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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  • brundlefly - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - link

    I don't know why you are saying that everyone has an issue with Flash, including Windows users, because I have never had a problem with it under Windows - ??

    On MacOS - BIG problems with HD YouTube content.

    I installed the 10.1 Flash Beta on my 2008 unibody 2.4GHz MacBook - both on Snow Leopard side and on the Windows 7 x64 Boot Camp partition.

    Made no difference whatsoever on either side.

    I used Firefox playback of the 1080P version of the Dark Knight trailer for comparison:


    Under Snow Leopard, the video was obviously jittery and video info indicated many dropped frames. CPU usage: 127% AVERAGE. Even the buffer froze at one point, stopping the video - I get this often under MacOS for some reason. The fan started up in seconds.

    Under Windows 7, I experienced a handful of dropped packets on starting the video, but never observed anything but pitch-perfect playback, and the buffer raced far ahead of the playback time with no slowdown. CPU usage: 55% AVERAGE

    Its the same damn hardware.

  • Drakino - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - link

    It is an issue specific to the Mac, however the ball is in Adobe's court to fix it. It's their code that sucks ass under OS X. Apple had HD video content playable just fine full screen prior to the switchover to Intel CPUs.

    This is why Apple pushes for open standards and wants Flash to die. Apple can't improve the closed Flash platform on their own, but they can build their software to support standards well. It looks bad for the Mac when the platform has problems playing keyboard cat due to closed proprietary crap.

    The fact that Adobe "magically" brought CPU usage down from 450% to 130% is clearly a sign they can improve it if they try. Now they just need to stop acting like children and use the OpenCL standard on OS X 10.6 to accelerate it via the GPU.
  • 7Enigma - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - link

    "This is why Apple pushes for open standards..."

    I'm sorry your post is negated by this hysterical comment.
  • Drakino - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - link

    "I'm sorry your post is negated by this hysterical comment."

    How so?

    Sure, Apple likes to control their platforms, but that doesn't mean the platform is built on closed technology.

    WebKit (the foundation of Safari, tons of mobile browsers including the ones on Android and the Pre) started as KHTML. Apple helped extend it and turn it in the mobile browsing powerhouse. It's also one of the most HTML compliant browsing cores out there. If HTML5 ever sorts out this video codec mess, it is possible it can replace Flash, a technology only controlled by Adobe.

    Quicktime is completely MPEG 4 compatible, due to the fact that most of MPEG 4 is based on Quicktime technology. H.264 is everywhere now, streaming into the crappy Flash players, being used to encode movies on BluRay, and so on. MPEG 4 audio is also widespread mostly due to the iTunes Store.

    PDF is a core part of OS X.

    Bonjour/DNS-SD is an open protocol widely adopted by many printers and other devices, and even Microsoft with Link-local Multicast Name Resolution borrowed heavily from it.

    OpenCL is a unified GPU compute language that helps to get GPGPU acceleration out of the "Glide/3dfx" realm and on it's way to a wider adoption.

    Grand Central Dispatch is a great technology for developing programs that run well on multicore CPUs, and is being adopted by FreeBSD as well.

    Would you like to bring up any counterpoints, or just mindlessly try to bash comments without anything to back them up?
  • mindless1 - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - link

    I will mindlessly bash. Ha!

    Apple is closed, all you did is list how they perverted something open to make it closed, extra effort in doing so.

  • menting - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - link

    if you rephrase it this way it'll be more correct.
    "Apple pushes for open standards on anything they don't/can't control/own"
  • Souka - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - link

    My wife's old ThinkPad T30 laptop, with its ATI 7500 Radeon isn't supported. Guess she can't watch her latest shows in full screen..heh.

  • iwodo - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - link

    I need 70% of CPU Core to watch Full HD Video on a bleeding edge Computer?

    I dont know if it is poor programming or what. But i expect more with OpenCL support, and faster software, as well as near Zero CPU resources for H.264 content.

    Why do I have extra 40% CPU usage watching H.264 content inside Flash, when i have sub 10% CPU usage when watching it through OS Media Player....
  • Xplorer4x4 - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - link

    Will this be of use on a GT 130M?
  • Stereodude - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - link

    The acceleration does work for at least some people on the Intel 4500MHD chipset. You need the absolute latest drivers from Intel (.1986) that came out only a few days ago though.

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