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 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 may 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 make use of hardware acceleration to play back and/or record higher-quality sound.
- Graphics cards can make use of hardware acceleration to play back higher-quality movies, videos and games faster. They are also better at physics and fast mathematical calculations than a CPU.
- Real-time ray-tracing and DLSS on Nvidia graphics cards is hardware-accelerated, not by the GPU, but by dedicated Tensor and RT cores for those tasks.
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 allows specialized hardware to do the job as 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 are 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 are 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 you 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.
How to Check Whether You Have Hardware Acceleration Enabled In Windows
On an OS level, hardware acceleration will be automatically enabled on your operating system and most likely you won’t be able to tweak it. What you can do, however, is make sure that Hardware-Accelerated GPU Scheduling is enabled.
Hardware-Accelerated GPU Scheduling is a feature added in newer versions of Windows 10 that reduces GPU latency across the board and can even improve performance in a few scenarios.
To enable Hardware-Accelerated GPU Scheduling, simply open Start, type “Graphics settings”, and click the corresponding entry.
In the window that pops up, click the sliders for “Hardware Accelerated GPU Scheduling” and “Variable refresh rate,” if visible. You’ll need to restart after making this change if you want to apply it.
If neither options are visible and you’ve ensured that your graphics drivers are up to date, your card might simply not support these features. At the time of writing, there’s little known reason not to have these enabled when they’re available, but you can disable them if you experience any issues.
Note: If this feature doesn’t appear in Windows for you, you might be putting your machine at risk by forcibly enabling it in registry. Be careful!
If for some reason you wish to force this option on through the registry, open Start, then type “Registry” and click “Registry Editor.”
Once inside your Registry Editor, you’ll want to go to
in the address bar.
Right-click “HwSchMode,” click “Modify,” then set it to 2 for On or 1 for Off if desired.
After a restart, you should be done!
We hope this article helped you come to a better understanding of hardware acceleration and how it’s used in your favorite applications. If you are looking to buy a powerful graphics card that can support hardware acceleration, check out our graphics card buying guide here.
Image Credit: mrtippage on WikiMedia Commons
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