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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  • JarredWalton - Saturday, November 21, 2009 - link

    I stopped messing with Folding when I started doing the calculations for how much it was costing me in electricity (and a few pieces of failed hardware). Plus, the GPU client in particular always seemed to slow down system responsiveness. If you want to multitask GPU intensive applications, I think we're still deep in the driver update stages (whether ATI or NVIDIA). Give it another year... LOL.
  • dicobalt - Friday, November 20, 2009 - link

    I have been using Flash 10.1 for the last few days and it seems to crash Firefox in an Nvidia dll. All while using YouTube. Downgraded to the stable release and all is well again. Using Win7 driver 190.38 because newer drivers cause Flash to freeze video up for a half second for every every 10 seconds of video.

    How I wish Flash would die...
    PS. Adobe too.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 20, 2009 - link

    My testing on the ION LE was with Win7 and I didn't have any problems. Can you list details of exactly what hardware you're running on? Also, I believe the 195.55 drivers from NVIDIA are part of the requirements for this to work optimally (though if it's just DXVA that shouldn't be true).
  • dicobalt - Friday, November 20, 2009 - link

    e6300 / gigabyte-p35-dq6 4gb ram / 9600GT

    I have not yet tried the 195.55 drivers, those are still beta but I will give it a try. I was also having problems with the new Nvidia drivers not load balancing gpu folding@home while playing videos. The drivers in Vista would allow me to run gpu folding@home and playback a 1080 video without any frames skipping. None of the Win7 drivers allow me to do this so far.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 20, 2009 - link

    I would assume you're probably overclocking as well? Most people with something like an E6300 do that. Anyway, you might need to try several combinations, and with this beta software (and beta drivers) I wouldn't count on load balancing of multiple GPU applications.
  • dicobalt - Friday, November 20, 2009 - link

    The CPU from 1.86 to 2.8GHz yea, GPU is stock 650Mhz, all works ok in Vista though. I did just install the 195.55 drivers and it's not as severe as a problem with folding and 1080 video but it is still too much dropping to make it watchable. So far YouTube has not caused Firefox to crash yet, that usually takes some time though, it doesn't happen right away. These drivers need some more work and Flash needs to reach a final version so that Nvidia can fix Adobe's screwups lol
  • Halcyon666 - Friday, November 20, 2009 - link

    Will the 10.1 prerelease help with flash games like the SPAM on facebook? or is it just for flashed video?
  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 20, 2009 - link

    Currently this is targeting video, but Adobe doesn't rule out the possibility of improving other Flash applications in the future.
  • 7Enigma - Friday, November 20, 2009 - link

    Anand I've got to be honest, I'm not liking the new trend of reposting an old article with a small update. It is difficult to find since you have to go through the article to find the updated information, and the comments section becomes jumbled up with old posts and new posts.

    Please go back to the old way of posting a small updated blog post with a link to the original article for those that didn't read it originally, or would like to read it again.

    For your faithful readers, it's not a small annoyance.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 20, 2009 - link

    Actually, the update was by me. I also tried to make it very clear, seeing that the page is labeled with "AMD and Intel Update". I could have done it as a blog, true, and perhaps next time I will.

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