One thing TH’s benchmarks can’t measure: stability. Safari 5 for OS X Lion crashes routinely for me, no matter the number of clean OS X Lion rebuilds, a dearth of browser extensions (read: zero), my diligence in keeping all plugins updated (e.g. Flash) or my relatively spartan applications load. For some reason, once I have half a dozen tabs open in Safari 5, working mostly in WordPress, I have to deal with occasional (as in a few times a week) “the page isn’t responding, force reload?” error messages, which basically reboot the entire browser, wiping any volatile data, clearing my cache, and forcing me to log back into the five or six services I use to work daily.

And so I’ve been using Chrome, which seems more responsive than Safari to me (I would have argued, not scientifically mind you, that it was the faster browser until seeing TH’s benchmarks). So much for psychological objectivity!

MORE: Internet Explorer Finally Falls Below 50% of Web Browser Use

Matt Peckham is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @mattpeckham, Google+ or Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.