I suppose I could start this article off with a tirade on how frustrating Adobe Flash is. But, I believe the phrase “preaching to the choir” would apply.

I’ve got a two socket, 16-thread, 3GHz, Nehalem Mac Pro as my main workstation. I have an EVGA GeForce GTX 285 in there. It’s fast.

It’s connected to a 30” monitor, running at its native resolution of 2560 x 1600.

The machine is fast enough to do things I’m not smart or talented enough to know how to do. But the one thing it can’t do is play anything off of Hulu in full screen without dropping frames.

This isn’t just a Mac issue, it’s a problem across all OSes and systems, regardless of hardware configuration. Chalk it up to poor development on Adobe’s part or...some other fault of Adobe’s, but Flash playback is extremely CPU intensive.

Today, that’s about to change. Adobe has just released a preview of Flash 10.1 (the final version is due out next year) for Windows, OS X and Linux. While all three platforms feature performance enhancements, the Windows version gets H.264 decode acceleration for flash video using DXVA (OS X and Linux are out of luck there for now).

The same GPU-based decode engines that are used to offload CPU decoding of Blu-rays can now be used to decode H.264 encoded Flash video. NVIDIA also let us know that GPU acceleration for Flash animation is coming in a future version of Flash.

To get the 10.1 pre-release just go here. NVIDIA recommends that you uninstall any existing versions of flash before installing 10.1 but I’ve found that upgrading works just as well.

What Hardware is Supported?

As I just mentioned, Adobe is using DXVA to accelerate Flash video playback, which means you need a GPU that properly supports DXVA2. From NVIDIA that means anything after G80 (sorry, GeForce 8800 GTX, GTS 640/320MB and Ultra owners are out of luck). In other words anything from the GeForce 8 series, 9 series or GeForce GT/GTX series, as well as their mobile equivalents. The only exceptions being those G80 based parts I just mentioned.

Anything based on NVIDIA’s ION chipset is also supported, which will be the foundation of some of our tests today.

AMD supports the following:

- ATI Radeon™ HD 4000, HD 5700 and HD 5800 series graphics
- ATI Mobility Radeon™ HD 4000 series graphics (and higher)
- ATI Radeon™ HD 3000 integrated graphics (and higher)
- ATI FirePro™ V3750, V5700, V7750, V8700 and V8750 graphics accelerators (and later)

It’s a healthy list of supported GPUs from both camps, including integrated graphics. The only other requirement is that you have the latest drivers installed. I used 195.50 from NVIDIA and Catalyst 9.10 from AMD. (Update: The Release Notes now indicate Catalyst 9.11 drivers are required, which would explain our difficulties in testing. ATI just released Catalyst 9.11 but we're having issues getting GPU acceleration to work, waiting on a response from AMD now)

Intel’s G45 should, in theory, work. We tested it on a laptop for this article and since the acceleration is DXVA based, anything that can offload H.264 decode from the CPU using DXVA (like G45) should work just fine. As you’ll see however, our experiences weren’t exactly rosy.

Flash/Hulu on ION: Nearly Perfect
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  • Adasha - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - link

    I would hate to live in your ideal world. I bet you'd be happier if we got rid of all GUIs and reverted to command line only.
  • B3an - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - link

    I'd also like to add, that the bad Flash performance in many things like Flash based ads, is nearly always down to the web developer of the ad itself. SO many of them could be made to use less CPU power, or even get file size way down.
    It's nearly always down to web design amatures who dont know the following:
    What image files types are best suited for what they're doing,
    When to use vector graphics instead of jpegs,
    And what quality settings and Flash publishing settings to use.
  • Voldenuit - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - link

    There's also the problem of Flash chewing resources when the application is in the background (eg if I'm playing a game and would like/need to keep my browser open).

    Users should have control over what applications run on their PCs, and the fact that Flash doesn't let you do this is a strike against Adobe (already not the most consumer-friendly company out there).

    We have anti-spyware, anti-virus, anti-phising as recommended and standard on most systems. I say anti-Flash should be just as important.
  • danacee - Tuesday, April 13, 2010 - link

    Even with a 9500GT that plays back 1080p mkv beautifully flash player chugs. It also only uses one core! What the hell, atleast you'd think it would multithreaded. The Atom D510 may be pathetically weak, but it goes to show how far adobe's heads are up their asses when even with supported cpu/gpu on a supported OS (Win XP/Vista x64) flash is still such a piece of garbage it can only grab one thread of a cpu.
  • marosy - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    Anand, I'd like to congratulate to you for this article. I learn a lot from your articles.
    It seems that the bug with the 8400GS has been fixed in Adobe Flash Player 10.2 Beta.

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