Firefox Getting GPU Acceleration, Maybe Before IE9

Last week, when Microsoft gave its preview of Internet Explorer 9 at Professional Developers Conference, it showed the upcoming browser's GPU-accelerated rendering capabilities.

President of Microsoft's Windows and Windows Live division Steven Sinofsky showed that IE8 can render Bing maps at 14 frames per second. With hardware acceleration in IE9 turned on, he got 60 frames per second -- impressive, indeed.

Microsoft isn't the only one thinking of leveraging GPU involvement for browser performance boosts, however, as Mozilla has been cooking up something similar in its kitchen too.

On the day of Microsoft's IE9 demo, Mozilla evangelist Chris Blizzard tweeted, "Interesting that we're doing Direct2D support in Firefox as well - I'll bet we'll ship it first. :)"

While neither Microsoft nor Mozilla have committed to any ship date for its hardware-accelerated browsers, Firefox developer Bas Schouten wrote about his work on DirectWrite and Direct2D.

"A while ago I started my investigation into Direct2D usage in firefox (see bug 527707). Since then we've made significant progress and are now able to present a Firefox browser completely rendered using Direct2D, making intensive usage of the GPU (this includes the UI, menu bars, etc.)," he wrote. "I won't be showing any screenshots, since it is not supposed to look much different. But I will be sharing some technical details, first performance indications and a test build for those of you running Windows 7 or an updated version of Vista!"

His opinion on Windows 7 aside, Schouten presented benchmarks comparing Direct2D rendering compared to Windows' Graphics Device Interface (GDI) rendering as tested on an Intel Core i7 920 system with an ATI Radeon HD 4850 GPU.

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Marcus Yam
Marcus Yam served as Tom's Hardware News Director during 2008-2014. He entered tech media in the late 90s and fondly remembers the days when an overclocked Celeron 300A and Voodoo2 SLI comprised a gaming rig with the ultimate street cred.
  • rpmrush
    Damn, very impressive impovements on a decent processor. The effect should be magnified on weaker processors and I hope will give Netbooks with Ion a bit of surfing power.
  • frozenlead

    It's interesting to see that youtube didn't get a boost. Perhaps because it relies on connection speed more? It also depends on what you define as rendered; are the video loads counted toward that?
  • MU_Engineer
    I wonder how many people didn't even see the graph or read the article but just clicked on the "Zoom" button below the girl in the Firefox tank top?
  • dragonsqrrl
    great news, I'm glad to see more and more commonly used applications taking advantage of GPU acceleration to improve system performance, even if its just a matter of ms. and i agree, we should see an even greater performance boost for ion netbook users.
  • rambo117
    but can it play... oh, nevermind
  • tpi2007
    With this and Flash being also GPU accelerated, I can finally have several tabs from one session to another without waiting so much time! It's good news in general, and about time, sites are getting more and more complex, all the processing power that our pc's have should be put to good use!
  • matt87_50
    how about power usage? huh? meh, can't complain about that anyway, thats progress. good to see. and a million netbooks around the world together weeped. (as they should!)

    I thought the term Direct2D died out at the turn of the century? pretty sure you just have to use Direct3D in 2D.

    GDI sucked on XP, when it was hardware accelerated, but it wasn't even hw accelerated in vista or win 7?

    I'd dare say that just bypassing GDI and direct software rendering to the window buffer would be fast enough, especially on a 920. my Wolfenstein clone ran at 100s of frames a second using that method.

    I mean, its good to see them using all the processing power, just as long as it can fall back to software methods. for instance, you could get problems like not being able to run direct X programs across remote desktop.
  • falchard
    Does this mean I can make a DirectDraw input using FireFox to make the best looking browser based game of all time?
  • Supertrek32
    I'd like to see power consumption charts on GPU-assisted vs non GPU-assisted renders. Which takes more power: everything on cpu, or some cpu and some gpu?
  • dmuir
    I would have expected them to use something cross platform... But maybe there isn't a good lib for that?