What’s up with Linux and Mac Flash performance?

I came across this article on Ars Technica a while ago while looking for ways to improve Flash performance on my two Ubuntu machines. I wanted to see if there was a way to get YouTube clips to play properly. Both my 1 GHz Pentium III and the 1.6 GHz Atom have trouble with Flash videos and especially it seems with Flash’s full screen mode.

Ars tested how much CPU load YouTube caused on some pretty interesting machines.

ComputerOSCPU load
MacBook Air 1.6 GHzOSX70%
Mac Pro Quad 2.66 GHzOSX40%
Mac Pro Quad 2.66 GHzVista6%

I knew Flash was slow under MacOS 9, but I never would have guessed it to be more than 6 times slower under OSX. A small web video that pushes a monster of a dual Xeon machine to 40% cpu load is ridiculous.

Linux

It’s very unfortunate that Ars opted not to publish numbers for their YouTube test under Linux. They do however mention worse numbers for a different test. Worse compared to Mac that is. This explains why my netbook is struggling with large Flash movies under Ubuntu when I had no trouble with this under XP.

So what’s up with Flash on non-windows operating systems? Are fundamental architectural differences keeping Flash from performing decently or is Adobe simply way behind in optimizing their player for other platforms?

Improving YouTube playback on Linux

Flash Player 10 offers a significant perfomance boost over version 9, so I recommend upgrading to it if you haven’t already. I also noticed that, on slower machines, turning off hardware acceleration (right-click a flash movie, uncheck the box on the display tab) can help boost performance.

For YouTube and Firefox there’s a greasemonkey script that circomvents Flash altogether and uses VLC to play the videos. This makes them play completely smoothly in full screen mode, but the controls (stop, play, skip, etc) don’t seem to work.

10 Comments

  1. The turning off hardware accleration fixed 90% of the problem, thanks.

    Comment by Sean — March 13, 2009 @ 10:07 pm

  2. Roy,

    I have a MacIntel so I empathise wholeheartedly. But disabling the Flash Player 10 ‘hardware acceleration’ setting did nothing for me whatsoever.

    Adobe are just useless at porting their software for OS X. Whether it’s Photoshop, Flash Pro or any other myriad software they produce, their Mac versions are ALWAYS resource hogs.

    It’s as though they develop in VB for WIndows, then press a quick and dirty ‘Export for Unix’ button. They just don’t know how to produce SW for unix-based systems.

    Comment by Pete — August 10, 2009 @ 8:39 am

  3. Yep. Not only that, I’ve seen quadcore G5 Macs with decent video cards brought to their knees trying
    to play HD flash video. This turkey of a standard needs to be abandoned but so many webvertisements
    use it we’re probably stuck with it. It’s lousy with a capital L. Just now I played the Robin Moore video on
    youtube “Performance” in HD and it was running with 129% CPU utilization on a 2.5 ghz dual G5 with
    Safari 4.0.4 and while the audio was rock solid, the video was laughably slow, dropping frames and
    stuttering to the point that it was still trying to display frames from earlier in the video long after the music
    actually ended. Pathetic. There was a thread on this over at macnn.com but since the G5 and PPC
    architecture is abandoned at this point it’s doubtful it will ever be fixed.

    Comment by Pod — November 26, 2009 @ 1:31 am

  4. Things are looking up though, with Flash 10.1 supporting hardware acceleration of Flash video. Without hardware support even a quicktime or avi 1080p requires a lot of cpu power, let alone within a browser plugin. Flash isn’t so bad, and Adobe seems to working on improvements for Linux and Mac. Let’s hope they bridge the gap before html5 takes over :).

    Comment by Roy — November 26, 2009 @ 8:53 am

  5. Lets hope adobe dies in the very fires it sets.

    10.1 Roy, does not support hardware acceleration on the mac or linux. Honestly, It completely depends on the codecs. To be honest, i totally hate that company.

    “Hey lets create PDF, that way anyone can read digital documents!”

    “great idea, but then, lets add 400 new useless features alla MS word so that pdf’s made with Acrobat 7 can’t be opened with 6!!, they’ll be forced to upgrade!!$!!!

    fuck proprietary standards.

    Comment by Jesse — March 22, 2010 @ 9:35 pm

    • Adobe has said that they’re working on Linux and Mac hardware support. Considering how Linux is ahead of even Windows with this, I have high hopes. And yes, codec support is pretty poor, but considering how they were using a single, proprietary codec only years ago they’re heading in the right direction.

      But more importantly, Flash isn’t just about video, and will be less so when HTML5 comes along. It’s also the most used tool for data visualization and games. Thats where hardware support is going to be making a big difference.

      I agree in part about Adobe though, only in my case it’s the prices of their software that bug me most. CS4 costs twice what my PC did. I don’t use PDF much, and with OpenOffice and a 3rd party alternative viewer when I do.

      Comment by Roy — March 25, 2010 @ 3:11 pm

  6. you asked: So what’s up with Flash on non-windows operating systems? Are fundamental architectural differences keeping Flash from performing decently or is Adobe simply way behind in optimizing their player for other platforms?

    and answered your own question:
    For YouTube and Firefox there’s a greasemonkey script that circomvents Flash altogether and uses VLC to play the videos. This makes them play completely smoothly in full screen mode,

    So it is NOT a fundamental architectural problem. Adobe is just lazy. They don’t care about Mac or Linux, so they don’t code properly and efficiently on these plattforms. If VLC can, so also flash must be able to.

    Comment by nigratruo — May 12, 2010 @ 2:32 am

    • Hi Nigratuo. If Flash did nothing else but play video, that would be true. I’m sure Adobe has neglected their Mac player for a long time, but the comparison would only be fair if VLC played interactive SWF files as well. Also, VLC plays most formats better than the official player, so it’s not a fair benchmark ;).

      Comment by Roy — May 12, 2010 @ 7:48 am

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