Final Words

To sum up what the hardware will offer consumers at the outset, here’s what we are looking at: 32000 rigid body objects, soft body objects, fluids, particle systems (40-50 thousand particles), and collision detections. The end result will range from cooler special effects in games (explosions, cloth-like clothing, and massive particle systems) to totally interactive environments (where anything and everything can be pushed, pulled, thrown or otherwise destroyed in a realistic way).

Currently, rather than a direct hardware API, the features of the PPU will be accessed via the NovodeX SDK. This physics engine was bought by AGEIA and built to use either software physics simulation or the PhysX hardware. This gives developers some flexibility to develop software that works with or without the hardware.

AGEIA would like to have hardware support from other SDKs, but currently only their in house engine adds hardware support. Of course, there are already some games that are built using NovodeX. And more are coming. Epic and Ubisoft (among others) announced that they will be using NovodeX and building in support for hardware accelerated physics through the PhysX PPU. With future Unreal Engine 3 and Ubisoft games supporting a PPU, AGEIA has a good start ahead of them.

The hardware itself is a 125 million transistor chip built on TSMC’s 130nm process. All we know about architecture is that it’s built with lots of data moving capability by networking experts. They’ve got parallel floating point hardware connected internally and externally to lots of bandwidth. The architecture is inherently different from that of current CPUs or a GPU.

We say it’s different than current CPUs because it’s possible that someone could integrate application specific physics hardware onto a CPU in the future. At the same time, there is one architecture on the horizon that could fit physics better than Intel’s approach: Cell. The fact that SPEs are able to access each other’s local stores means that (depending on internal bus availability) sharing data between parallel tasks will be much easier. We will have to wait for more architectural details of PhysX and Cell to leak out before we can tell how good one is with respect to the other (for physics processing).

Consumer acceptance is key to the success of the PPU. And in order for people to accept the product, we will need to see other physics engine support (Havok would be nice) and, ultimately, games. In this case, people won’t be interested unless game developers embrace the hardware. Hopefully developers will see the potential in added physics power and will embrace the product for its ability to make their games better.

Right now, AGEIA is talking about pricing on the order of graphics card. They aren’t sure of cost right now, but they could introduce multiple SKUs that fit different price points and have different processing power. It is more likely that we’ll see one part come to the market place. If the PPU flies, we might see more variety.

At first, we can’t expect a new genre of incredibly interactive games. The first few games that adopt the PPU will tack it on like the first few games that embraced hardware 3D. We’ll start by seeing effects enhancement (like more particles and objects go flying from explosions or some objects may get an upgrade to being deformable). If AGEIA has it their way, we will start seeing motherboards and notebooks integrating the PPU. If they can get good integration and acceptance of their add-in card, we might start seeing games that require a PPU and are really revolutionary with the level of user interaction allowed. AGEIA really wants to mirror the revolution that occurred with 3dfx, but it may be a better idea for them to separate themselves from that image considering how hard 3dfx fell from power.

Many people don’t think a separate add-in PPU will fly. What about vendors dropping both the GPU and PPU on one card? Maybe if the add-in PPU doesn’t stick around, we will one day see the birth of a ubiquitous “gaming card” that integrates graphics, physics, and sound onto one add-in board. Or if Intel decides that they need to go the extreme route, we may see integration of very application specific hardware that can handle tasks like physics processing onto the CPU.

We like the idea of the PPU a lot. But like plasma television (which has been around for decades), just because good technology exists doesn’t mean vendors and consumers will adopt it. We hope PhysX or something like it leaves a lasting mark on the PC industry. As unpredictable as they are, it’s about time we had another revolution in game design.

Game Physics and the PhysX PPU
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  • GoHack - Sunday, March 13, 2005 - link

    "From lordanubis:
    From GoHack: "as well as in the fields of science and engineering."

    THANK YOU! I can't believe it took until page 3 before someone mentioned this. PPU will be as "game-only" as graphics cards are. ATI's Fire stuff, nVidia's quadro stuff, none of them are meant for playing games despite the fact that they are 3D graphics accelerators.

    Physical simulation demands a lot of processing power, think of all the rivets in a bridge, wind's effect on large buildings, or accurate computer simulations of car crashes. So much interaction of different pieces, each with their own properties.

    I'm not claiming this PPU will turn a workstation into a $1,000,000 Cray but added functionality is always welcomed."

    I'm an engineer who uses FEA (finite element analysis)(ANSYS), as well as CAD (computer aided design)(Solid Works) all the time. Any improvements are more than welcome.
    Reply
  • lordanubis - Sunday, March 13, 2005 - link

    From GoHack: "as well as in the fields of science and engineering."

    THANK YOU! I can't believe it took until page 3 before someone mentioned this. PPU will be as "game-only" as graphics cards are. ATI's Fire stuff, nVidia's quadro stuff, none of them are meant for playing games despite the fact that they are 3D graphics accelerators.

    Physical simulation demands a lot of processing power, think of all the rivets in a bridge, wind's effect on large buildings, or accurate computer simulations of car crashes. So much interaction of different pieces, each with their own properties.

    I'm not claiming this PPU will turn a workstation into a $1,000,000 Cray but added functionality is always welcomed.
    Reply
  • archcommus - Sunday, March 13, 2005 - link

    #55, if you buy a high-end video card, even though you only need it for intensive apps, you're still using it for everything, even basic 2D stuff. Plus, the high-end features of it can be used for gaming, rendering, and a number of other things.

    With this, it's JUST gaming. I haven't seen proof of another definite use of it yet.

    A device in your computer that is needed for gaming and nothing else = THUMBS DOWN!
    Reply
  • GoHack - Sunday, March 13, 2005 - link

    It's not just games that could benefit, but computer animated movies, flight simulators, as well as in the fields of science and engineering.

    Until you see the comparison of a game running with and without a PPU, don't write off.

    When talking about cpu's, wait until you start to see games written in 64 bit, but that's another story.
    Reply
  • sandorski - Sunday, March 13, 2005 - link

    #18 Yup, this could be the next big thing. It's been awhile since 3D Graphics was introduced revolutionizing Gaming. Though many great advances have occurred and many more ae yet to be realized, Game Physics is becoming Hardware intensive and will only continue to push the limits of Hardware Tech. Not only will this Free up CPU and other Hardware resources, it will greatly increase Physics capabilities of current computers more than (likely) a few new generations of CPUs.

    Bring it on!
    Reply
  • linkgoron - Sunday, March 13, 2005 - link

    #53 a 6800ultra(or any high-end/midrange card) is almost completly usless to most people. Your friends and people here don't see it, but an intel "extreme" is enough for most people. Reply
  • linkgoron - Sunday, March 13, 2005 - link

    Reply
  • archcommus - Saturday, March 12, 2005 - link

    #52, that is exactly why I said it would only be used for games, which is one of the problems I have with this. A device in your computer that is completely useless unless you're gaming. That can't be said for any other device we have today. They ALL have other uses. Reply
  • Jeff7181 - Saturday, March 12, 2005 - link

    #50... this isn't a CPU... it's a PPU... it's a processor dedicated to calculating physics. It's specifically designed for that, so you shouldn't expect it to do anything else very well at all. That's what allows it to perform so well with physics, it's design is VERY specific... that's why it's so efficient at what it's intended to do. Reply
  • DerekWilson - Saturday, March 12, 2005 - link

    At the outset, using the PPU for something other than game physics won't be feasible. As far as we know, they are currently only making the hardware accessible through software physics SDK(s).

    Without a lower level direct hardware API or a straight assembly interface, nothing other the NovodeX functionality can be accelerated.

    They should be cautious in letting out enough details to program straight to the metal (as others could copy them), and generating something as complex as an API at a low enough level for this thing to be more general would be very difficult.
    Reply

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