Flash Player 10.1 Speeds Up Netbooks, Nettops

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Artwork: Chip Taylor
If you're thinking of buying a netbook but you're not sure how well it'll handle full-screen HD Flash video, Adobe has a solution. Adobe Flash Player 10.1 with GPU acceleration--now in beta--promises to dramatically improve the streaming HD video experience on computers that lack top-notch processors. If your PC has a supported Nvidia or ATI graphics card (supported cards are listed in this release notes PDF), Flash Player 10.1 will use it alongside your processor to better decode streaming video from sites like YouTube and Hulu.

Modern graphics cards have tons of computing power, while the Atom chip that powers most netbooks is relatively weak compared to desktop and traditional laptop processors. Over the past few years graphics card vendors have developed ways to put this power to work for everyday computing duties. Using the GPU instead of the processor should dramatically improve streaming HD video experience. This is great news for anyone with an ION-based netbook, for example, or a PC with a fairly recent Nvidia or ATI GPU.

I headed to PC World Labs to put Adobe's claims to the test. I performed my testing on an Asus Eee Top ET2002 nettop with an integrated NVIDIA ION graphics chipset, running Windows Vista Home Premium. I did two tests, using both Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox.

For the IE test, I used an HD clip from "V" on Hulu.

Here's the clip in HD (480p), with Adobe Flash Player 10.0.32:

Here's the clip in HD (480p), with Adobe Flash Player 10.1:

In this case, there isn't a drastic difference in the two clips. The second clip is slightly smoother, but it's still a bit choppy.

For the Firefox test, I used an HD clip from "Legend of the Seeker" on Hulu.

Here's the clip in HD (480p), with Adobe Flash Player 10.0.32:

Here's the clip in HD (480p), with Adobe Flash Player 10.1:

This time, there's a significant difference between the two clips. The first clip (v. 10.0.32) had a lot of very noticeable stuttering, while the second clip (v. 10.1) runs fairly smoothly.

Adobe Flash Player 10.1 is definitely an improvement over version 10.0.32, and will probably be a godsend for netbook users. Specifically, the HP Mini 311 stands to benefit the most since it is the first netbook to market packing a GPU -- Nvidia's Ion. Streaming HD video is visibly better with the new version.

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