Chrome 18 Beta Pumps Up Graphics, Even on Old PCs

Between the official rollout of Chrome 17 and the launch of Chrome for Android, it's already been a busy week for Google's popular Web browser.

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On Thursday, however, Chrome reached yet another milestone with the release of the beta version of Chrome 18, which appears to be particularly notable for the graphics improvements it enables.

“Every day the web becomes more powerful, allowing developers to create the next generation of beautiful, immersive experiences online,” wrote Associate Product Manager Tom Wiltzius in a Thursday post on the Google Chrome blog. “In our latest Chrome Beta release, we’ve made a few enhancements to ensure users have a smooth ride in these graphics-intensive applications.”

Faster and Smoother

Two key improvements promise to deliver better graphics to a wide range of users.

First, Chrome 18 enables GPU-accelerated rendering of 2D Canvas content, which should make Canvas-based games and animations run faster and feel smoother for most Windows and Mac users, Google engineers John Bauman and Brian Salomon explained in a separate post on the Chromium Blog.

To see which features are being accelerated, users of the new beta can type “chrome://gpu” into the software's address bar.

“This is a tricky area to optimize, due to the wide variety of hardware and operating system configurations found in the wild,” Bauman and Salomon noted. “We’ve made a series of small improvements to the way this acceleration works.”

A Helping Hand on XP

For users with older hardware, meanwhile, the new Chrome 18 beta offers another graphics boost.

Because of their older GPUs and graphics drivers, such PCs typically can't enjoy the rich content provided by technologies such as WebGL. The new Chrome beta, however, aims to work around those limitations.

Specifically, it now enables such PCs to display 3D content via SwiftShader, a software rasterizer Google has licensed from TransGaming that will automatically kick in for users who can't run content on the GPU.

“Although SwiftShader won’t perform as well as a real GPU, it will be an improvement for many of our users on older operating systems such as Windows XP,” Bauman and Salomon wrote.

Targeting testers and early users, the new Chrome 18 beta version is now available as a free download for Windows XP, Vista, and 7. The developers of the software are particularly interested in feedback about performance with 2D Canvas graphics content, they say, so if you decide to check it out, you're encouraged to report any bugs.

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