File Under: Browsers

Opera 11.5 Preview Shows Off Hardware Acceleration

OpenGL accelerates Opera 11.5

Opera Software has released a hardware accelerated preview of the coming Opera 11.5 web browser. For now the hardware acceleration is only available for Windows systems with OpenGL 2.x compatible graphics card and drivers. Eventually the company plans to expand Opera’s hardware acceleration support to include Direct3D and any OpenGL capable system — Mac OS X, Linux, mobile phones and web TVs.

If you’d like to try out the latest preview build, you can grab a copy of the experimental build from Opera.

Hardware acceleration is the latest hotness in web browsers. Internet Explorer 9, Firefox 4 and Chrome 9 all offer varying degrees of hardware acceleration. The idea behind the trend is to hand off as much rendering as possible to your graphics card, which is generally better at drawing things on screen than your main CPU. For more details on how hardware acceleration works and why it’s good for browsers, see our earlier write up.

The chief problem with hardware acceleration is that differences between graphics cards make it difficult to implement. Internet Explorer 9 has sidestepped that problem by limiting hardware acceleration to Windows 7, while Chrome continues to limit hardware acceleration by compatibile graphics cards.

Likewise, for now, Opera’s hardware acceleration only works with a limited set of compatible graphics cards. However, Opera’s long term plans include supporting Windows XP and other platforms (provided they have compatible graphics cards), something Internet Explorer, for instance, will not be doing.

To see if your graphics card is supported, download the Windows preview version of Opera 11.5 and head to opera:about. Check the “Vega Backend” entry, if Opera reports that it’s using OpenGL, congratulations, you have hardware acceleration enabled. If it says “Software,” you’re out of luck.

If you’re an Opera fan, or just want to try hardware acceleration on a platform that other browsers don’t yet support, the preview is worth trying, but keep in mind that this is not a stable release. There are still numerous bugs — in particular, SVG rendering doesn’t seem to work — and Opera 11.5 won’t be finalized for some time. The next step on the Opera roadmap is 11.1, which will not support hardware acceleration. However, Opera plans to continue releasing updates to these early 11.5 builds even as it works to finish up Opera 11.1.

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