Video games have pushed the computing envelope for years. Ever since Wolfenstein 3D exploded onto the scene in 1992, gaming performance has been a focal point of the performance characteristics of computer systems. In order to compensate for the ever building desire for faster games, graphics card companies began adding 3D acceleration to their hardware portfolio. First came the 3D only add-in card, and then later we saw the birth of the highly integrated GPU combining 2D and 3D functions on one chip.

AGEIA would really like the world to embrace the idea that a discrete PPU will do for physics what the GPU did for graphics. It is true that the complexity of physics in games has been increasing steadily for the past few years. The catalyst has been making physics easier for game developers. Innovations by companies dedicated to physics have produced software physics engines like Havok. This allows game developers to focus on their engines or games while using the latest in real-time physics as a back bone for user interaction.

We’ve seen the joy of ragdolls in recent titles. One of the coolest features of Half-Life 2 is the level of interaction the user has with the world. In any given level, there are plenty of objects to kick, knock or throw around. Who wouldn’t want to be able to play with thousands of objects in any given level rather than tens? What about real looking clothing, hair, or water?

Sure, some approximation of these things can be done on today’s graphics cards. But it’s not yet possible to have characters comb their hands through their hair realistic way. Clothing can’t move or tear like real cloth. Fluids don’t respond to splashes or movement in a proper way. The AGEIA PhysX PPU proposes to bring these features to a game near you.

Why do we need more processing power for physics? Let’s take a look.

Game Physics and the PhysX PPU
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  • REMF - Saturday, March 12, 2005 - link

    if ageiaieiai are sensible they will license this tech to ATI/nVidia as quickly as they can.

    they will have about 12 months lead time after which if the big GPU makers consider physics acceleration a 'go'er' then they will integrate it into their GPU's at mafginal cost.

    .13u = 225m transistors
    .09u = 350m+ transistors
    .065u = 550m+ transistors

    there is easily room to squeeze 120m trannies of PPU onto a GPU die created in 2006.

    remember that 3d started off as a separate product, but economies of scale and efficiency of operation eventually demanded that 2d and 3d become one. i don't see any reason why physics acceleration should be any different.
  • hoppa - Saturday, March 12, 2005 - link

    Wow this is the most exciting thing I've seen in a really, really long time.

    "But like plasma television (which has been around for decades), just because good technology exists doesn’t mean vendors and consumers will adopt it."

    Whoa, wait, how many thousands of dollars do plasma TVs cost? That is a very different thing! Especially since there is a very suitable replacement for about 1/10th the price (a good ol' CRT).
  • RockHydra11 - Saturday, March 12, 2005 - link

    Just one more thing to make platforms more expensive, create fanboys of band X and Y and shove hype and BS down our throats.
  • Poser - Friday, March 11, 2005 - link

    Sounds great for a console, where the developers can expect 100% of systems to have it. The PC? Eh...

    I've got to wonder how well something like this could be pitched to animation studios. Are the physics calculations taking up any significant manpower/processor time, or does the image rendering dwarf everything else?

    One hypothetical add-in card I'd love to see instead of physics is hardware dedicated to speech recognition. Not a clue what sort of hardware would be required to improve the current state of the or even if dedicated hardware would be *able* to help.
  • archcommus - Friday, March 11, 2005 - link

    The idea is great, it has the same advantage as the GPU has for graphics, but honestly, who the hell is going to want to have to have a PHYSICS card? A sound card is fine, as you can use it for a number of things. A graphics card is fine, because it powers the graphics for everything, not just games. But a physics card would be something that you must add to your computer JUST for gaming, and it would not benefit anything else at all.

    Great theory, but sorry, I don't want to plunk down ANOTHER $200 for every system I build just so I can play the latest games decently.
  • Kensei - Friday, March 11, 2005 - link

    On an overall editorial note, could the AnandTech staff please define key acronyms (particularly ones in the title of the article) at the beginning of each article. What the hell is a PPU?
  • Gunbuster - Friday, March 11, 2005 - link

    Devs. wont even code dual screen into games, and you expect them to support a esoteric board 0.1% of users will have?

    The only chance is if they strike a deal with one of the next gen consoles
  • AnnihilatorX - Friday, March 11, 2005 - link

    Re REMF #28 >
    Well new products are always expensive even they can be cheaply made. There's just no competition when you offer a brand new product. I doublt it though would be too expensive. Let's see.

    hmm modelling clothings that can be torn apart... <- been thinking this for 5 min now. Hmm I need to clean my mind for a bit.
  • SDA - Friday, March 11, 2005 - link

    regarding plasma: Plasma screens are inherently hideously expensive. That's actually a design issue. (Okay, so it's an issue with LCDs too, but refined manufacturing techniques and sufficiently wide-scale manufacturing can mostly solve that problem.) The fact that plasma screens remain expensive to manufacture after being around for so long is evidence of this-- most old tech still in use is relatively cheap simply because of all the manufacturing and design experience we have.

    A better comparison, IMHO, would be SCSI. Good technology, lots of potential, but it was never adopted by a wide consumer base (although it's always been popular in systems that absolutely need disk performance, for obvious reasons), so prices on SCSI controllers and drives never dropped enough, so it wasn't adopted widely, so prices didn't drop, and so on.

    But enough nitpicking. I do think PPUs have incredible potential... honestly, I believe that accurate physics simulation is the single biggest obstacle on the Path Towards Game Realism(tm) right now. It's pretty easy for the brain to work around the fact that a character model isn't a real live person (especially if you can't tell the difference when you squint), but objects not acting in a manner consistent with physical reality, well...
  • Denial - Friday, March 11, 2005 - link

    I bet Virtual Valerie 12 will FVCKIN ROCK with this new physics chip! Just imaging poking her so damn hard you can see it pokin at her belly.

    I can see the ads now.

    "Virtual chicks on trampolines never looked so real."

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