FRAMINGHAM 7 MARCH 2011 - Mozilla has urged users to update their graphics cards' drivers if they want to take advantage of Firefox 4's hardware acceleration.
Last Friday, Benoit Jacob, who works on Mozilla's platform engineering team, spelled out why users should verify that their computers, especially PCs powered by Windows, have the latest graphics drivers.
"When we turned these features on by default in nightly builds around September last year, and then in [Firefox 4] Beta 7, crash statistics and bug reports quickly showed that bugs in graphics drivers were often making these features misbehave," Jacob said in a blog post. "We reacted by selectively disabling these new features on buggy drivers, based on the large amounts of information collected by beta testers."
To prevent crashes, Mozilla created a list of graphics drivers that Firefox 4 reads; if a driver is on the "blocklist," the browser disables hardware acceleration.
Last year, Mozilla added hardware acceleration to Firefox 4. The technology shifts browser page rendering and composition chores from the computer's CPU to its graphics processor.
Mozilla followed in Microsoft's acceleration footsteps in August when it rolled out Firefox 4 Beta 4, the first preview which included the technology.
When Microsoft announced its Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) in November 2009, it kick-started the push for hardware acceleration by promising that the new browser would boost page content rendering and composition speeds on Windows Vista and Windows XP.
Unlike IE9, Firefox 4 supports partial hardware acceleration on Windows XP, still the most popular version of Windows. It does that by calling on the Direct3D API, which the old operating system supports, rather than Windows Direct2D and Direct3D APIs, which are available only in Vista and Windows 7.
Jacob said that Windows users must have a "very recent driver" if their machine sports an Intel graphics card; version 257.21 or newer for Nvidia cards; and version 10.6 or newer for AMD's ATI-branded cards.
"Unfortunately, certain computer manufacturers do not allow end users to upgrade drivers on their own," said Jacob on Friday. "Hopefully these manufacturers will eventually give their users these much needed graphics driver updates."
Mozilla has published a more detailed list of the Intel graphics cards and associated drivers supported by Firefox 4's hardware acceleration.
Firefox 4 on Mac OS X relies on OpenGL to accelerate some aspects of page construction and rendering. Mac users must have Mac OS X 10.6.3 or later to support all Firefox 4's acceleration.
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