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


View All Comments

  • DerekWilson - Friday, March 11, 2005 - link

    The PPU will use GDDR3 at very high speeds. It needs the bandwidth and this adds cost. Also, since AGEIA will be starting at lower volume than NVIDIA and ATI, they will likely have a higher cost per part. Risk to OEMs and vendors will mean more pad in the price.

    #21: I was using the fact that plasma has been around since before I was born and wasn't adopted for actual use until a few years ago. I was illustrating the idea and technology existed but wasn't used.
  • Zan Lynx - Friday, March 11, 2005 - link

    I think this PPU is a good idea. I would probably get one for Unreal 3 if the price is less than $200.

    I hope that this company releases hardware programming information. That way this card could be used by things other than games and physics. When you aren't playing games, imagine it being used to boost your Folding@Home scores or building Fyre screensaver animations.

    Scientists could buy one for every node in their university cluster and get crazy with the fluid dynamics simulations.
  • REMF - Friday, March 11, 2005 - link

    why should it cost so much?

    a 160m transistor 6600GT with 128MB of high speed GDD2 ram costs less than £120 these days.

    a 120m transistor PPU with 128MB of moderately high speed ram should cost less than £100 today.

    when you consider the cost of 2x 6800GT's for an SLI rig (£500), £100 is a drop in the ocean.

  • Shinei - Friday, March 11, 2005 - link

    I like the idea, but I think the price is going to hurt it, not to mention the idea of a standalone device that only works in video games. I DO think that Cell will be a worthy competitor to this, so long as someone takes the time to turn one of the SPU subcomponents into a hardcore physics processor. Reply
  • bersl2 - Friday, March 11, 2005 - link

    #6: STFU. 3dfx used Glide, a derivative API of OpenGL. Things happen independently of MS in computer technology, although that apparently is beyond the comprehension of some people.

    I wonder how complicated a model it will be capable of. I would hope that they would implement electro-magnetism and maybe thermodynamics to some degree for consumer models, but could this have great scientific value for at least the subset of physics that we are absolutely confident about (i.e., not quantum mechanics or astrophysics)? I could see this being very useful for fluid dynamics.
  • gibhunter - Friday, March 11, 2005 - link

    You know, in some countries PPU might be confused with PUPU or in English, shit. I wish they came up with a different acronym. How about a GPPU for a Geometric Physics Processing Unit or something like that. PPU just smells...pun intended:-D Reply
  • bupkus - Friday, March 11, 2005 - link

    After Longhorn M$ may want to target a UI which uses a PPU, then every motherboard will have one. BTW, only the first chip is really expensive. Reply
  • Warder45 - Friday, March 11, 2005 - link

    $$$ Equal to a video card? Thats pretty vague. Equal to a sub-$150 video cards? That I could handle, equal to $300+ video cards, now your asking too much.

    I like the idea, and with support from Unreal 3 and all licenceing deals with the Unreal 3 engine they have a good start. Now just price them right.
  • Quanticles - Friday, March 11, 2005 - link

    This is definitely going to happen. Everyone loves the game physics and they're required to make things realistic.

    It's too expensive to incorporate into a graphics card, not to mention it would be stealing bandwidth from them.

    I'd imagine these chips would be built into high end motherboards as well as being sold as stand alone PCIe cards. Not every motherboard would want to add this chip as it's really expensive, so it'd also have to be available as a stand-alone card.

    You cannot integrate your graphics card and sound card into a single board because there wont be enough room on the PCB. Only Apple uses graphics cards with large enough PCB's.
  • MadAd - Friday, March 11, 2005 - link

    like a plasma television..(blah blah)???

    Its not like we cant get television without a plasma, there are many television devices but if the best a CPU can do is a few hundred bones a time (and a PPU will radicaly improve it) then its not really a fair measure is it?

    sorry to bitch but that was a poor comparison

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