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 to 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 Flash
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 Flash
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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  • 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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