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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  • azcn2503 - Saturday, April 8, 2006 - link

    Hello all, please get yourself over to http://www.overclockers.co.uk/acatalog/PhysX_Accel...">Overclockers UK to see a list of Ageia PhysX Accelerator cards avilable for preorder in the UK. Scan.co.uk are also listing this item, but they do not have any pricing, specification or availability details. I hope this gets you all very excited; this sort of thing gets me creaming, I tell you. Reply
  • AlphaNex - Monday, May 16, 2005 - link

    I have no problem buying something for my PC thats only used for gaminmg. Im a computer technician for a living and my home PC is used 99% for games, my radeon 9800 does nothing that a 30 dollar ati Rage or something like that cant do.... except for playing games and i paid alot more for it then granny did her intergrated board on her dell. Id buy something like this in a heartbeat if it delivered on its promises. Just imagine true, realisitc physics in a game. This could literally be the Next Big Thing for gaming. Im excited thinking about the possibilities. Reply
  • blackarc - Sunday, March 27, 2005 - link

    I am SOOOO F'ing excited!

    I'm always at least one generation behind on the GPUs simply because pretty doesn't do everything for me... But physics? HuuuHaa!
    Reply
  • Disorganise - Friday, March 18, 2005 - link

    #53 I've yet to use my steering wheel in anything else other than games - and even then only a very small percentage of games.

    Personally I think this thing is very promising. Imagine being able to map the oil, petrol, brake fluid etc, inside all the relevant machanical bits for the race car you're driving....and then up that for all the guys you're racing against and even the proposed card is looking like it'll struggle.
    Add precise tire wear, roads which are made of little stones and tar etc etc. The level of detail 'missing' from todays games is huge.
    Imagine a game where minor flaws are possible in the hardware - an engine or gearbox blows and spews oil and water everywhere, perhaps igniting into realistic flames. or the knife you keep hacking with in half-life becomes blunt and useless, or snaps off the tip. With FPS, damage caused by shooting at walls etc becomes genuine dents and holes accoring to realistic physics and the composition of the bullet and wall.

    The possibilities are incredible. And here's a thought regarding the cost....spend a bit less on the CPU - it won't be working as hard....

    Cheers
    Disorganise
    Reply
  • virtualgames0 - Friday, March 18, 2005 - link

    While physics have gone far in today's games, there is still a LONG WAY to go until it's really realistic.

    You can't blow up walls now. You can't terraform. Most of the stuff in the game world is static and cannot be changed.
    This physX PPU will change that, and will finally allow the gamer to truly interact with the world.
    Sure it'll cost money for these features, but it's still your choice if you want to buy it or not. Saying it sucks, and should fail is ridiculously dumb.
    Reply
  • jediknight - Tuesday, March 15, 2005 - link

    Hmm..
    /me imagines a "MEGA" cell processor..

    CPU as the main hub, connected to GPU, SPU (sound processing unit), PPU, etc. cells..

    all on ONE chip. That's the holy grail, folks..
    Reply
  • patrick0 - Monday, March 14, 2005 - link

    #52, since when you don't need physics for some effects? Reply
  • fitten - Monday, March 14, 2005 - link

    ...and think just how much faster F@H, SETI@HOME, and many of those other distributed computing apps will be if they can get their hands on this :) Reply
  • DerekWilson - Sunday, March 13, 2005 - link

    For science and engineering, we've again got the problem of needing a more direct interface. The functions implimented in hardware via the NovodeX SDK will still be "game physics" ... kinda like "game graphics" ...

    You would never want to use the Unreal Engine as the realtime 3d part of something like ProE or Solidworks.

    Just the same, very acurate physics simulations will want to use different (more precise and slower) algorithms.

    This is why we're calling for a lower level API rahter than an SDK -- note that both games and high end workstation apps can build their realtime 3d engines with the same API (opengl or directx).
    Reply
  • stephenbrooks - Sunday, March 13, 2005 - link

    I think the molecular dynamics people will start to seriously like this technology once the physical equivalent of Shaders come out. I.e. sub-programs defining how each object reacts to ones in proximity to it, while the PPU does the collision detection and kinematics. Reply

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