Physics Hardware

By Dave

It looks like gamers might have two or three cards in their computers to run the next generation of games, atleast if AGEIA and ATi have their way. AGEIA already has their PhysX hardware out, and ATi is talking about releasing their own Physics card.

What is a Physics Card For?

A physics processing unit (PPU) is a dedicated processor designed to handle the calculations of physics, especially in video games. Examples of calculations a PPU might include rigid body dynamics, soft body dynamics, collision detection, fluid dynamics, hair and clothing simulation, finite element analysis, and fracturing of objects. The idea is that specialized processors can do quickly what would take longer for a CPU, analogous to the way a GPU performs optimized graphics operations.

from Wikipedia

Basically the end result is that for games that support the physics card, you get more realistic graphics, and that can mean better fire, more realistic smoke, and explosions, which can increase the fun factor of the game.

Another Card?
The issue for me really is that it is another cost. While I am not the target market of this product, being a casual gamer, the effect will have to be very noticeable for gamers to spend another hundred or two on another card for their computer. Then there is the extra money that will need to be spent on the rest of the computer to support the card, like the special motherboard that might be needed if you want to run a physics card as well as two video cards.

Three cards in your computer, just for video gaming graphics. Right now, this is definetly for the gamer that has everything else.

AGEIA’s Response to ATI
AGEIA has already responded to ATI’s plans to add their own card to the physics hardware world as they were really one of the first on the scene to create a dedicated physics card as well as getting support from some popular games that are already out, as well as having their card be supported on some upcoming games.

They say that they are actually glad that ATI is making their own card as it validates their efforts and shows that physics are going to be the next big thing in realistic gaming. AGEIA really wanted people to understand that ATI’s measurement is not a way to measure physics performance being quoted as saying, “thatâ??s like suggesting that the more wheels I have on my car, the faster I will go. Physics requires much more than raw gigaflops.”

End Result
Us casual gamers hopefully won’t be effected much any time soon. I doubt in the next year or two you will see games requiring a dedicated physics card to run, other than the game that AGEIA released themselves. It will take atleast a year or two for ATI to really get into the game, and no doubt nVidia will also follow suit with their own physics card. It will also take some time for gaming companies to be convinced to add the needed software to their games to take advantage of the physics cards.

It could eventually create a divde between the have’s and have not’s as games begin to require these cards to run properly, just like current games continuously require more video card power to pump the frames to your screen.

Has anyone already bought the PhysX card from AGEIA, and if so, what do you think of it?

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