IE9, Chrome 7.0 and Firefox 4.0 Hardware Acceleration Evolution

For the time being, Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) is the only browser out of the next versions of Internet Explorer, Chrome and Firefox to sport hardware acceleration enable by default.

In this context, IE9 is certainly enjoying a comfortable lead with Chrome 7.0 and Firefox 4.0 following at some distance.

And fact is that rivals need to play catch-up to Internet Explorer 9 when it comes down to leveraging the power of the GPU (graphics processing unit) in order to deliver desktop-like UX quality for Cloud applications.

With the advent of Platform Preview 4 Build, the last developer preview of IE9 ahead of the Beta release, the software giant delivered a fully-hardware accelerated browser, and the comparison tests with Chrome and Firefox designed to illustrate its lead in embracing the GPU.

When the Redmond company underlines that IE9 is fully-hardware accelerated, what it’s saying is that in concert with DirectX 11 APIs in Windows 7 and Windows Vista SP2, the successor of IE8 is capable of leveraging the GPU in order to accelerate not only graphics, but also text and media (audio and video).

Mozilla is perhaps closest to Microsoft in delivering hardware acceleration capabilities to users. Early adopters are already able to test drive D2D (Direct2D) in Firefox 4.0, although they will have to enable it, since it’s turned off by default.

In order to enable Direct2D: navigate to about:config and set mozilla.widget.render-mode to 6, and gfx.font_rendering.directwrite.enabled to true. In addition, to disable Direct2D, users will need to set mozilla.widget.render-mode to 0, but only after the feature is enable by default.

Mozilla’s Mike Shaver revealed that the browser maker had missed the opportunity to deliver D2D turned on by default in Firefox 4.0, but promised that the change will happen soon.

Following the delivery of the fourth Beta of Firefox 4.0, Mozilla is currently hard at work to build the fifth Beta of the next iteration of the open source browser.

At the end of the past week, Vangelis Kokkevis, Software Engineer, also revealed that Chrome 7.0 will feature hardware acceleration.

In overhauling Chromium’s graphics system, Google has been focusing on new APIs and markup like WebGL and 3D CSS transforms, but the promise from the search giant is that users will also be able to enjoy a boost in the performance of the drawing model for 2D operations including compositing and image scaling via the GPU.

“At its core, this graphics work relies on a new process (yes, another one) called the GPU process. The GPU process accepts graphics commands from the renderer process and pushes them to OpenGL or Direct3D,” Kokkevis stated.

“Normally, renderer processes wouldn’t be able to access these APIs, so the GPU process runs in a modified sandbox. Creating a specialized process like this allows Chromium’s sandbox to continue to contain as much as possibile: the renderer process is still unable to access the system’s graphics APIs, and the GPU process contains less logic,” Kokkevis added.

Early adopters can already take Chromium Builds out for a spin and test the new hardware acceleration capabilities.

However, for the time being, while Chrome can leverage the GPU to render content, some common layer involving text styled with CSS and images are still rendered using only the CPU.

But at the same time, layers dealing with videos, and WebGL or 2D canvases are being drawn using the GPU, and illustrating the power of the graphics card in combination with Chrome 7.0.

“After these layers are rendered, there’s still a crucial last step to blend them all onto a single page as quickly as possible,” Kokkevis said.

“Performing this last step on the CPU would have erased most of the performance gains achieved by accelerating individual layers, so Chromium now composites layers on the GPU when run with the --enable-accelerated-compositing flag.”

UPDATE: In order to enable hardware acceleration on Chromium right click on the Shortcut icon and select Properties. In the Target flied under the Shortcut Tab add “--enable-accelerated-compositing” to the text already there. Click Apply and then OK. Next time you launch Chromium, the hardware acceleration capabilities will be enabled.

Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) Platform Preview 4 Build is available for download here.

Firefox 4.0 Beta 4 for Windows is available for download

Google Chrome 7.0 Dev for Windows is available for
download here.

Chromium is available for download here.

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