Introduction

A little over a year ago, we first heard about a company called AGEIA whose goal was to bring high quality physics processing power to the desktop. Today they have succeeded in their mission. For a short while, systems with the PhysX PPU (physics processing unit) have been shipping from Dell, Alienware, and Falcon Northwest. Soon, PhysX add-in cards will be available in retail channels. Today, the very first PhysX accelerated game has been released: Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, and to top off the excitement, ASUS has given us an exclusive look at their hardware.

We have put together a couple benchmarks designed to illustrate the impact of AGEIA's PhysX technology on game performance, and we will certainly comment heavily on our experience while playing the game. The potential benefits have been discussed quite a bit over the past year, but now we finally get a taste of what the first PhysX accelerated games can do.

With NVIDIA and ATI starting to dip their toes into physics acceleration as well (with Havok FX and in-house demos of other technology), knowing the playing field is very important for all parties involved. Many developers and hardware manufacturers will definitely give this technology some time before jumping on the bandwagon, as should be expected. Will our exploration show enough added benefit for PhysX to be worth the investment?

Before we hit the numbers, we want to take another look at the technology behind the hardware.

AGEIA PhysX Technology and GPU Hardware
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  • Rolphus - Friday, May 5, 2006 - link

    Jarred,

    THANK YOU!

    *adds AnandTech to the list of non-blocked sites*
    Reply
  • Rolphus - Friday, May 5, 2006 - link

    I say "weird" because only about 1/3 of the images failed to load... if everything was missing, it would be fairly obvious what was going on ;) Reply
  • escapedturkey - Friday, May 5, 2006 - link

    You should realize that the game you are benchmarking is using Havok physics even with PhysX.

    http://www.firingsquad.com/news/newsarticle.asp?se...">http://www.firingsquad.com/news/newsarticle.asp?se...

    That's why there is an issue. The game was very poorly coded. So when PhysX is enabled, it's using two physics layers: Havok and PhysX vs. one or the other.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, May 5, 2006 - link

    Hence the conclusion. The added effects look nice, but performance currently suffers. Is it poor coding or poor hardware... or a combination of both? Being the first commercial game to support the AGEIA PPU, it's reasonable to assume that the programmers are in a bit of a learning stage. Hopefully, they just didn't know how to make optimal use of the hardware options. Right now, we can't say for sure, because there's no way to compare the "non-accelerated" physics with the "accelerated" physics. We've seen games that look less impressive and tax GPUs more in the past, so it may simply be a case of writing the code to make better use of the PPU. I *don't* think having CrossFire would improve performance much at present, at least in GRAW, because the minimum frame rates are clearly hitting a PPU/CPU bottleneck. Reply
  • saratoga - Friday, May 5, 2006 - link

    quote:

    We're still a little skeptical about how much the PhysX card is actually doing that couldn't be done on a CPU -- especially a dual core CPU. Hopefully this isn't the first "physics decellerator", rather like the first S3 Virge 3D chip was more of a step sideways for 3D than a true enhancement.


    Thats a good question. Its hard to imagine a PCI bus device keeping up with a dual core processor when one can only talk over a 133MB bus with hundreds or even thousands of ticks worth of latency, while the other can talk in just a few clocks over a bus running at 10+ GB per second. I imagine all those FUs spend most of their time waiting on syncronization traffic over the PCI bus.

    It will be interesting to see what a PCI-E version of this card can do.
    Reply
  • Orbs - Friday, May 5, 2006 - link

    I'd be curious to hear how this performs with SLI and CrossFire setups. Also, do motherboards offer enough space for 2 GPUs, and two PCI cards (sound and physics)? It looked like the Asus board meant for the Core Duo might.

    If mobo manufacturers are keeping this in mind, it may make AM2 and Conroe boards even more interesting!
    Reply
  • Orbs - Friday, May 5, 2006 - link

    Derek, on the performance comparison page, you mention the framerate differences with an FX-60. I think you mean FX-57 here. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, May 5, 2006 - link

    FX-57. Fixed. That was my fault - been playing with FX-60 chips too much lately. ;) Reply
  • evident - Friday, May 5, 2006 - link

    I really hope the price of these things drop by A LOT. especially if games in the future might "require" a physx card. I have to pay $400 for a top of the line 7900GTX and then another 300 for one of these??? argh! might as well pick up console gaming now! Reply
  • Mr Perfect - Friday, May 5, 2006 - link

    Honestly, I'm hoping these cards just quietly die. I love the idea of game pysics, but the priceing is murder. These things may be pocket change for some of the "enthusiasts", but as soon as you require another $300 card just to play a video game, the Joe Sixpacks are going to drop PC gaming like it's hot. Do you have any idea how much bitching you hear from most of them when they're told that their $100 video card isn't fast enough to play a $50 game? Or worse yet, that their "new" PC doesn't even have a graphics card, and they have to throw more money into it just to be eligable for gaming? The multiplayer servers could be awfully empty when a required Pysics card alone costs more then a new PS3. :\ Reply

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