Recently, Microsoft did a few power consumption browser tests, whose results unsurprisingly gave the Edge browser, er, the edge against the competition. Opera has now challenged those tests, arguing that Microsoft didn’t open up its methodology, which may be flawed and may favor Edge. Opera performed its own tests, which are more transparent, and now it looks like Opera’s browser is beating Edge on power consumption.
Issues With Microsoft’s Testing
This week, Microsoft showed us three tests in which Edge came out on top, every time, and by a significant margin, too. The first test was done in a stricter lab environment; the second involved Microsoft measuring the data it got from the Windows 10 telemetry; and in the third test, Microsoft put a video in a loop in Edge, Chrome, Firefox and Opera, to see which notebook running those browsers lasts the longest until their batteries died.
The one major criticism for two of these tests is that Microsoft used its own Surface Book devices to compare these browsers. The problem with that is that we don’t know exactly just how much Edge was optimized to work on that specific device. Optimizing Edge for its own Surface Book is not an abnormal thing for Microsoft to do--in fact, the company should be doing it, to improve the experience of Surface Book owners.
However, presenting tests on an optimized machine as objective is disingenuous, and because Microsoft hasn’t unveiled its exact methodology and what websites it tested, Opera has taken issue with the results.
Although the telemetry test may seem more reliable, it’s not very scientific either, as we don’t know whether there is a large variance between how Chrome users use their PCs versus Edge users. For instance, Chrome users may tend to be power users that keep many more browser tabs open, or may have more programs running at the same time, thus killing their notebook batteries more quickly than Edge users do.
Opera’s Power Saver Mode
Earlier this year, Opera gained a new “Power Saver” feature that optimizes Opera’s Chromium core and its interface to improve battery life during browsing sessions by up to 50 percent compared to Google’s Chrome (according to Opera).
Opera detailed how its power-saving feature works:
Opera’s Testing Methodology
Opera said that it didn’t test Edge before, but it has now used the same test to benchmark its browser against Edge, and it seems that Opera came out ahead. Its browser scored a 22 percent higher battery life than Edge and 35 percent higher than Chrome.
The company was open about its methodology and said it used a Lenovo Yoga 500 (14 inches, Intel Core i3-5005U, 4GB RAM, 500GB HDD, and Windows 10) with the balanced power profile activated (which should be the default on most notebooks). The backlight was set to 100% at all times, and Wi-Fi was running in 802.11n mode with RSSI -53 dBm.
No other software or services were running in the background. The notebooks were also placed on the same wood surface to ensure consistent heat exchange.
After the notebooks were charged 100 percent, the browsers would load chicagotribune.com, elitedaily.com, faz.net, latimes.com, mashable.com, mlive.com, nj.com, nydailynews.com and youtube.com/watch?v=tnsQ8DjD6YE, all in separate tabs. Scrolling activity was simulated, as well.
One Caveat In Opera’s Testing
Opera itself admitted that its browser had its native ad-blocking activated. This is important, because ads can add a significant amount of processing when a website is loaded. Thus, when a website is loaded without ads, it can also use much less power.
If we were discussing “default features” of browsers, this would be one thing, but neither the ad-blocking nor the Power Saver mode are activated by default in Opera. That means most users will not enable them, so most users won’t benefit from these battery life improvements that Opera is now putting on display in these tests. Therefore, Opera is testing a normal Edge browsing scenario against an ideal Opera browsing scenario (in terms of power efficiency), which doesn’t seem quite fair.
However, Microsoft did enable Opera's Power Saver mode in its own tests, and in at least one test, Opera is shown to get quite close to Edge in power consumption. If we normalize for the fact that Microsoft did the tests on Surface Books, for which Edge is likely to be highly optimized, then we can probably assume that both Edge and Opera can have similar power efficiency, with no significant difference between them.
This could still be seen as a big win for Opera, considering it’s based on a power-inefficient platform such as Chromium. However, it manages to get close to Edge, which was written from scratch, and its team may have had power efficiency in mind from the beginning.
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware. You can follow him at @lucian_armasu.