Flash/Hulu on ION: Nearly Perfect

I dusted off ASRock’s ION system based on the Intel Atom 330 (dual-core 1.6GHz Atom) processor for the first part of today’s testing. It had a copy of Windows Vista x64 installed so I stuck with that. The integrated GeForce 9300/9400M chipset supports DXVA/DXVA2 and should be able to offload much of the video decode from the sluggish CPU to the integrated GPU.

As you can see from the results below, CPU utilization drops significantly when going from Flash 10.0.32.18 to 10.1.51.45. Not only do the numbers drop, but playback performance (number of dropped frames) improves significantly. I’d say that all of the tests below were totally playable on the Ion system thanks to Flash 10.1.

Windowed Average CPU Utilization Flash 10.0.32.18 Flash 10.1.51.45
Hulu Desktop - The Office - Murder 70% 30%
Hulu HD 720p - Legend of the Seeker Ep1 75% 52%
Hulu 480p - The Office - Murder 40% 23%
Hulu 360p - The Office - Murder 20% 16%
YouTube HD 720p - Prince of Persia Trailer 60% 12%
YouTube - Prince of Persia Trailer 14% 7%

 

These are awesome improvements. The Hulu HD results were a bit high but the YouTube HD test showed a drop from 60% CPU utilization down to 12%. Most impressive. Now on to the full screen Hulu tests:

Full Screen 1920 x 1200 Average CPU Utilization Flash 10.0.32.18 Flash 10.1.51.45
Hulu Desktop - The Office - Murder 70% 55%
Hulu HD 720p - Legend of the Seeker Ep1 83% 68%
Hulu 480p - The Office - Murder 70% 70%
Hulu 360p - The Office - Murder 70% 70%

 

The biggest difference I saw was running Hulu Desktop in full screen mode (1920 x 1200). While CPU usage wasn’t at 100%, the latest episode of The Office was completely unwatchable in the previous version of Flash. Updating to 10.1 not only dropped CPU utilization, but it made full screen Hulu Desktop watchable on a ~1080p display with the Ion system. I can’t believe it took this long to happen, but it finally did.

The one anomaly I encountered was CPU utilization not dropping while watching Hulu in a maximized IE8 window. I’ve brought it up with NVIDIA and we’re trying to figure out what’s going on.

There is some additional funniness that happens with certain NVIDIA GPUs and some flash video content. Some YouTube videos use a 854 pixel-wide resolution, and default to software decoding on NVIDIA ION and GeForce 8400GS (G98) GPUs. To fix this problem you have to do one of two things. Under IE8 NVIDIA recommends that you do the following:

With Internet Explorer, you may not be able to enter GPU-accelerated playback mode on many clips that naturally start in 854x mode. As a workaround, append “&fmt=22” to the end of 720p clip URLs and &fmt=37 to the end of 1080p clip URLs. The videos will then play in GPU- accelerated HD mode.

Firefox 3.5.5 users have to follow a separate set of instructions:

Before running a YouTube HD clip, please go to Firefox menus and select Tools/Clear Recent History. Ensure the Cookies checkbox is checked, and do the clear. Next, go to Tools/Options/Privacy and select “Never Remember History”.

The above procedure will ensure an HD clip is first loaded in SD mode with 640x horizontal resolution, and then you select the HD button and get GPU- accelerated playback at 1280x HD mode. If you do not first delete Cookies and then turn off history, you may enter an 854x SD horizontal resolution upon starting up an HD clip which is not GPU-accelerated today. If starting in 854x SD mode, when you switch to the HD version, it will still be non-GPU accelerated.

These limitations are only on ION and GeForce 8400GS based GPUs, the rest of NVIDIA supported GPUs accelerate all content regardless of resolution. NVIDIA expects this behavior to be fixed either by updated NVIDIA drivers or an updated version of Flash.

Index Testing with AMD GPUs: Not So Great
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  • Olen Ahkcre - Monday, January 11, 2010 - link

    This article is totally off base...

    Flash video playback pausing frequently isn't caused by the Flash player. It's cause by the server being overloaded with too many requests.

    GPU acceleration is for playing back Flash _CONTENT_, not Flash video (FLV).

    The reason being some apps created using Flash place an unusual amount of load on the CPU.

    If you think GPU accelerated Flash has anything to do with video playback, I think you might be seriously confused.
    Reply
  • modulo - Tuesday, March 02, 2010 - link

    This article makes ANANDTECH, look like a bunch of apple swilling morons.

    Hello ANANDTECH, did you know that 95% of the worlds computers still use windows? Probably not, which is why you put an article like this using a MAC, on a website 90% dedicated to PC hardware. And what is there to know about mac anyway? RUMOR RUMORS RUMORS, being a mac"enthusiast" is all about how much shit you can talk, how many rumors you can start, and how hard you would suck steve jobs cock if he put it in your mouth.

    NOW.

    Flash, is a fabulous technology that makes 10 million different things possible on the web that would NOT HAPPEN without it. OK, and interestingly, this article advocates turning on an adblocker, for their own website!!! If I was a sponsor of this website I would demand to have my motherf***inh money back.

    LOL, now you noobie losers want to complain because your computers are slow, go talk to your grandma about how long it takes her to have a bowel movement, THAT is slow.
    Reply
  • TravisO - Tuesday, April 06, 2010 - link

    On Flash 10.1 video _IS_ GPU accelerated but there is a catch, only H.264 video is GPU accelerated but the old FLV video is not. Here's the text from the 10.1 release notes:

    H.264 video hardware decoding
    Flash Player 10.1 introduces hardware-based H.264 video decoding to deliver smooth, high quality
    video with minimal overhead across mobile devices and PCs. Using available hardware to decode video offloads tasks from the CPU, improving video playback performance, reducing system resource utilization, and preserving battery life.

    PS: Keep in mind you must use a supported video card to be accelerated, which means only GPUs invented these past two years approximately, virtually nothing from Intel is supported except the new Core i CPUs with the integrated GPU, if you have a Netbook you're screwed unless you have an Ion chipset.
    Reply
  • Xmister - Saturday, April 17, 2010 - link

    You should get some information before starting to write bull***t.
    "Flash video playback pausing frequently isn't caused by the Flash player. It's cause by the server being overloaded with too many requests. "
    You think they are so stupid, that can't see the difference of buffer-loading and framedrops?!

    "GPU acceleration is for playing back Flash _CONTENT_, not Flash video (FLV). "
    The GPU accelerated flash's main point is H.264 decoding, and all the HD flash videos are now H.264 encoded(on youtube non-HD too).

    "The reason being some apps created using Flash place an unusual amount of load on the CPU."
    And what do you think, what amount of load an HD video places on the CPU? I'll help you a bit: a lot.

    "If you think GPU accelerated Flash has anything to do with video playback, I think you might be seriously confused. "
    You are seriously confused, clear the lot irrelevant information from your head, and get some relevant. I could only advise this whenever you want to comment on anything.
    Reply
  • coachingjoy - Sunday, November 29, 2009 - link

    Is flash worth the install when advertisements are taken into account? Reply
  • Sunagwa - Saturday, November 21, 2009 - link

    I don't understand the problem. I have a Core 2 Duo @ 3.8Ghz and I use Hulu all the freaking time with absolutly no problems whatsoever. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, November 21, 2009 - link

    Exactly. You have a high end system that can do all the video decoding in software on the CPU without problems. Not everyone has that. (And OS X is a different beast, apparently, at least as far as Flash is concerned.) Reply
  • Sunagwa - Saturday, November 21, 2009 - link

    I see, my bad I guess I didn't really consider my CPU to be high end. The system he mentions at the beggining sounded pretty powerful though I have never run anything but windows so I may be wrong... Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, November 21, 2009 - link

    I should clarify: it may not be high-end by today's standards (what with Core i7), but a moderate ~2.0GHz Core 2 Duo can handle 1080p video decoding in software (albeit at high CPU utilization). It's really more of a question of laptops and even then more netbooks and nettops. And Flash optimizations are of course also important - I've seen Flash choke other laptops with Intel IGPs on older Flash revisions, but 10.0 does much better. Reply
  • dicobalt - Saturday, November 21, 2009 - link

    You guys misunderstand what I was saying. I can play 1080 video just fine, HULU, WMV, MP4, MOV, whatever. I am unable to play 1080 smoothly when I have the Folding@Home GPU client running, that's the only time I have trouble with it (and standard def video too). Though it was working fine on Vista before I installed Win7.

    Most of the time when I am playing HD video files CPU usage is about 28-48% on the most loaded core.

    BTW since I updated to Nvidia drivers to 195.55 now Firefox is no longer crashing on YouTube videos with Flash 10.1 installed. Seems to me that Nvidia was not ready for Win7 with their drivers, they got a lot going on right now.
    Reply

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