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

  • Kalessian - Friday, March 11, 2005 - link

    Just having another core won't create the kind of uber-physics a dedicated PPU could bring.

    When I think about it, physics IS just going to become more and more demanding. Imagine the limits to physics in a game today. I don't develope games, but I can see of a developer saying "Darn, I wish I could make our physics do this... that would be so awesome."

    Maybe that kind of thinking will make the PPU a reality. All it would really take, after a standard is established in the APIs, is one great game. Imagine if you saw some crazy physics in Quake 4. Everyone would want one.

    It's not hard to imagine, but it's wishful thinking.
  • Tarumam - Friday, March 11, 2005 - link

    #4 It would make sense to integrate it in video cards as an extra feature. But could it be integrated into the GPU? I think it would have to come as an extra chip onboard, with it's own memory subsystem, thus making the card very large, expensive and power hungry (as if the current crop of high end video cards were not already too big, too expensive and power guzzlers). Reply
  • Tarumam - Friday, March 11, 2005 - link

    In Soviet Russia PPU stands for phisicaly process YOU! Sorry, bad one, but I couldn't help it. Reply
  • Tarumam - Friday, March 11, 2005 - link

    Ops, sorry about that blank post.
    I doubt it will ever take off. Dual core processors are just around the corner and the second core could just be dedicated to the phisics entirely while the other would take care of the rest.Correct me if I'm wrong, but it's just not necessary.
  • knitecrow - Friday, March 11, 2005 - link

    I don't think PPU is going to be sucessful unless its intergrated into directX ... or standardised in some way that is supported by microsoft.

  • Tarumam - Friday, March 11, 2005 - link

  • Falloutboy - Friday, March 11, 2005 - link

    interesting concept I don't think it would fly as a standalone card. but I could see the technolgy being licenced to nividia and Ati to intergrate into future chips. Reply
  • aurellie1 - Friday, March 11, 2005 - link

    First p...argh Reply
  • bldckstark - Friday, March 11, 2005 - link

    Okay, for real. What we really need is a $1000 video card with sound and a PPU on board! That would be great. Then in order to be a gamer you will have to rob banks to afford the technology required to enjoy the experience. I can't wait for the $10,000,000,000 virtual reality card! Reply
  • bldckstark - Friday, March 11, 2005 - link

    Pirst Fost! Yup, I'm a Jackass!

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