Microsoft demos IE9 GPU features

Unstoppable software monopolist Microsoft has just revealed the latest Preview Platform of its forthcoming Internet Explorer 9 browser, showing what could be the future of web browsing.

As well as featuring support for HTML 5 and background-compiled JavaScript, the browser also takes advantage of GPUs via Direct2D and DirectWrite. Microsoft was joined by Nvidia, AMD and Asus at the release event in San Francisco yesterday, where the companies showed what's possible when you add GPU-acceleration to the browser.

We've had a go on it ourselves, and we're impressed with the results. Among the GPU-enabled demos is a video panorama menu from IMDb, showing a smooth, quick-moving interface that enables you to select an H.264 video and instantly start playing it back at great-looking settings.

We tried this out using a Radeon HD 4850 and Core 2 Quad system, and the menu never dropped below 60fps. When playing back the video trailer for Toy Story 2, the browser used just under 72MB of RAM, and used between 15 and 19 per cent of the CPU resources.

As a point of comparison, we also tried running the menu on the latest version of Firefox, where the lack of GPU-acceleration resulted in a juddery frame rate of around 18fps.

Another good demo was Microsoft's Canvas video panorama. This featured a large, high-resolution panorama of a mountain scene, which you could drag around fluidly with the mouse and zoom in and out of instantly with the scroll wheel, revealing an intricate amount of detail. Again, our test system never dipped below 60fps in this demo when running at 1,280 x 920.

Nvidia's director of product marketing for ION and GeForce, David Ragones, was quick to praise the technology on the Windows Team Blog.

"Imagine your favourite site now re-engineered with the GPU in mind," said Ragones. "Desktop, Notebooks and Netbook PCs with Nvidia [or AMD – ed] GPUs will navigate your social network visually; deliver smooth in-browser playback of multiple HD videos at once; smoothly pan, swoop, and zoom on photos and diagrams – and do it all without leaving the browser, using a plug-in, or having to launch another application."

However, Microsoft isn't the only company on the case of GPU-acceleration in browsers. In Novemeber last year, coder Bas Schouten revealed that Mozilla was working on Direct2D acceleration in Firefox as well.

You can download Internet Explorer Platform Preview 3 for yourself, here, if you want to try it out. However, it's worth bearing in mind that it's only intended for developers, rather than your average web surfer, so there aren't any of the usual browser features such as Back buttons and Favorites folders.