It’s been a little more than a year and a half since AGEIA launched the PhysX PPU, and so far it’s fair to say that the product has been teetering on being a dud. As we’ve discussed in pervious articles, AGEIA has been battling both technical hurdles (extra PPU work dragging down the GPU) and software hurdles. When we discussed the issue over two years ago when AGEIA announced the PPU, we highlighted the likely problems that AGEIA would end up having getting developers to use their technology and unfortunately for AGEIA this has effectively come true: we can count the number of AAA titles released that support the PhysX hardware on one hand, in fact we’ve even benchmarked all of them. As the late Rodney Dangerfield would say, AGEIA just isn’t getting no respect.

As the average software development cycle is two-to-four years, the first products designed from scratch with PhysX support are just now emerging. It’s a short list. After a flurry of initial announcements, there aren’t a lot of well-known games on the horizon that are known to be supporting PhysX. And while this would probably be a swan song under any other circumstances, AGEIA has scored just a couple of significant wins as of late that will be keeping them in the game.

First and foremost is that for the time being their biggest competition is dead. GPU acceleration of physics, in spite of operating on a similar time table, has not panned out. The announcement of this technology and subsequent promise has certainly knocked some of the wind out of AGEIA’s operations, and the threat of a real GPU physics solution is always looming on the horizon (especially with AMD’s recent comments on DirectX 11). But with Intel’s acquisition of physics-leader Havok and the disappearance of their Havok FX package under mysterious circumstances, for the time being AGEIA can enjoy the fact that PhysX is the only game in town for hardware accelerated physics when it comes to gaming.

The other and far more important piece of news however is that in spite of drought of games supporting PhysX, AGEIA managed to get a single win some time back which is finally coming to fuition, and that win may very well make everything else irrelevant. That win? Epic’s Unreal Engine 3.

As game development costs have increased, studios have turned to licensing game engines rather than developing their own. For this generation of hardware and engines, there’s no bigger player in the market than Epic, whose Unreal Engine 3 has been licensed at a mind numbing rate. This has been fantastic news for AGEIA, who now is the default middleware provider for a significant percentage of first person shooters to be released over the next few years. With their troubles getting developers to adopt PhysX elsewhere, AGEIA needs PhysX support on Unreal Engine 3 games to be utilized to make or break the hardware.

Although several Unreal Engine 3 games have shipped since last year, Epic has still been hammering down the PC version of the engine and its PhysX hardware support. Only now has an Unreal Engine 3 game shipped with PhysX hardware support, Epic’s Unreal Tournament 3. With UT3 having shipped, AGEIA has reached a milestone: Unreal Engine 3 is finally shipping to developers with full PhysX hardware support, and a AAA game has finally shipped that can use PhysX for first-order physics, and a welcome change for all parties from previous AAA games that have only used second-order physics.

To get an idea of how PhysX will perform under the Unreal Engine 3, we’ll benchmark UT3 with and without PhysX hardware acceleration. While every game using the engine will be different and making strong predictions from a single datapoint isn’t possible, it will none the less give us an idea of what we can expect with future Unreal Engine 3 titles. Furthermore UT3 is a big enough title on its own that it can justify & drive PhysX sales if the performance is there, which with be the other major aspect we will be looking at today.

AGEIA’s Mod Pack & The Test
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  • SignalPST - Friday, December 14, 2007 - link

    On a unrelated note, does anyone know if the retail game shipped includes high resolution textures? People were complaining that the demo didn't include it, and the in-game graphics don't compare with anything like those eye-popping screenshots Epic teased us with. Reply
  • cubanx - Friday, December 14, 2007 - link

    They are included but not the default. If you mess around with the settings you can get quality near the screen shots they released .

    Here's one tweak guide http://www.tweakguides.com/UT3_1.html">http://www.tweakguides.com/UT3_1.html
    Reply
  • Dainas - Friday, December 14, 2007 - link

    ....And yet there still is NO PCIe PhysX card available for purchase.

    Heres another question for AGEIA; with dwindling PCI classic slots on todays motherboard, how do they expect people to use their products if there's no where to put it?
    Reply
  • poohbear - Friday, December 14, 2007 - link

    i hear u man. i have 1 soundcard and 1 wifi card and my other pci slot is blocked by the aftermarket cooler on my x1900xt, so there's simply no room for this card on pci even if i wanted to buy it.:p Reply
  • goku - Monday, December 17, 2007 - link

    get an ethernet to wifi converter, that way you can use the onboard ethernet on your motherboard.
    http://www.dslreports.com/shownews/Buffalo-Launche...">http://www.dslreports.com/shownews/Buff...Launches...

    I'm sure there are others on the market as well.. I personally hate wifi and avoid it as much as possible. If I can get a wired connection, I'll use that first, even if it means running a line through the walls 50FT+ in order to get it.
    Reply
  • SuperGee - Sunday, December 16, 2007 - link

    That's choice there are more add-on's then ATX provide slot's for.
    This is not Ageia's problem. But more a choice the consumer must make.
    Well I have a spare PCI slot next to my PPU. I realy don't have much in it a G-card and a PPU.

    If for example choose for triple SLI you made a choice to blow away 3 to 9 slots.

    Or must have a prof.RaidContoller and TV-card next to SLI. Then it get crowded with a soundcard..

    And it not long ago that the populair sound card manufacturer offer a PCI-E sound card.

    Reply
  • Mr Alpha - Friday, December 14, 2007 - link

    I believe there is a PCIe x1 version of the PhysX card sold to OEMs. There was a story somewhere that said AGEIA was going to release the PhysX PCIe x1 card into retail, but decided not to when it turned out that it wouldn't work on a significant portion of the motherbaords with PCIe x1 slots, because the slots weren't implemented in accordance to PCIe specs. Something about out of spec jitter was mentioned.

    There is something Anandtech has been missing from their motherboard reviews: Do the PCIe x1 slots actually work?
    Reply
  • PandaBear - Friday, December 14, 2007 - link

    In Today's multi core CPU, unless you need to do physics with say 16 different threads, you would in theory ease 1 core out of all.

    Say the physics processor can do 1/2 of a CPU core's work (unlikely), then on a single core you gain 50% performance, dual core you gain 1/4, quad core 1/8.

    Compare to how much of that work in theory could be done on a GPU (it's just math), and say it has the performance of 4 of the 48 shader's performance, you get 1/12 of a gain in GPU.

    Now in practice, splitting work across a slow bus like PCIe, PCI, or HT are going to slow it down even more, with additional I/O work on both ends you are going to gain almost nothing (exactly where it is now).

    I think if the market gets big enough, Nvidia or AMD will put one in their GPU, Intel/AMD will 1up each other by putting it in instead of wasting all the die space for cache. A dedicated physics processor on a bus as a card will never make it big.
    Reply
  • Spoelie - Friday, December 14, 2007 - link

    Your logic is completely flawed, since you do not know anything about the varying workloads, how good each type of chip is at each workload and how the workloads compare relatively.

    Specifically at physics calculation workloads, a PPU chip is a multitude of times faster than a cpu core. (Note the use of chip and core, since a ppu is more a collection of minicores). What this means is that when you peg one core of your multicore CPU at 100% load with solely physics threads, it is still way slower than a ppu, and thus can not handle the same physics workloads.

    The actual performance boost is thus completely dependent on how big a workload the physics part of the application is. And current games do not have a big physics workload, partly because without a ppu the processing power is just not there.
    Reply

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