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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  • Clauzii - Monday, May 08, 2006 - link

    Youre right.. have to wait and see what happens whith drivers/PCIe then... Reply
  • Hypernova - Friday, May 05, 2006 - link

    They should have waited for cellfactor's release as a launch line up for aegia. First impression is important and the glued on approach of GRAW is nothing but negative publicity for aegia. Not everyone knows that physx was nothing more of a patched addon to havok in GRAW and will think that this is how the cards will turn out.

    If you can't do it right then don't do it at all. GRAW's implementation was a complete failure, even for a first generation product.
    Reply
  • segagenesis - Friday, May 05, 2006 - link

    As much as I would want to give them the benefit of the doubt... With what you say its that simple really. Most gamers (at least ones I know?) want worry free performance, and if spending extra money on hardware results in worse performance then this product will be short lived.

    I watched the non-game PhysX demos and they looked really damn cool, but they really should have worked on making a PCI-E version from the start... boards with PCI slots are already becoming dated, and those that have 16x slots for graphics have at least the small 1x slot!
    Reply
  • nullpointerus - Friday, May 05, 2006 - link

    I wouldn't say it was a complete failure. IMO the benchmarks were quite disappointing, and this was compounded by the lack of effects configurability in the game, but the videos were quite compelling. If you look at the dumpster (?), you can see that not only does the lid blow off but it bends and crumples. If we see more than just canned animations in better games (Cell Factor?), then this $300 should be worth its cost to high-end gamers. I'd say Aegia is off to a rough start, not an implosion. Reply
  • DerekWilson - Friday, May 05, 2006 - link

    There are quite a few other things PhysX does in the game as well -- though they all are kinda "tacked on" as well. You noticed the lid of the dumpster which only pops open undersoftware. In hardware it is a seperate object that can go flying around depending on the explosion. The same is true of car doors and other similar parts -- under software they'll just pop open, but with hardware they go flying if hit right.

    It is also interesting to add that the explosions and such are scripted under software, but much of it becomes physically simulated under hardware. While this fact is kinda interesting, it really doesn't matter to the gamer in this title. But for other games that make more extensive use of the hardware, it could be quite useful.
    Reply
  • nullpointerus - Friday, May 05, 2006 - link

    That should be very cool. I was playing F.E.A.R. recently and decided to rake my SMG over a bunch of glass panes in an "office" level. Initially, it looked and sounded good because I have the settings cranked up reasonably high, but then I noticed all the glass panes were breaking in exactly the same way. Rather disappointing... Reply
  • DigitalFreak - Friday, May 05, 2006 - link

    ... may use the Gamebryo engine, but it uses Havok for physics. Reply
  • Bull Dog - Friday, May 05, 2006 - link

    You are correct and I noticed that the first time I read the article. Reply
  • DerekWilson - Friday, May 05, 2006 - link

    Sorry if what I said wasn't clear enough -- I'll add that Oblivion uses Havok. Reply
  • peternelson - Friday, May 05, 2006 - link


    In your introduction you might have mentioned there are TWO partners for bringing this technology to market: Asus and BFG Tech.

    Both have shipping boards. I wonder if they perform identically or if there is some difference.

    I agree that PCI could be a bottleneck, but I'm more concerned that putting a lot of traffic on the pci bus will impair my OTHER pci devices.

    PCIE x1 would have been much more sensible. I hope that they won't need a respin to add pcie functionality but fear this may be the case.

    I agree Cellfactor looks more heavy use of physics so may make the difference with/without PPU more noticeable/measurable.

    I also wonder how much the memory size on the Physx board matters? Maybe a second gen board could double that to 256. I'm also interested in whether PPU could be given some abstraction layer and programmed to do non-physics useful calculations as is being done on graphics cards now. This might speed its adoption.

    I agree with the post that in volume, this kind of chip could find its way onto 3d graphics cards for gaming. As BFG make GPU cards, they might move that direction.
    Reply

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