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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  • patrick0 - Saturday, March 12, 2005 - link

    Only usefull for games?
    Can someone explain this one to me please.

    I can imagine so many programs the PPU could be usefull for. Sound Effects?! Does anyone here have any idea about the power you need to do a lot of SFX at the same time? With a PPU you could easilly build a cheap sound-studio at home. (if someone tells Steinberg how to use them of course).

    I guess they will sell them sub $150 (maybe sub $200 the first month).
    I'm willing to spend $300-$350 if it's really capable of doing what they say it does.
    Reply
  • patrick0 - Saturday, March 12, 2005 - link

    a PPU is a need. No CPU not even quad-core one is capable of processing the amount of data this PPU seems to be able to.
    It seems to take a long time untill we'll have 256-bit memory interface on a mobo, simply because of cost.

    Personal, I'ld love to be able to buy an add-in card with a PPU.
    Probably the PPU will seed up gaming more than SLI. Many games are CPU dependent (all games with SLI). A PPU takes of processing from both the CPU and the GPU.

    They say they will make them as PCI an PCIe x4, just hope the PCIe will be compatible with PCIe x1 or the SLI slot, because you'll need a lot of bandwidth!
    Reply
  • Regs - Saturday, March 12, 2005 - link

    A more interesting thought is to see if Nvidia can some how create their own PPU and connect it via a SLI set up. One gpu connect to a ppu unit on SLI. Now that's a reason to get a PCI-x nvidia motherboard!

    Like Anand stated in his web-blog, I don't imagine ATi or Nvidia will be sitting on the side line for this one much more longer. Like all successful businesses, it all starts with a good idea and a educated risk.
    Reply
  • archcommus - Saturday, March 12, 2005 - link

    Well when 3D hardware acceleration was new, it was an option you turned on and off. If you had a card, you turned it on and got better graphics and speed. If you left it off, things looked a little worse and were a bit slower. Fast forward to now and you need 3D hardware acceleration for everything. I imagine the same will occur with PPU cards. At first it'll be an option that, when turned on, creates better phsyics and better speed. But of course, you could turn it off, to get slightly lesser physics and probably slower speed.

    I am excited about the possibilities of this, too, but damn, I really don't like thinking that another card will be necessary in our future. And like I said before, this is a game that will ONLY come in handy for games, and nothing else, unlike video cards and sound cards and everything else in your computer. So if you buy a PPU card for the next big game, play it and love it, and then don't really play much for a few months, you might be thinking "Damn, why'd I drop 200 bucks for that dumb thing, it's not even being used now!"

    Anyone else with this line of thought?
    Reply
  • jrussel316 - Saturday, March 12, 2005 - link

    dang it sorry double post - anyone know how to edit previous posts? Reply
  • jrussel316 - Saturday, March 12, 2005 - link

    coming from the standpoint of someone who has some experience writing physics engines, this is some of the best news ive heard in a while. It would be downright awesome to have a hardware accellerated sdk that would allow me to code the sort of realism iv'e been dreaming about coding for years. Iv'e made several attempts at an accurate physical world, but every time i try the performance of my cpu just can't keep up with the huge number of calculations. I know im excited about this kind of performance - i cant imagine what the physics engine developers over at ubisoft and epic are dreaming up. exciting times are ahead Reply
  • jrussel316 - Saturday, March 12, 2005 - link

    coming from the standpoint of someone who has some experience writing physics engines, this is some of the best news ive heard in a while. It would be downright awesome to have a hardware accellerated sdk that would allow me to code the sort of realism iv'e been dreaming about coding for years. Iv'e made several attempts at an accurate physical world, but every time i try the performance of my cpu just can't keep up with the huge number of calculations. I know im excited about this kind of performance - i cant imagine what the physics engine developers over at ubisoft and epic are dreaming up. exciting times are ahead Reply
  • Regs - Saturday, March 12, 2005 - link

    I think this is a great idea and it will take off. Anand's article mentioned that these cards will scale like video cards. Meaning there will be intro based, main-stream based, and hardcore based cards ranging from price. Hell, even adding a intro based card to your system with the upcoming Unreal Engine will help improve framerates and add more reality to your gameplay. Ubisoft and Epic are two huge producers of next generation software as well. Far Cry 2 and Unreal 3 anyone? I could only imagine! Valve and Carmack are likely craving over this as well. With dual cores and PPU's coming out, this would be exactly the right type of motivation big-time developers such as these to start writing yet even more advanced gaming engines. I wouldn't be surprised if they all ready started programming the next big thing. Even D3 and HL2 were years in development before we even heard about them. Far Cry we didn't even hear about it before just a few months before its release. Exciting times are ahead! Reply
  • Jeff7181 - Saturday, March 12, 2005 - link

    #20... no dual core will NOT make this PPU worthless. You didn't read ANYTHING did you? Current CPU's can work with 30 to 40 solid body objects at one time... this PPU can handle 30 to 40 THOUSAND solid body objects at one time. Double the CPU's capability to 60 to 80 still doesn't compare to the PPU's capabilities. Reply
  • Jeff7181 - Saturday, March 12, 2005 - link

    #34... they don't have to code specifically for this PPU. All they hvae to do is use the NovodeX physics engine like Epic is doing right now with the Unreal 3 engine. Reply

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