A GPU-Powered Shopping Experience with

July 7th, 2010

A few weeks ago, we talked about the performance characteristics of our Flickr Explorer sample. We showed how hardware acceleration benefits real world scenarios such as browsing photos, and how easily web developers can build these types of applications.

Recently, we released a new set of demos alongside the third IE9 Platform Preview. Today we’re going to discuss the Amazon Shelf concept application (also see the companion Channel 9 video).

Much like Flickr Explorer, Amazon Shelf is written using standard HTML, CSS and Javascript. Amazon Shelf also incorporates a key new HTML5 feature – the canvas element. Canvas is an incredibly powerful way to draw directly to the screen using simple Javascript API calls.

When you launch Amazon Shelf, you’re shown a list of the top selling books from Amazon. This data is retrieved using the Amazon Product Advertising API. You can search for specific books, browse, and “open” books to view detailed information and customer reviews.

This demo uses common patterns that you find across many interactive web applications and games. There is one main loop that updates the books and other objects on the screen, and performs simple hit testing to support interacting with the elements on the canvas.

Canvas, like all graphics in IE9, is fully hardware accelerated by default. When IE9 users browse to a website that uses canvas, IE will automatically leverage the full capabilities of the PC to provide a great experience with levels of performance not possible with today’s browsers. Using IE9, Amazon Shelf is generally able to maintain a responsiveness of 60 frames per second, which is considered realtime. Today’s browsers are only able to achieve framerates of 1-8fps which is a small fraction of the performance provided by IE9.

We recently blogged about using the Windows Performance Tools to analyze browser performance. Using these tools, we’ve taken some measurements of loading Amazon Shelf in the top browsers available today. We used the same hardware and methodology discussed in the past. Let’s look at the CPU and GPU activity graphs to better understand how the demo performs in these browsers.

Note: Internet Explorer 8 is not included in this comparison since it does not support the Canvas element.

First up is Chrome 5. Chrome is able to update the screen once every 0.99 seconds, yielding a frame rate of about 1 FPS during the bookshelf load animation. This results in a very slow, choppy experience. One core on this dual core machine is fully utilized, and the GPU is not employed by the browser at all.

Here are the results for Safari 5. During the load animation, Safari does not attempt to render the scene at all, resulting in an effective 0 frames per second. Again, one core on the CPU is fully utilized and the GPU remains untouched.

Next up, Firefox 4 Beta. We used Minefield 4.0b2pre nightly for this analysis. Again, our tests ran this latest nightly build of Firefox (like all the others) in the default configuration. This means hardware rendering with the GPU was not enabled in Firefox.

Here are the results for Firefox. The animation is rendered properly, and the screen is updated twice every .25 seconds, yielding a frame rate of about 8 FPS.

Finally, let’s take a look at Internet Explorer 9 Platform Preview 3. We see that IE9’s full usage of the GPU results in a steady, smooth frame rate of 60 FPS. The CPU handles the task without any trouble and rests frequently while the GPU renders Amazon Shelf to the screen.

There is a meaningful difference in the experience when running the demo in IE9 compared to other browsers. Check out Amazon Shelf on to see for yourself.

We’d like to thank Amazon for their help in putting this demo together, and embracing the new GPU powered, standards based markup enabled by Internet Explorer 9.

Our team can’t wait to see what other graphically rich experiences web developers armed with hardware accelerated Canvas will dream up!

Seth McLaughlin
Program Manager for IE Performance