Hardware acceleration is common term that most people have heard. It’s most commonly found as a setting that you can enable for some apps on your system. One common app that uses hardware acceleration is Chrome and you have the option enable or disable this but just what is it? Is it a good idea to use it and what benefits does it have.

Hardware Acceleration

Hardware acceleration is the process by which an app will use other hardware components on your system to perform certain tasks in order to work more efficiently. Strictly speaking, your CPU is supposed to handle the bulk load of everything but both apps and hardware have come a long way and their requirements have changed somewhat. The hardware components that are usually used to offload some tasks to are the sound card and the GPU.

Apps that perform graphically intensive tasks such as displaying an HD video or viewing 3D content will pass this task on to the GPU. Likewise, apps that perform audio heavy tasks will pass much of the burden on to your sound card instead of having your CPU take care of it. In general, hardware acceleration usually passes tasks on to a GPU and the sound card rarely shoulders the burden.

Hardware vs Software

It’s worth asking if apps are supposed to support hardware acceleration or does your system need to meet certain requirements before an app can use it. Your system must have hardware that supports hardware acceleration in order for an app to be able to make use of it. If your system’s capabilities do not support it, apps can’t force-enable it. Most modern systems support hardware acceleration and you can check by exploring the control panel for your respective GPU.

For example, if you open the NVIDIA control panel and go to the Set PhysX Configuration tab, you will see a brief description that describes what this panel controls which includes ‘GPU acceleration’. This is the term used instead of hardware acceleration.

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A more tedious method of checking if your system supports hardware acceleration is by visiting any one of the demos on this site by Mozilla. Run two tests; enable hardware acceleration in your browser in the first test, and disable it in the second. Look for the following two differences between each run;

  • Does the CPU load increase?
  • Does the animation become less smooth or become very choppy?

If you observe the above two when you turn hardware acceleration off, then that means your system does support it and it does help apps work better. You might also notice your system fans turn on when hardware acceleration is off but they might do that even if you have it enabled.

Should You Use It?

The simple answer is, Yes. You should. It will help your system run better and apps that need the dedicated hardware will work more efficiently. Your system will consume more power but in the larger scheme of things, it’s not a whole lot of power. It will not show up as a dramatic spike in your power usage and you will not get an enormous bill for it.