In recent months, Apple, Google, and Mozilla have really managed to squeeze impressive amounts of performance out of their respective web browsers, making page rendering and web applications noticeably snappier with each release. Microsoft's Internet Explorer 8 lags behind a bit in current benchmarks, but the IE team has a secret weapon in store for its next browser.
According to an IEBlog post by IE General Manager Dean Hachamovitch, Internet Explorer 9 will use Direct2D to run page rendering on the graphics processor. Here's the skinny:
We're changing IE to use the DirectX family of Windows APIs to enable many advances for web developers. The starting point is moving all graphics and text rendering from the CPU to the graphics card using Direct2D and DirectWrite. Graphics hardware acceleration means that rich, graphically intensive sites can render faster while using less CPU. . . . Now, web developers can take advantage of the hardware ecosystem's advances in graphics while they continue to author sites with the same interoperable standards patterns they're used to.
You can see a video of some early demos over on this page. Hardware acceleration apparently helps both with the little things, like font kerning and sub-pixel rendering, and with content-rich web applications, like maps. At one point, the demo shows a version of Bing Maps that renders graphics so smoothly the display effortlessly follows the position of the mouse.