Many of us today spend most of our work and leisure time browsing the web through a browser—and for that time to be spent as productively as possible, the browser in question needs to run fast and smoothly. There is actually an integrated browser setting to help with this, too: Hardware acceleration.
While the option is present in almost every modern web browser, it is buried deep within the screen settings in most cases, so you will not encounter it. However, on many Windows and macOS systems, this can affect how quickly you can get around the web.
How hardware acceleration works
Hardware acceleration means that your browser speeds up its performance by making full use of the hardware available on your computer, Specifically, the hardware components beyond the Central Processing Unit (CPU) that forms the main brain of your system.
The best example is assigning graphically intensive tasks—such as playing high-definition video—to the graphics processing unit (GPU), a dedicated card inside your computer, or something integrated. on the main chipset. The GPU can do the job better, some CPU time is freed up for other tasks, and laptops should also see some benefits in battery life.
It’s not just the GPU, though — your system might have special audio or even AI processing units that your browser can use. Your browser will not know what is available, but it will ask the operating system to divide the workload of the rendering page as efficiently as possible.
You will see the biggest gains on the most complex websites, such as hosting games or sophisticated apps. In the same way that your graphics card can help with an intensive video editing or scene rendering task in a desktop application, it can also help with anything your browser deals with.
Now, all of this seems obvious—of course, you want graphics processors that handle graphics—and this to a certain extent: That’s why hardware acceleration is usually turned on by default. But this idea is still relatively new, as our computers become more powerful, and websites and web apps become more demanding.
Usually, you want to leave hardware acceleration turned on. This can sometimes cause issues, usually on older or slower computers or older websites, so it can still be turned off to help resolve performance issues and bugs.
How to do hardware acceleration
How you turn hardware acceleration on or off will depend on the browser you’re using, but the setting shouldn’t be hard to find. In most cases, you should know that hardware acceleration is already enabled, which gives your browser a performance boost.
In Google Chrome, click the three dots at the top right of the browser window, then Settings: Open the system tab to view the Use hardware acceleration if available toggle switch. A cool addition to Chrome is that you can type “chrome://gpu” in the address bar to see how hardware acceleration is being used in your system’s graphics.
If you’re in Microsoft Edge, click the three dots (top right), then Settings and System and Performance to find the hardware acceleration feature. For those of you using Firefox, click the three horizontal lines (top right), then Settings and general: Under the Manifesting title, Use the recommended performance settings is enabled by default, but if you uncheck it, you can turn hardware acceleration on or off.
Apple tends to make a lot of decisions for its users, and macOS doesn’t have to worry about running on an almost unlimited number of hardware combinations like Windows does. And for those reasons, there is no hardware acceleration option in Safari since macOS Catalina switched on all the time.
As we said, you should only turn off hardware acceleration if you notice buggy browser behavior, and most of the time it should work for you, not against you. Sometimes there are issues with specific hardware components and hardware acceleration, but these are rare now.
For best results, keep your browser, OS, and graphics drivers up-to-date—generally available. This means that every feature level runs on the latest and most modern code.