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Why Are Lighthouse And PageSpeed Insights Scores Different?

· Updated on · 8 min read

When running page speed tests using different tools you'll often find that the metrics they report don't match up exactly, or may even show significant discrepancies.

This article explains why you might see score and metric differences between PageSpeed Insights, Lighthouse, and other tools.

Lab data versus field data

First of all, note that PageSpeed Insights doesn't only report lab data.

Lighthouse is a lab-based page speed testing tool. That means you can run it on demand to analyze a website.

However, PageSpeed Insights also reports data from real Chrome users based on the Chrome User Experience Report (CrUX). This data is also called field data.

Lab data and field data are different types of data that don't usually match, unless you took a lot of care to set up your lab environment to match you typical user.

Generally you should expect the field data on PageSpeed Insights to be better than the lab data. The field data looks at the worst 25% of user experiences on the website, but the Lighthouse data is often more similar to the worst 5-10% of experiences.

Lab vs field data on PageSpeed Insights

Differences in network throttling

Even if you only look at the lab metrics and Lighthouse scores from different tools you will still find significant differences.

To achieve realistic and consistent results, Lighthouse uses a throttled network connection to test pages. For mobile devices this connection uses a bandwidth of 1.6 Mbps and 150 ms server round-trip time.

However, there are multiple different ways to throttle the network connection and this can cause discrepancies between tools.

PageSpeed Insights loads the page on a fast connection without any throttling, and then simulates how the page might have loaded on a slower connection. This is the default setting for Lighthouse.

If you run Lighthouse in Chrome DevTools you can choose between simulated throttling and browser-level "applied" throttling. Here the browser introduces a delay to each network response and measures the result.

Applied and simulated throttling in DevTools Lighthouse

But both simulated throttling and DevTools throttling don't accurately represent how the network really works. To get reliable high-quality data you need to use packet-level throttling. Many commercial tools like the DebugBear speed test do this.

If you see differences between two Lighthouse reports, hover over the "Slow 4G Throttling" label in the Lighthouse test config section. This will tell you whether simulated or real throttling was used to collect the data.

Lighthouse throttling setting

Generally you should believe tools that throttle the network directly over those that run a simulation.

When looking at simulated data it can sometimes be useful to look at the raw collected metrics. You can do that using the Site Speed Chrome extension.

With this extension installed you can run a PageSpeed Insights test and see how fast the page loaded without throttling applied. In some cases you'll notice that the throttled metrics are faster than the unthrottled metrics. If that's the case you can disregard the data as inaccurate.

Observed metrics on PageSpeed Insights

Differences in CPU speed

If a site runs a lot of JavaScript code or requires complex layout computations, a faster CPU will make the page load faster. The CPU speed will be different on the server running PageSpeed Insights, on your local computer, or for a monitoring service.

Every time Lighthouse tests a page it runs a very simple CPU benchmark. If a test is run on a faster CPU you'll get higher performance scores.

You can see the CPU benchmark at the bottom of the Lighthouse report.

Benchmark index in Lighthouse footer

That doesn't mean that one result is more correct than the other. Different users on different devices will also experience differences in loading speed.

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Different test locations

Page load time is also impacted by where a website speed test is run from. If you live in the UK, opening a website that's hosted on a server in London will be faster than opening one that's hosted in New York.

PageSpeed Insights picks the server to run the test from based on your current location. It uses one of four locations:

  • Northwestern US (Oregon)
  • Southeastern US (South Carolina)
  • Northwestern Europe (Netherlands)
  • Asia (Taiwan)

Map showing the 4 PSI test locations

DebugBear tests pages from a server in South Carolina by default, but can run tests from 20+ locations.

If you run Lighthouse on your own computer, then the test results will always show how a user in your location would experience the website.

Chrome version

What Chrome version is used to run the test can affect performance as well. For example, newer versions may have performance improvements that make them faster.

The way performance metrics are measured by browsers also changes over time. Chrome provides a changelog showing how the definition of the First Contentful Paint, Largest Contentful Paint, First Input Delay, Interaction to Next Paint, and Cumulative Layout Shift have changed over time.

As of January 2024 PSI uses Chrome 120 while DebugBear uses Chrome 119.

Lighthouse version

Over time, Lighthouse changes how tests are run, and the extent to which different metrics contribute to the overall Performance score changes as well.

As of February 2024, PageSpeed Insights uses Lighthouse 11.0.0, and DebugBear uses Lighthouse 11.3.0.

Different settings

Lighthouse provides a number of configuration options that can impact metrics. For example, you can control when Lighthouse ends a test by controlling timeout settings.

If the page doesn't render or finish loading after a certain amount of time Lighthouse gives up and finishes the page analysis. In some cases, this might be before the page actually finished loading. In other cases the page might finish loading quickly, but Lighthouse doesn't always correctly detect this, for example if there's regular CPU activity.

PageSpeed Insights and DebugBear use different timeout settings:

Waiting for...PageSpeed InsightsDebugBear
First Contentful Paint15 s30 s
Load35 s60 s

Note that because PSI uses simulated throttling it can generally get away with lower timeouts than a tool like DebugBear that actually slows down the page load.

Due to this, PageSpeed Insights also waits for a shorter amount of time before concluding that a page has finished loading.

The longer thresholds used on DebugBear also apply if running Lighthouse in DevTools with the Simulated throttling option disabled.

Threshold before test finishesPageSpeed InsightsDebugBear / Non-simulated
Pause after FCP1.00 s5.25 s
Pause after Load event1.00 s5.25 s
Network quiet threshold1.00 s5.25 s
CPU quiet threshold1.00 s5.25 s

Chrome extensions

If you run Lighthouse in Chrome DevTools, Chrome extensions can impact your Performance scores. Use Incognito mode or a new Chrome profile to run tests with extensions disabled.

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What are the right values?

What tool takes the best measurements, PageSpeed Insights, running Lighthouse locally, or using a hosted tool like DebugBear?

Lab-based testing can only ever generate a snapshot of how your page behaves in a certain environment. How well that snapshot reflects user experience depends on what the network and device of your users look like.

If you want to find out how fast your site is for real users you need to capture performance data for real users.

Debugging Lighthouse score discrepancies

As mentioned earlier, Lighthouse calculates simulated performance metrics by default. If you see discrepancies between tools, it can be useful to look at the raw metric values Lighthouse collected from Chrome. Lighthouse refers to these as observed metrics.

  1. Open the Lighthouse HTML report (you'll have to click View Report on
  2. Open the DevTools console
  3. Run __LIGHTHOUSE_JSON__.audits.metrics.details["items"][0]

The result will look something like this:

"observedFirstContentfulPaint": 1835,
"largestContentfulPaint": 10035,
"firstContentfulPaint": 1755,
"observedLargestContentfulPaint": 2566,
"cumulativeLayoutShift": 0.36618412272135414,

In this example, the unthrottled observed FCP is greater than the simulated FCP, with values of 1.8s and 1.7s, respectively. This suggests that the simulation is underestimating the real FCP value, as even on a fast connection it took 1.8s for the page to start rendering.

Why would Lighthouse underreport the First Contentful Paint? In this case, the page contained a large number of unnecessary preload tags, hurting site performance. While these tags hurt performance in Chrome, the Lighthouse simulation does not simulate their performance impact with complete accuracy.

If you use --throttling-method devtools or --throttling-method provided the observed metrics will be the same as the reported ones, as Lighthouse does not run the simulation.

Monitor page speed and Lighthouse scores over time

DebugBear is a website monitoring tool that continuously tests the loading speed of your website. It's built on top of Lighthouse and collects high-quality reliable data.

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You'll also have access to in-depth custom reports that go beyond what Lighthouse offers.

DebugBear speed test result

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DebugBear monitoring includes:

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