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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  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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).
    Reply
  • 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. Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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?
    Reply
  • 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
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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...
    Reply
  • 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."
    Reply

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