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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  • marbles - Saturday, December 22, 2007 - link

    We represent a very small fraction of PC gamers and users and even many of us are not sure we'll ever buy a PPU card. From someone who has repaired and built PCs over the years and has spent hours explaining the difference between "free" onboard graphics and 700.00 graphics cards I don't want to have to explain a PPU.

    Look at the Geo mod capability in Red Faction (7 yrs ago) and the physics incorporated into the Source engine (3 yrs ago). They all came "free" because of the willingness of the game maker to make this work and keep the game playable on a reasonable PC. Look at Fracture out next year for the PPU-less 360 and PS3.

    The quality of popular PC franchises are already being compromised for consoles so there is little hope that a PC specific PPU will ever be required to play any game. I think AGEIA's best hope for the PC is middleware and having their technology integrated into main boards or graphic cards.

    Are these two UT3 maps available for the consoles?
    Reply
  • perzy - Wednesday, December 19, 2007 - link

    The CPU is dead! The future is dicrete processors.
    The heat wall is a not a bump in the road, it IS a wall.
    Look at chipzilla that had a concussion rammin it's head in the wall, spent 4-5 years redesigning then pentium m to core 2 duo.
    AMD bought a gpu-manufacturer that still has a few years of developing before the heat wall and Intel bought Havok and is quietly gearing up it's own dicrete gpu-dept.
    Nvidia seems to be working on worlddomination on their own, or just trying to boost their own value before being bought by chipzilla.
    Sure you can have maybe 16 cores (heatwall + power envelope) on a CPU but still they are slow and they dont have their own superfast dedicated ram.
    So Ageia is right on the mark, how far they now seem to be from it.
    Reply
  • 0roo0roo - Sunday, December 16, 2007 - link

    give me all the physics you can on a 2 or 4 core cpu and go on from there. a phyx card does nothing during normal use. its dead weight. i'd rather pay for a nicer cpu or gpu which are used in some way 100% of the time. there just isn't a killer game play app for the ppu. stacking boxes is already possible and not that compelling. developing a ppu only killer app game isn't really something i can see happening. while they wait for that miracle to come by cpus will creep up and surpass the card anyways:P Reply
  • Francisbacon - Monday, December 24, 2007 - link

    You're absolutely correct.

    Games developers will only take PPUs seriously once a lot of people have them, and this will only be the case once Nvidia and ATI start shipping graphics cards with PPUs on-board.

    This is not too far off, Nvidia and ATI are both known to be working on including physics on their next generation of cards.

    Buying a bodge-job like this, a PCI expansion card which actually offers very little in the way of power and only really affects one mainstream game in a very minor way is a total waste of money right now. It's far more sensible to upgrade your CPU and wait for physics-enabled graphics cards to come out.

    On top of all this, I'm fairly certain exactly the same results could have been acheived by fully utilising all four cores of the CPU, but the Ageia modders chose not to, for obvious reasons.
    Reply
  • Francisbacon - Monday, December 24, 2007 - link

    You're absolutely correct.

    Games developers will only take PPUs seriously once a lot of people have them, and this will only be the case once Nvidia and ATI start shipping graphics cards with PPUs on-board.

    This is not too far off, Nvidia and ATI are both known to be working on including physics on their next generation of cards.

    Buying a bodge-job like this, a PCI expansion card which actually offers very little in the way of power and only really affects one mainstream game in a very minor way is a total waste of money right now. It's far more sensible to upgrade your CPU and wait for physics-enabled graphics cards to come out.

    On top of all this, I'm fairly certain exactly the same results could have been acheived by fully utilising all four cores of the CPU, but the Ageia modders chose not to, for obvious reasons.
    Reply
  • Sacher - Sunday, December 16, 2007 - link

    Nice in-depth article. I'm wondering, what did you (Ryan) have the texture-detail and world-detail [advanced video] settings at?

    Does the physics load change when using different world-detail settings?
    Reply
  • FITCamaro - Friday, December 14, 2007 - link

    While performance didn't increase that much with the PPU on the real maps, did the game look better? You didn't answer this. If I get noticeable better effects with the PPU and the same performance as without, thats a win to me. If it just displays the same effects as without the PPU just faster, then no its not worth it.

    Physics is not about increasing the FPS of a game. It's about making it more realistic and immersive.
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Friday, December 14, 2007 - link

    We mentioned this elsewhere in the article, but the effects are the same. Enabling the PhysX hardware only offloads them to the PPU, it doesn't create any new effects. Reply
  • ET - Friday, December 14, 2007 - link

    For a low end or old system, an inexpensive card which could offer a performance boost would have been welcome. However these tests show more of a performance gain on the quad core than the dual core. While this might mean that people with money to spare (high end quad core users) may be able to get even more performance for relatively little (compared to their CPU's price), low end buyers can't get as much of a boost.

    Which sounds to me backwards. If I could get a significant performance boost for my semi-old PC, I might have been more interested.
    Reply
  • SuperGee - Sunday, December 16, 2007 - link

    That is because a lowbudged game rig has several bottlenecks and if this is GPU holding back FPS, ofloading a not so bottlenck like CPU yields not much in such case.
    As most game tend to be GPU limited. And a old or low budged PC wil often be most limited on GPU.
    A PPU isn't ment for offloading but for more Physics. This means a decent game-rig is needed to use a PPU properly with a physics load made for PPU.

    A PPU is more ment for Physics enthausiast, early adopter, hardcore gamers or highbudged rigs. To play PhysX games in optimal settings.

    The QC yield so much because the benched it with a less GPU stressing setting. Wich is not the way people game with a high-end game PC.
    Reply

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