What Is Hardware Acceleration and Why Does It Matter

Chances are you’ve seen a “hardware acceleration” option when using various applications and devices. You may have even needed to enable or disable it to boost performance/prevent bugs in one of your favorite applications, but you may not have known why.

In this article we’ll explain everything you need to know about hardware acceleration and whether or not your apps might benefit from using it.

Defining Hardware Acceleration


Hardware acceleration is a term used to describe tasks being offloaded to devices and hardware which specialize in it. By default in most computers and applications the CPU is taxed, first and foremost, before other pieces of hardware are. While this is fine in most general usage cases, especially if someone has a strong CPU, there are others where it might be smart for your computer to utilize the other components in your system. This is where hardware acceleration comes into play, and we’ll give a few popular usage cases:

  • Sound cards can be utilized by hardware acceleration to allow higher-quality playback and recording of sound.
  • Graphics cards can be utilized by hardware acceleration to allow quicker, higher-quality playback of movies, videos and games. They are also better at physics and fast mathematical calculations than a CPU.

While hardware acceleration can be defined as pretty much any task that’s offloaded to something that isn’t the CPU, GPUs and sound cards are typically the most popular examples used throughout your software. Your CPU alone is technically capable of anything that these devices can do, especially if it boasts integrated graphics (as many do nowadays), but allowing specialized hardware to do the job is typically the better option.

Why You May Need to Disable It


Unfortunately, hardware acceleration doesn’t always work as smoothly as it should. The first time I recall encountering the option was when I disabled it in Chrome, because it was seemingly making my browser run much less stably. Here’s the cases where you should probably disable hardware acceleration:

  • If your CPU is really strong and your other components are really weak, acceleration may actually be ineffective in comparison to just letting the powerhouse take care of things. Additionally, if your components are prone to overheating/are damaged in any way, intensive use through hardware acceleration may be causing problems you wouldn’t experience otherwise.
  • The software designed to utilize the hardware isn’t doing it well or can’t run as stably as it does when using only the CPU. This is a common reason to disable hardware acceleration in an app’s options, unfortunately, but it does happen.

When You Should Enable It


Of course, hardware acceleration isn’t all bad. When working as intended, it’s actually pretty great. Here’s some cases where you should enable hardware acceleration in your apps:

  • When you have a powerful, stable GPU, enabling hardware acceleration will allow you to utilize it to its full extent in all supported applications, not just your games. In Chrome, GPU hardware acceleration typically allows much smoother browsing and media consumption.
  • In video editing/rendering programs like Sony Vegas (or streaming programs like OBS), enabling hardware acceleration can allow one to utilize specialized hardware located in supported devices, typically the GPU or CPU. (Intel QuickSync, for instance, is an addition to their modern CPUs designed for fast video rendering/encoding).

In short, enable hardware acceleration wherever you can, if you have good hardware, and disable it if you have bugs/stability issues. Let us know if you have any more questions!

Christopher Harper Christopher Harper

I'm a longtime gamer, computer nerd, and general tech enthusiast.


    1. Hi Dan..thanks for the informative article on hardware acceleration! My comment is really a question. In addition to the question posed above, which i would like to know the answer to, I have an older desktop running WindowsXP, which I use to play Flight Simulator, which I think is pretty ” graphics intensive”. Whenever I open FS, I get a message that “Safe Mode has been enabled your system is currently unable to use hardware acceleration “. The game then begins and works fine. What is going on here? I would appreciate your answer very much! Thanks, Larry B.

      1. Larry,
        I think you intended your reply for the true author, Christopher Harper (who is not me).

          1. I’m a bit late responding here, but it’s likely the option to enable/disable hardware acceleration is within most programs that use it, rather than a general windows setting. Google should help, but as an example I was able to disable hardware acceleration on all Microsoft programs (PowerPoint, Excel, etc.) to try and reduce the masses of crashing I get on them.

  1. You have a issue with Google Chrome and they tell you to disable hardware acceleration. Its almost too simple minded to just tell users to turn it off. It does probably help only because your removing a layer of complexity not using GPU as much to split the graphical load with CPU. I’ve had just as much luck telling people to run your PC in performance mode and not balanced or battery saving. Because the system throttles both CPU and GPU enough to affect a Google Chrome or any app that takes advantage of hardware acceleration. Certainly systems with better hardware have much less issue with this. One has to wonder why Google recommends defeating hardware acceleration when in fact this should help not hurt performance. Why Chromebooks seem immune to this running bare minimum hardware? Why is this primarily a Windows and to lessor extent a MacOS issue? If users are benefiting from turning off hardware acceleration, then what’s really the point of it to be on in the first place? Was this a good thing until Intel began throttling aggressively the CPU and GPU to conserve energy? Are the castrated mobile CPU’s to blame for simply under clocking too much? I know users running Intel Core 2 CPU’s and Chrome who have absolutely no complaints on performance. How can this be?

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