Browser Face-Off: Battery Life Exploredby Jarred Walton on September 11, 2009 6:00 PM EST
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Seven years ago, the browser wars seemed all but ended. AOL bought out Netscape, Microsoft Internet Explorer dominated the market, and the era of browser-based exploits began. In 2003, Microsoft's stranglehold on the browser market didn't change much, but the Mozilla group began their efforts at an open-source alternative. It still took almost two years before we finally saw the birth of Firefox, the first serious contender to the browser throne since the passing of Netscape… okay, so Netscape was more on life-support, but let's not argue semantics.
What we are going to look at today is the impact of your choice of browser on battery life, plain and simple. Except, coming up with a benchmark is neither plain nor simple. We have used several different methods for testing battery life on laptops, and depending on the type of content you're viewing battery life ranges from nearly equal to what you can expect at idle down to roughly the same amount of battery life you would get when viewing high-definition videos. Like it or not, we feel that Adobe's Flash is used on many websites, and so we picked three websites that we frequently visit and used those for our testing. As a point of reference, here's the sort of battery life difference you're looking at when viewing "simple" webpages versus the three websites we selected, from our article comparing AMD and Intel battery life.
Obviously, that's a huge difference in battery life. You get roughly 50% more battery life in simple Internet surfing compared to surfing sites that use of lots of Flash content (along with frames, numerous tables, etc.) Last we checked, your average website is nowhere near what would qualify as "simple", and Flash content is ubiquitous. For better or for worse, we're going to focus on battery life when viewing three websites. One of the websites is AnandTech.com, and the other two shall remain nameless. Suffice it to say, all three sites have approaches to web design that we see replicated all over the Internet.
For testing, we load the three sites into tabs on our test web browser, wait 60 seconds, and then reload all three tabs. We are using three recently tested laptops that offered decent battery life. Two of these are the Gateway NV52 and NV58 that represent the current state of entry-level AMD and Intel laptops. The third is a netbook, the ASUS Eee PC 1005HA. None of these laptops would qualify as high-end solutions, mostly because we don't think users interested in battery life are going to be looking at high-end laptops. These three laptops provide a reasonable view of the current mobile market. If there is interest, we may look at extending this testing to other laptops in the future, but first let's see what sort of results we get from the test candidates.
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Granseth - Saturday, September 12, 2009 - linkOpera 10 has something called turbo mode to accelerate netsurfing on a slow connection. Could be interesting to know if that would help or hinder batterylife too
solipsism - Saturday, September 12, 2009 - linkCould you do comparative tests of browsers under OS X? If I can save 10% power while forced to use my battery I’ll likely do it based on your results. Also, do using plugins like ClickToFlash in Safari on OS X have any overhead that negate any power savings from turning off Flash?
orthorim - Thursday, September 17, 2009 - linkYES, please test Mac too. I run OS X so the tests on Windows are meaningless to me. Presumably, Safari on OS X will be much more optimized than on Windows, and Firefox will be totally different as well.
I'd like to see Safari + ClickToFlash because that's what I am running every day. And Firefox with and without Flashblock
Flash should make a huge difference on OS X because it's so poorly implemented by Adobe. Even simple Flash animations use lots of CPU on OS X, whereas on Windows they are hardly noticeable. I want to see how much ClickToFlash/Flashblock help, and which browser is the best.
ltcommanderdata - Saturday, September 12, 2009 - linkIf you do run browser battery life tests in OS X, can you make sure to try Safari in both 32-bit and 64-bit modes? I don't expect the browser itself to affect battery life that much between the 2 modes, but 64-bit Safari is capable of playing Flash content. I believe 64-bit Safari is still using the standard 32-bit Flash plugin, but as a separate process, giving crash stability, and using InterProcess Communication to connect the 2. I'm thinking the IPC link in 64-bit mode may use more CPU cycles reducing battery life.
JarredWalton - Saturday, September 12, 2009 - linkTalk to Ryan and Anand - they're the Mac OS X people. I don't have a Mac at my place, or I'd be happy to run the tests. :-)
GeorgeH - Saturday, September 12, 2009 - linkIf Anand or Ryan decides to run browser tests on a Mac, they might also want to redo the test where Anand found that OSX 10.5.7 had vastly superior battery life to Vista. Given how poorly Safari under Windows did here, the methodology of that test becomes suspect.
In that article Anand found that Vista running Safari offered ~75% of the battery life of OSX running Safari. Here you find that Safari under Windows offers ~75-80% of the battery life of IE (and most other "typical" Windows browsers.) Given the similarity of those numbers, perhaps Anand should have concluded that Safari/Vista is inferior to Safari/OSX, and not that OSX was the superior OS in general.
solipsism - Saturday, September 12, 2009 - linkI think that when doing OS comparisons that IE8 on Windows v. Safari 4 on OS X, then the same version of Firefox on each OS would be the most apt.
foolsgambit11 - Sunday, September 13, 2009 - linkMaybe not. It's difficult to tell how optimized FF would be for each platform, while testing each OS maker's proprietary browser would ensure they've both done their best to ensure maximum optimization. Of course, ideally, the benchmarks would also test FF to see how well it does on each platform.
JarredWalton - Saturday, September 12, 2009 - linkAnand's testing didn't use heavy Flash content, and that appears to be the primary issue with Safari 4 under Windows. If I switch to static images and text without Flash, as you would expect CPU usage drops to nothing after the pages finish loading.
GeorgeH - Saturday, September 12, 2009 - linkThat's a very valid point, but doesn't quite address what I was trying to get at.
What I was trying to say is that by simply using "poorly optimized" (or however you want to phrase it) software on Vista, your battery life can drop significantly. Anand tested OS battery life by running two programs that were designed for OSX, not Vista, and found that the Vista performance deficit was almost exactly the same as the one you found by running "poorly optimized" software.
That the cuplrit in your case was almost certainly Flash (which Anand didn't run) is relevant, but doesn't address the idea that by running software in an environment that it wasn't designed/optimized for it is possible to significantly impact your battery life. To quote myself from the other article:
"I doubt it will make much difference, but in the interest of fair play I too would like to see the tests [OSX v. Vista] redone [using standard Vista programs]."