Last week, we took a first look at the new PhysX add-in physics accelerator from AGEIA. After our article was published, AGEIA released an update to their driver that addresses some of the framerate issues in Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter. While our main focus this time around will be on BFG's retail part, we will explore the effectiveness of this patch and go a little further in-depth with the details behind our performance analysis.

In addition to the BFG retail PhysX card and Ghost Recon update, we will take a look at a few demos that require the PhysX card to run. While there aren't any games scheduled to come out in the near future that will take this new technology to the extreme, it will be nice to get a glimpse into the vision AGEIA has for the future. Getting there will certainly be a hard road to travel. Until more games come out that support the hardware, we certainly can't recommend PhysX to anyone but the wealthy enthusiasts who enjoy the novelty of hardware for hardware's sake. Even if PhysX significantly enhances the experience of a few games right now, it will be a tough sell to most users until there is either much wider software support, good games which require the hardware, or a killer app with a PhysX hardware accelerated feature that everyone wants to have.

As for games which will include PhysX hardware support, the only three out as of this week are Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter (GRAW), Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends (ROL) and City of Villains (COV). Rise of Legends came out last week, and we have been extensively testing it. Unfortunately, PhysX hardware support will only be added in an upcoming patch for which we have no real ETA.

We worked very hard to test City of Villains, and we finally succeeded in creating a repeatable benchmark. The specific content in City of Villains which supports the AGEIA PhysX PPU (physics processing unit) is a series of events called the Mayhem Missions. This is a very small subset of the game consisting of timed (15 minute) missions. Currently these missions are being added in Issue 7 which is still on the test server and is not ready for primetime. Full support for PhysX was included on the test server as of May 10th, so we have benchmarks and videos available.

Before we jump into the numbers, we are going to take a look at the BFG card itself. As this is a full retail part, we will give it a full retail workup: power, noise, drivers, and pricing will all be explored. Our investigations haven't turned up an on-chip or on-board thermistor, so we won't be reporting heat for this review. Our power draw numbers and the size of the heat sink lead us to believe that heat should not be a big issue for PhysX add-in boards.

BFG PhysX and the AGEIA Driver


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  • AndreasM - Wednesday, May 17, 2006 - link

    In">some cases the PPU does increase performance. The next version of Ageia's SDK (ETA July) is supposed to support all physics effects in software, ATM liquid and cloth effects are hardware only; which is why some games like Cellfactor can't really run in software mode properly (yet). Hopefully Immersion releases a new version of their demo with official software support after Ageia releases their 2.4 SDK. Reply
  • UberL33tJarad - Wednesday, May 17, 2006 - link

    How come there's never a direct comparison between CPU and PPU using the same physics? Making the PPU do 3x the work and not losing 3x performance doesn't seem so bad. It puts the card in a bad light because 90% of the people who will read this article will skip the text and go straight for the graphs. I know it can't be done in GRAW without different sets of physics (Havok for everything then Ageia for explosions) why not use the same Max Physics Debris Count? Reply
  • Genx87 - Wednesday, May 17, 2006 - link

    I am still in contention it is a GPU limitation of having to render the higher amount of objects.

    One way to test this is to setup identical systems but one with SLI and the other with a single GPU.

    1. Test the difference between the two systems without physics applied so we get an idea of how much the game scales.
    2. Then test using identical setups using hardware physics and note if we see any difference. My theory is the amount of objects that need to be rendered is killing the GPU's.

    There is definately a bottleneck and it would be agreat if an article really tried to get to the bottom of it. Is it CPU, PPU or GPU? It doesnt appear that CPU is "that" big an issue as the difference between the FX57 and Opty 144 isnt that big.

  • UberL33tJarad - Wednesday, May 17, 2006 - link

    Well that's why I would be very intersted if some benchmarks could come out of">this demo. The low res and lack of effects and textures makes it a great example to test CPUvsPPU strain. One guy said he went from"><5fps to 20fps, which is phenomenal.

    You can run the test in software or hardware mode and has 3k objects interacting with each other.

    Also, if you want to REALLY strain a system, try">this demo. Some guy on XS tried a 3ghz Conroe and got <3fps.
  • DigitalFreak - Wednesday, May 17, 2006 - link

    Good idea. Reply
  • maevinj - Wednesday, May 17, 2006 - link

    "then it is defeating its won purpose"
    should be one

  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, May 17, 2006 - link

    Actually, I think it was supposed to be "own", but I reworded it anyway. Thanks. Reply
  • Nighteye2 - Wednesday, May 17, 2006 - link

    2 things:

    I'd like to see a comparison done with equal level of physics, even if it's the low level of physics. Such a comparison could be informative about the bottlenecks. In CoV you can set the number of particles - do tests at 200 and 400 without the physx card, and tests at 400, 800 and 1500 with the physx card. Show how the physics scale with and without the physx card.

    Secondly, do those slowdowns also occur in Cellfactor and UT2007 when objects are created? It seems to me like the slowdown is caused by suddenly having to route part of the data over the PPU, instead of using the PPU for object locations all the time.
  • DerekWilson - Wednesday, May 17, 2006 - link

    The real issue here is that the type of debris is different. Lowering number on the physx cards still gives me things like packing peanuts, while software never does.

    It is still an apples to oranges comparison. But I will play around with this.
  • darkdemyze - Wednesday, May 17, 2006 - link

    Seems there is a lot of "theory" and "ideal advantages" surrounding this card.

    Just as the chicken-egg comparison states, it's going to be a tough battle for AGEIA to get this new product going with lack of support from developers. I seriuosly doubt many people, even the ones who have the money, will want a product they don't get anything out of besides a few extra boxes flying through the air or a couple of extra grenade shards coming out of the explosion when there is such a decrament in performance.

    At any rate, seems like just one more hardware component to buy for gamers. Meh.

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