Introduction

A little over a year ago, we first heard about a company called AGEIA whose goal was to bring high quality physics processing power to the desktop. Today they have succeeded in their mission. For a short while, systems with the PhysX PPU (physics processing unit) have been shipping from Dell, Alienware, and Falcon Northwest. Soon, PhysX add-in cards will be available in retail channels. Today, the very first PhysX accelerated game has been released: Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, and to top off the excitement, ASUS has given us an exclusive look at their hardware.

We have put together a couple benchmarks designed to illustrate the impact of AGEIA's PhysX technology on game performance, and we will certainly comment heavily on our experience while playing the game. The potential benefits have been discussed quite a bit over the past year, but now we finally get a taste of what the first PhysX accelerated games can do.

With NVIDIA and ATI starting to dip their toes into physics acceleration as well (with Havok FX and in-house demos of other technology), knowing the playing field is very important for all parties involved. Many developers and hardware manufacturers will definitely give this technology some time before jumping on the bandwagon, as should be expected. Will our exploration show enough added benefit for PhysX to be worth the investment?

Before we hit the numbers, we want to take another look at the technology behind the hardware.

AGEIA PhysX Technology and GPU Hardware
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  • Walter Williams - Friday, May 05, 2006 - link

    Too bad not even quadcores will be able to outperfrom the PPU when it comes to physics calculations.

    You all need to wait for another game that uses the PPU to be reviewed before jumping to any conclusions.

    The developers of GRAW did a very poor job compared to the developers of CellFactor. This will come to light soon.
    Reply
  • saratoga - Friday, May 05, 2006 - link

    quote:

    Too bad not even quadcores will be able to outperfrom the PPU when it comes to physics calculations.


    quote:

    jumping to any conclusions.


    Haha.
    Reply
  • DerekWilson - Friday, May 05, 2006 - link

    just because something is true about the hardware doesn't mean it will every come to fruition in the software. it isn't jumping to a conclusion to say that the PPU is *capable* of outperforming a quadcore cpu when it comes to physics calculations -- that is a fact, not an opinion due to the architecture.

    had the first quote said something about games that use physics performing better on one rather than the other, that would have been jumping to conclusions.

    the key here is the developers and how the problem of video game physics maps to hardware that is good at doing physics calculations. there are a lot of factors.
    Reply
  • saratoga - Saturday, May 06, 2006 - link

    quote:

    it isn't jumping to a conclusion to say that the PPU is *capable* of outperforming a quadcore cpu when it comes to physics calculations -- that is a fact, not an opinion due to the architecture.


    Its clearly an opinion. For it to be a fact, it would have to be verifiable. However, no one has made a quad core x86 processor, and no game engine has been written to use one.

    The poster simply stated his opinion and then blasted other people for having their own opinions, all without realizing how stupid it sounded which is why it was such a funny post.

    Reply
  • Walter Williams - Saturday, May 06, 2006 - link

    I did not blast anybody...

    It is a simple fact that a dedicated processor for X will always outperfrom a general purpose processor when doing X from a hardware perspective.

    Whether or not the software yields the same results is another question. Assuming that the PCI bus is not holding back performance of the PPU, it is incredibly unlikely that quad core CPUs will be able to outperform the PPU.
    Reply
  • saratoga - Saturday, May 06, 2006 - link

    quote:

    It is a simple fact that a dedicated processor for X will always outperfrom a general purpose processor when doing X from a hardware perspective.


    Clearly false. General purpose processors sometimes beat specialized units. It depends on resources available to each device, and the specifics of the problem. Specialization is a trade off. If your calculation has some very specific and predictable quality, you might design a custom processor that exploits some property of your problem effectively enough to overcome the billions Intel and AMD poured into developing a general purpose core. But you may also end up with an expensive processor thats left behind by off the shelf components :)

    Furthermore, this statement is hopelessly general. What if X is running Linux? Or any other application that x86 CPUs are already specialized for. Can you really concieve of an even specialized processor for this task that didn't resemble a general purpose CPU? Doubtful.

    quote:

    Assuming that the PCI bus is not holding back performance of the PPU, it is incredibly unlikely that quad core CPUs will be able to outperform the PPU.


    You're backpeddleing. You said:

    "Too bad not even quadcores will be able to outperfrom the PPU when it comes to physics calculations."

    Now you're saying they might be able to do it. So much for jumping to conclusions?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, May 05, 2006 - link

    People keep mentioning Cell Factor. Well and good that it uses more physics calculations as well as the PhysX card. Unfortunately, right now it requires the PhysX card and it's looking like 18 MONTHS (!) before the game ships - if it ever gets done. We might as well discuss how much better Havok FX is going to be in The Elder Scrolls V. :p

    For the first generation, we're far more likely to see a lot of the "tacked on" approach as companies add rudimentary support to existing designs. We also don't have a way to even compare Cell Factor with and without PhysX. Are they hiding something? I mean, 15% faster under the AGEIA test demo using a high-end CPU isn't looking like much. If they allow CellFactor to run on software (CPU) PhysX calculations, get that to support SMP systems for the calculations, and we get 2 FPS in Cell Factor, that's great. It shows the PhysX card does soemthing. If they allow all that and the dual core chips end up coming very close to the same performance, we've got a problem.

    Basically, right now we're missing real world (i.e. gaming) apples-to-apples comparisons. It's like comparing X800 to 6800 cards under games that only supported SM3.0 or SM1.1 - better shaders or faster performance, but X800 could have come *much* closer with proper SM2.0 support.
    Reply
  • NastyPope - Friday, May 05, 2006 - link

    AMD & Intel could license the PhysX technology and include a dedicated PhysX (or generic multi-API) core on their processors and market them as game processors. Although some science and technology applications could make use of it as well. Being on-die would reduce latency and provide a huge amount of bandwidth between cores. Accessing system memory could slow things down but still be much faster than data transfers across a PCI bus. Reply
  • Woodchuck2000 - Friday, May 05, 2006 - link

    The reason that framerates drop with the PhysX card installed is simply that the graphics card is given more complex effects to render.

    At some point in the future, games will be coded with a physics API in mind. Interactions between the player and the game environment will be through this API, regardless of whether there is dedicated hardware available.

    It's a truth universally acknowledged that graphics are better left to the graphics card - I don't hear anyone suggesting that the second core in a duallie system should perform all the graphics calculations. I think that in time, this will be true of physics too.

    Once the first generation of games built from the ground up with a physics API in mind come out, this will sell like hot cakes.
    Reply
  • Calin - Friday, May 05, 2006 - link

    The reasons frame rates drop is the fact that with the physics engine, the video card have more to render - in the grenade explosion images, the "with physics" image has tens of dumpster bits flying, while in the "non physics" there are hardly a couple.
    If there would have been the same complexity of scenes, I wonder how much faster the ageia would be
    Reply

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