Safari 8 browser on Yosemite shows major speed boost

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On the latest Mac OS, Apple’s browser vaults past Firefox and Chrome on some tests. The browser performance race means a more sophisticated Web for us all.

Apple Safari icon
For browsers including Apple’s Safari, speed is key.Apple

With its new Safari 8 browser built into its OS X 10.10 Yosemite operating system, Apple delivered on its promise for a significant boost in browser performance.

On two new speed tests Apple introduced this year calledJetStream and Speedometer, Safari vaulted over Google’s Chrome, Mozilla’s Firefox, and Opera Software’s Opera. On a third test, called JSBench — the one Apple chose to highlight last week as it announced the release of Yosemite — Safari far outpaced those rivals. But on two other tests, Google’s Octaneand Mozilla’s Kraken, Safari lagged.

Mixed results on benchmarks are nothing new: it’s impossible to create a synthetic test that predicts how well a system will do with the vast variety of real-world computing challenges.

But browser makers have picked these tests to guide their development, and high scores generally mean browsers will be faster when you’re posting to Facebook, searching at Bing, buying at Amazon or typing at Google Docs.

On Apple's JetStream test of browser JavaScript performance, Safari 8 soared past Safari 7 and its three biggest browser rivals for a top score.
On Apple’s JetStream test of browser JavaScript performance, Safari 8 soared past Safari 7 and its three biggest browser rivals for a top score.Stephen Shankland/CNET

Faster browsers are important for another reason, too: They let Web developers make more sophisticated sites and apps, giving new power to tools like Google Docs and games like Cut the Rope. So it’s no surprise browser makers have been locked in a speed race for years.

Even though it wasn’t a clean sweep for Apple’s browser, Safari 8 showed significant improvements over Safari 7, including an 81 percent better score on JetStream, 89 percent improvement on Speedometer, and 35 percent jump on Octane. That shows that Safari’s new FTL JavaScript engine seems to be doing the job.

I performed my tests with the latest stable versions of the browsers on a 2012 MacBook Pro Retina-display model. For another perspective, I also tested on a 2009 Dell Studio XPS running Windows 8.1, where I could throw Microsoft’s Internet Explorer into the mix but where Safari isn’t available. The tests were running with extra extensions disabled, no other software running, no other browser tabs open, and with a fresh restart of the browser beforehand.

On the JSBench speed test, which uses JavaScript code from Google, Facebook, and other major sites, Safari 8 trounces the competition.
On the JSBench speed test, which uses JavaScript code from Google, Facebook, and other major sites, Safari 8 trounces the competition.Stephen Shankland/CNET

To show relative progress, I also compared the newest browser versions to the stable versions available in June 2014 for all the tests except JSBench.

New benchmarks for new browsers

Four of the five benchmarks measure a browser’s ability to run JavaScript programs fast. JavaScript is the programming language, nearly 20 years old now, that transforms Web pages from static documents to dynamic apps. It’s increasingly important to the future of the Web — especially with so many developers focusing their resources instead on mobile apps that run on Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android operating systems.

JavaScript speed is central to browser quality, but it’s not the only factor. Others include page-load speed, scrolling responsiveness, Web standards support, security protections, and battery and memory usage.

Three of these benchmarks — Google’s Octane, Mozilla’s Kraken, and Apple’s JetStream — are conceptually similar. They run a mixture of tasks such as encryption algorithms, GameBoy emulation, PDF rendering, and data sorting.

Speedometer tests a broader range of Web-app technologies, including the Document Object Model (DOM) that lets JavaScript programs change elements of a Web page and the Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) standard that governs the layout of elements on a Web page. And JSBench, from Purdue University, executes actual JavaScript code harvested from the Web pages of Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo.

Not coincidentally, each browser maker’s browser scores highest on its own benchmark test. You don’t need to be cynical about this result, though. Browser makers steer their browser development with the tests, paying close attention when changes give one browser or another a competitive advantage. For one example of the process in use, check Mozilla’s Are We Fast Yet site.

Firefox leads Mozilla's Kraken test, and Safari showed virtually no change from version 7 to 8 on this test.
Firefox leads Mozilla’s Kraken test, and Safari showed virtually no change from version 7 to 8 on this test.Stephen Shankland/CNET

That’s why Mozilla pats itself on the back when Firefox shows as fastest in its own JavaScript tests.

“Safari substantially lags behind Firefox and Chrome on existing benchmarks such as Octane, Kraken and Sunspider. Firefox is in fact the fastest browser on these benchmarks,” Chief Technology Officer Andreas Gal said. Apple’s browser engineers created Sunspider years ago, but have since moved away because of shortcomings.

Mozilla will add new Apple tests into the mix if they prove their merit, Gal added.

“Apple appears to have picked a new benchmark that other engines don’t yet optimize for,” Gal said. “We are constantly evaluating what benchmark best represents Web workloads, and if benchmarks like JetStream or Speedometer become relevant we expect other browsers to improve on them.”

Indeed, just to pick two examples, I found Google Docs very snappy in the new Safari. But Safari 8 fared much worse at Atari’s Web-based “Centipede” game than Chrome or Firefox.

The results are in

On the JetStream test, Safari 7 was behind Firefox, Chrome and Opera in June. But now Safari 8 handily outdoes the updated versions of those browsers. Safari 8’s score of 162 was better than the 145 for Firefox 33, the 133 for Chrome 38, and the 132 for Opera 25.

Google's Chrome leads the scoring on Google's Octane test.
Google’s Chrome leads the scoring on Google’s Octane test.Stephen Shankland/CNET

Because browsers work on multiple operating systems, they can be run on multiple machines. My Windows computer, with an older processor and other components, doesn’t fare as well as my Mac, but it’s still useful for looking at the relative performance of the browsers on the machine. There, Firefox 33 was in first place with a score of 106, followed by Opera 25 at 101, Chrome 38 at 97 and Internet Explorer 11 at 80.

Octane results were broadly similar, but not as dramatic. There, Safari 8’s 35 percent improvement over Safari 7 wasn’t enough to give it a better score over No. 1 Opera, No. 2 Chrome or No. 3 Firefox. On Windows, IE again was in last place.

In recent months, Chrome and Opera made significant gains on the Speedometer test, and Firefox improved a little. Safari had been in second place in June but passed Firefox for the lead in October. On Windows, leader Chrome and second-place Opera edged ahead, while third-place Firefox and last-place Internet Explorer posted lower scores.

JSBench gave a very different view of the competitive landscape, trouncing rivals. On this test, where a low number is better, Safari 8’s score of 16.9 was vastly better than Chrome at 98.8, Firefox at 99.1, or Opera at 106.8. On Windows, Internet Explorer was the top scorer, though not by a wide margin.

Safari 8 also showed significant improvement over Safari 7 in Apple's Speedometer test of a variety of technologies important to interactive Web apps.
Safari 8 also showed significant improvement over Safari 7 in Apple’s Speedometer test of a variety of technologies important to interactive Web apps.Stephen Shankland/CNET

Victory on on browser benchmarks can be fleeting, but it’s a top priority in the tech world.

Microsoft’s Windows 10 will bring major refinements coming to Chakra, IE’s own JavaScript engine. Google is concentrated fiercely on browser performance, with a direct financial benefit at stake: the more people who use Chrome, the less search-advertising revenue Google has to share with other browser makers that refer search traffic to its its search engine. Opera, which uses Google’s browser engine, benefits from that work and contributes its own as well. Firefox performance is key to the success of Mozilla’s Firefox OS, a mobile operating system geared for lower-end phones that run Web apps, not native apps.

And for Apple, Safari is important not only for Macs but also for iOS — in particular because many programmers build their apps using Apple’s Web-rendering technology behind the scenes.

So, although Apple made major browser performance gains in October, don’t expect them to be the final word.


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One thought on “Safari 8 browser on Yosemite shows major speed boost

    jimmy wiggians said:
    December 23, 2014 at 12:41 am

    Is there anyway to restore previous software since Yosemite is so hard to use?


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