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What is hardware acceleration? How can I check if my system supports it?

Is it a property of the CPU or Motherboard?

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

It is actually neither. It is software that uses your graphics card to do work that would normally be done on the CPU otherwise.

It is therefore decided on a per application basis to support hardware acceleration, as it is something that must be coded by the programmer. As an example, Flash supports it for Windows, but not for Linux or Macs.

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If you want to know if your system is able to do hardware acceleration at all, a way could be to see if your web browser is using HW acceleration. Here's a way how to find out in Firefox. Note that if your browser uses it, it means your system supports it, BUT when the browser doesn't use it, it DOESN'T mean your system is not capable of HW acceleration (e.g. your graphics driver may not be supported by the browser).

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soandos is wrong. It is sometimes on the mainboard. It depends from where the graphics processor chip is (presuming that one is talking of the normal case nowadays of graphics hardware acceleration on PCs — although that's not the only sort of hardware acceleration that exists). If that chip is on the mainboard (rather than on an expansion card) then yes, the hardware acceleration is on the mainboard. It's a property of the chip that is attached to that board.

This is because hardware acceleration is hardware. Hence the name. It's not software. Software can employ it, if it is present and if the software is written to make use of hardware acceleration. But the software that does is most definitely making use of a hardware mechanism.

Hardware acceleration is a capability provided by I/O device chips to do, in special-purpose hardware, processing that would otherwise be done (more slowly) in software using the (general-purpose) central processing unit. In the days before graphics accelerator chips arrived, for example, all of the rasterization and blitting tasks involved in drawing things on the screen were done by the CPU. With graphics accelerators, the CPU simply sends high level instructions to dedicated hardware (that has a better path to video RAM) which then performs the actual rasterization and blitting operations.

To know whether your system has it, you simply have to know what chips you have, and what hardware acceleration capabilities those chips have. Once you know that your hardware has acceleration capabilities, the next step is ensuring that your system software knows how to make full use of the hardware that you have (rather than doing everything in software as it would have to in the non-hardware-accelerated case). That's something that varies from software to software. More importantly, it's a different matter to knowing whether your system has hardware acceleration in the first place — which is what you asked.

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You are saying the exact same thing as soandos, just making it much harder to understand. For instance, "This is because hardware acceleration is hardware. Hence the name. It's not software.". It is ALSO software, as without the software to use it, it is useless. If someone could use you know, the real words, like "drivers", "GPU", "CPU", etc... – Ravachol Dec 23 '11 at 13:31
No, I'm not saying the same thing at all. Read again, properly this time. For starters, note that I did indeed use the phrase "central processing unit", contrary to what you stated. You don't actually understand what hardware acceleration is if you think that it is software. It is not software. It is not even "ALSO software". It is hardware. That is, after all, the point of it. If you don't understand that, then you don't understand the fundamentals. If you think that a correct explanation is "harder to understand" than an incorrect one, then that is your own problem. – JdeBP Dec 23 '11 at 13:51

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