Improve Web Browsing and Video Playback Performance by 80% on Windows with GPU Acceleration

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Graphics cards are often unused for purposes other than gaming. It is not uncommon to wonder how exactly will a graphics card help improve PC performance. Because of this, people often mistake graphics cards as luxury products, and go with the integrated motherboard graphics, missing out with the huge performance boost which they would have obtained with even a mid range graphics card.

In this article, we shed some light into those rarely explored areas, where they come handy in improving the performance of the PC dramatically, taking the load off the CPU in many areas.

Prerequisites

AMD/ATI graphics card owners make sure you have the latest 11.12 or (12.1 Preview Driver) simply because of the amount of bug fixes and performance the newer drivers offer cant be just ignored. When it comes to NVidia, the graphics drivers are best in class , still its better to be in a safer side and use the latest graphics driver.

[alert] Sandy Bridge owners, please be very careful while updating the drivers and make sure the drivers you are going to install do SUPPORT dual graphics. On the safer side its better to go by the drivers provided by the vendor. [/alert]

Video Playback

For activating GPU acceleration just go to Preferences > input and codecs > Enable Hardware Acceleration (Experimental) You will need either Windows Media Player or VLC for using hardware, while the former uses GPU acceleration by default using DirectX, VLC is definitely better choice considering the number of formats it supports.vlc

[info] Make sure your video card supports hardware based acceleration to avoid messed up video playback by checking the specifications at vendor site. Although, any GPU manufactured post mid-2009 is expected to support it[/info]

So you may be wondering how does the GPU acceleration help in video playback. I used Process Explorer to track the CPU and GPU usage while playing a .mp4 1080p HD file in VLC 1.1.11. The results where astonishing. GPU acceleration dramatically reduces the CPU burden.

image

Also not to mention is the fact that your player will not skip any frames while watching that favourite movie of yours in HD.

Web Browsing

Ok, I know not everyone is fond of Firefox, despite my reasoning of why it is better than Chrome. Still we will look at the top three browsers and their respective hardware acceleration options.

Internet Explorer

In case if you are Internet Explorer 9 user, you might be bit surprised to know that IE 9 supports hardware acceleration out of the box. Make sure the below shown option is not checked.ie

Google Chrome

Google  Chrome since a while has been using GPU acceleration partially for webgl rendering but can go ahead further and use your GPU for a whole lot more in Chrome. Although it requires a bit more elbow greasing here, we need to do the following steps :

type chrome://flags/ in the url bar, here as shown in the screenshot enable the following items :

chromeimage

  • Override software rendering list
  • GPU Accelerated Canvas 2D
  • GPU compositing on all pages

voila, now check your chrome://gpu-internals to see the magic.

[info] Keep in mind you need to have the latest graphics drivers for the web browser based hardware support as stated before[/info]

Mozilla Firefox

ff

On Firefox you can enable hardware acceleration by Hardware Acceleration in Settings> Advanced>General

On a concluding note

I can not stress more about the importance of up to date drivers, so please keep in mind about it, which alone would increase the performance dramatically. Video Decoding support is an aspect which is inbuilt in almost every card, but used in extreme rarity. Apart from VLC, many other players do exist which support GPU decoding, but they are no where as versatile or useful like VLC. On the other hand, Chrome, Firefox and all major browsers are utilising GPU acceleration to create whole new paradigms in Web standards.

Though, the list just doesn’t end here. There are several more applications such as Adobe Photoshop (along with other products in the suite), Camtasia Studio etc. whose performance can dramatically be increased by enabling GPU acceleration. Enjoy harnessing the unutilised raw power of your hardware :)

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