Single page Print

Intel's GS45M chipset and CULV processor
My next victim is my new favorite laptop, the Acer Aspire 1810TZ. This little 11.6" ultraportable is technically not a netbook; it's a step above, based as it is on one of Intel's consumer ultra-low-voltage (CULV) processors, the Pentium SU4100. This is a Penryn-based dual-core CPU with a 1.3GHz core clock, 800MHz bus, and 2MB of L2 cache. Like most CULV systems, the 1810TZ has an Intel GS45 chipset with GMA 4500MHD integrated graphics. This is a newer chipset than the 945G found in most netbooks, and it's capable of accelerating HD video decoding and playback.

We tested the Aspire 1810TZ with Intel's 15.16.2.1986 video drivers. This laptop has a native screen resolution of 1366x768 and comes with Windows 7 Home Premium x64 installed. For this system, our CPU-only numbers come from Flash 10.0.32, while the GPU-accelerated ones come from the 10.1 beta. Since the dual-core CULV processor is really quite competent, as you'll see, we've omitted the Hulu 360 tests from this round.

CPU only With GPU acceleration
CPU
utilization
Result CPU
utilization
Result
Fringe
Hulu 480p
windowed
32-46% Perfect 48-53% ~15 FPS
Fringe
Hulu 480p
full-screen
- Perfect - ~15 FPS
LoTS
Hulu 720p
windowed
81-93% Smooth 52-64% Some dropped frames
LoTS
Hulu 720p
full-screen
- Smooth, a few
dropped frames
- Smooth, a few
dropped frames
Moon
YouTube HQ
windowed
46-63% Perfect 20-26% Perfect
Moon
YouTube HQ
full-screen
- Perfect - Perfect
Star Trek
YouTube 720p
windowed
31-48% Perfect 14-22% Perfect
Star Trek
YouTube 720p
full-screen
- Smooth, a few
dropped frames
- Perfect
PureVideo demo
YouTube 1080p
windowed
83-98% Lots of dropped frames 35-40% Rough, some dropped frames, occasional audio static
PureVideo demo
YouTube 1080p
full-screen
- Lots of dropped frames - Lots of dropped frames, occasional audio static

All by its lonesome, the Aspire's dual-core Pentium handles the 480p Hulu clip and the Moon trailer perfectly. The 720p Hulu and YouTube videos are also quite good in windowed mode. Only when scaling the 720p clips to full screen do some small cracks begin to appear in its armor. This is way better than a netbook, but even so, decoding the 1080p clip is clearly beyond the Pentium SU4100's capabilities.

The results with GPU acceleration enabled are intriguing. The problems are evident immediately with the 480p Hulu video. CPU utilization is actually higher with GPU acceleration enabled, and the frame rate drops to maybe half of what it should be—perhaps less. Clearly, Intel and Adobe haven't got this one sorted out yet. The issues continue with the 720p Hulu video, where CPU utilization is lower, but so are frame rates, dropping performance into the iffy yellow territory. Once again, playback is smoother without GPU acceleration.

The bad news in Hulu is offset by unmitigated success with the first two YouTube clips, where CPU utilization is lower and playback is pristine. Thanks to GPU acceleration, the 1810TZ can play back the 720p Star Trek trailer perfectly at its full screen resolution (which, incidentally, is just a tad larger than the 720p format and the exact same aspect ratio). The CPU alone didn't quite pull off that feat.

Then again, the GMA 4500MHD isn't any practical help with the 1080p clip, which has the 1810TZ overwhelmed yet again.

Unfortunately, GPU acceleration on the GS45 chipset doesn't appear to be a clear win. You're better off overall sticking with the CPU-only release versions of Flash at this point in time. Here's hoping Intel can manage to get video decode acceleration working properly. If they do not, some forms of Flash HD video will play back smoother on an Atom + Ion platform combo than on Intel's 4-series chipsets and CULV Penryn dual-cores, amazingly enough.

AMD Phenom II and 785G performance
Next up is my home theater PC, based on AMD's "Maui" platform, which has been serving faithfully in my living room while awaiting a proper write-up for a shamefully long time. (It's half done, I swear!) This box is by no means a slow computer, based on a 785G chipset and a low-power Phenom II X4 905e processor, a 2.5GHz quad-core. Yet it still has a few problems with Flash video from time to time, which matters a lot to me since I watch shows on it via Hulu Desktop with some frequency. Accordingly, I've added another test for this system: full-screen playback of 720p video view the Hulu Desktop application.

This system runs Windows 7 x86 and is hooked up to a 1080p television via HDMI. We tested with the Catalyst 9.11 drivers and Flash version 10.0.32 (CPU only), along with the Flash 10.1 beta for GPU acceleration. Here are the results.

CPU only With GPU acceleration
CPU
utilization
Result CPU
utilization
Result
Fringe
Hulu 480p
windowed
18-26% Perfect 6-10% Perfect
Fringe
Hulu 480p
full-screen
- Some dropped frames - Perfect
LoTS
Hulu 720p
windowed
33-42% Perfect 7-38% Perfect
LoTS
Hulu 720p
full-screen
- Some dropped frames - Very smooth
LoTS
Hulu 720p
Hulu Desktop
full-screen
- Smooth, a few
dropped frames
- Perfect
Moon
YouTube HQ
windowed
17-35% Perfect 16-22% Perfect
Moon
YouTube HQ
full-screen
- Perfect - Perfect
Star Trek
YouTube 720p
windowed
18-26% Perfect 3-12% Perfect
Star Trek
YouTube 720p
full-screen
- Perfect - Perfect
PureVideo demo
YouTube 1080p
windowed
33-45% Perfect 12-22% Perfect
PureVideo demo
YouTube 1080p
full-screen
- Smooth, a few
dropped frames
- Smooth, a few
dropped frames

As I said, even this system with a relatively fast quad-core processor stumbles slightly over Flash video at times. Fortunately, playback of video with the Flash 10.1 beta and integrated Radeon graphics smoothes over those few bumps in the road, turning in a near-perfect performance. CPU utilization drops quite a bit with GPU acceleration, too.

The 785G's Flash acceleration is so good that I've decided to leave it enabled for everyday use. The primary impact of doing so is that run-of-the-mill 480p Hulu videos played via Hulu Desktop are now more fluid. Previously, playback was acceptable but not stellar, with occasional obvious dropped frames. Now, Hulu Desktop looks as good as one could want—save for the fact that no Flash-based solution offers the kind of high-quality scaling routine one would expect from Windows Media Center or other fully-DXVA-accelerated media players.

AMD has a few extra tricks up its sleeve, too. In the Catalyst Control Center, one can enable and modify the values for a host of color enhancements and post-processing effects, and GPU-accelerated Flash videos will be modified in real time. In fact, AMD has a split-screen preview mode to show how the video output is being modified.


A few of the controls available in the CCC

The Star Trek trailer in split screen with edge enhancement enabled

This is beyond nifty. I'll admit I've only used such controls with other video players occasionally, but from time to time, an interesting video from a poor source can be redeemed through judicious use of the right filters. Having such capabilities available once Flash video becomes GPU-accelerated only makes sense, and it's good to see AMD making it happen.