Google Chrome gets GPU power

It was bound to happen. Google is now roping in the power of hardware acceleration to boost the performance of its Chrome browser.

In a post on the Chromium blog late last week the Chromium developers announced that they would add GPU (graphics processing unit) support to future editions of the Chrome browser, bringing Google’s application in line with other major browsers.

Hardware acceleration means that some of the tasks performed by the browser are shifted away from the PC’s processor and passed onto the graphics processor. Because of their ability to crunch large amounts of data, graphics processors are ideal for performing intensive tasks like rendering video and 3D objects.

To date both Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 9 and Mozilla’s Firefox 4 have included hardware acceleration in their development processes. Both of these browsers are still to be released in final form, Firefox 4 being the closest with beta versions now out. IE9 is expected to be released in beta form later this month. Apple’s Safari already includes hardware acceleration.

The process of drawing on the power of GPUs promises significant performance enhancements. With GPU capabilities, web pages are divided into layers with parts of them rendered by the CPU and others rendered by the GPU. Content such as text is usually rendered by the CPU while more intense content such as style sheets, images and video are passed off to the graphics processing unit.

One of the challenges facing Chrome developers is their own sandboxing. Chromium is sandboxed (isolated) on computers for security reasons, which means that using the GPU entails an additional hurdle. A modified GPU-sandbox process gives Chromium some access to the power of the GPU without sacrificing security.

Hardware acceleration has been included in the current Chromium 7 developer version but is not yet scheduled to be included in formal Chrome releases.

Chrome is the official browser release from Google while Chromium is the in-development version.

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Google Chrome gets GPU power