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Opera's battery-saving browser update is a must for low-end PCs or tablets

Mark Hachman | June 9, 2016
It lets you work across multiple tabs far more effectively than Microsoft Edge does.

The new free Opera browser offers a bonus: Its battery-saving technology simply makes browsing feel faster, especially on older hardware. For aging rigs that could use a speed boost, this is the browser to download. 

Really, Opera is marketing this latest feature in the wrong way. Opera 39—which will enter the “stable” channel for general release on Wednesday—will save you up to 50 percent more battery life by reducing the amount of CPU horsepower the browser consumes. That also means you can more effectively browse the web, using more tabs, on an old or underpowered PC.

Opera’s latest improvement isn’t immediately apparent. On the preview build I tried, the battery-saving technology doesn’t appear until you browse with your power cord detached. Then, a battery icon will appear inside your search bar, with a toggle to turn the feature on and off. Fortunately, it remains (and the battery saver remains active) when you plug in again. 

Why this matters: Those of you with up-to-date hardware may shrug off Opera’s battery-saving features as irrelevant. But my own parents, bless them, have hung on to an old Dell that must be a decade old, simply because it still does what they need it to do: browse the Web, run a spreadsheet or two, and not much else. More than 50 percent of existing PCs use either Windows XP or Windows 7, according to Net Applications. The ancient Internet Explorer 11.0 is still the most popular browser in the world. Opera may finally offer something these older machines can’t get with Explorer. 

How the new Opera makes a difference

I recently spent some time with the Chuwi HiBook, a hybrid Windows 10-Android tablet that intrigued me with its dual-boot capabilities. Its Intel Atom (Cherry Trail) chip disappointed me when it came time to do anything productive, however.

In my review, I noted that the tablet had enough horsepower to play an HD video in YouTube using Microsoft’s Edge browser, but it stuttered and ground to a halt with multiple tabs open—especially when browsing popular media sites. Opera’s latest browser takes a mighty swing at solving that problem.

Using Windows 10’s default browser, Microsoft Edge, I opened five popular media sites in separate tabs, waited 30 seconds, and then measured the CPU and memory load. That might seem like forever when browsing the web, but with ads enabled Edge shambled like a beached elephant seal, quickly pegging the CPU at 100 percent utilization and leaving it there for several minutes. Fifteen minutes later or so, and 70 percent of the CPU was still being consumed.

Google Chrome also struggled, pegging the CPU at 100 percent until the 30-second mark exactly, when it dropped to 91 percent. To be fair, enabling ad blocking via AdBlock cut Chrome’s CPU consumption to a low of about 9 percent, though it seemed like the average CPU usage was generally higher than Opera’s overall.

 

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