Electronista has a post reporting that Adobe has a new Flash preview release dubbed “Gala” (10.1.81.3). With the arrival of “Gala” Adobe has added support for H.264 video hardware decoding on Macs with OS X 10.6.3 and NVIDIA GeForce 9400M, GeForce 320M or GeForce GT 330M graphics chips. Since I own a 15″ unibody Macbook Pro with an NVIDIA 9400M I decided to see how much of a performance difference the new Flash build might offer. For my testing I didn’t use any traditional benchmarking suite, so please take the results accordingly. I do think my tests should represent a “real world” type scenario. Basically, I played back a 720p HD video from YouTube and monitored the resulting Flash Player Plug-in CPU load in Activity Monitor. I found that when running the test on the latest “non-Gala” version of Flash the CPU load on my 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Macbook Pro with 4GB of RAM went up to about 90% CPU utilization. Also the fans on my Macbook kicked in about halfway through the video which runs about 4:30.
When I ran the same video after installing the “Gala” build of Flash I saw a significant drop in CPU usage. The CPU load hovered between 30 and 40%, roughly about a 50 to 60% decrease in load. I also didn’t have my fans kick in.
With “Gala”, you can tell when the Flash hardware decoding has kicked in by the appearance of a small white square in the corner of the video. Adobe says that in addition to improved playback of H.264 video the hardware enhanced version of Flash should also result in improved battery life. Might be welcome benefit for long Hulu video watching sessions when away from a power outlet.
To be fair I also switch YouTube over to the HTML 5 beta and tested the same video at 720p. Again in my very non-scientific benchmark test I noted that Safari’s CPU load went up to about 20% with the video playing.