Chrome 17 just launched yesterday, but today, the development team announced the next beta of Chrome. This new beta includes improved support for hardware-accelerated 2D graphics using Canvas, as well as the promise of better 3D performance for users on older operating systems like Windows XP.
Better 3D for Slower Machines
To enable better 3D performance on older machines and graphics card that can't make user of modern technologies like WebGL, Google has licensed TransGaming's SwiftShader software rasterizer. This is basically a piece of software that emulates a graphics card to render 3D images. TransGaming advertises SwiftShader as being "100 times faster than traditional software renderers such as Microsoft's Direct3D® Reference Rasterizer." Google will automatically enable SwiftShader for beta users whose computers can't run content on their graphics cards.
Tweaking Chrome's 2D GPU Hardware Acceleration
By using hardware acceleration for 2D Canvas elements on a page, Google can bring some significant speed improvements to users with more capable machines as well. Chrome has long featured some forms of hardware acceleration, but mostly in experimental form. Whether they know it or not, most Chrome users at this point already use their graphics card to draw 2D Canvas elements, but in this latest beta, the Chrome team has tweaked the code to the point where it apparently felt it needed to announce this change as it could actually break things.
Here is a nice little demo that uses 2D Canvas if you want to see it in action.
If you are currently using the stable release channel and feel like you could use a bit more adventure in your life, you can join the Chrome beta channel here. As always, keep in mind that this is beta software and could crash at any time (though Chrome's beta releases are generally very stable).