Age of physics processing units dawns

@ 2005/03/08
WE FLEW half the way around the globe to see a cool new marchitecture and we haven't been disappointed. Yet.
After decades of listening about Central Processing Units, years of listening about Graphic Processing Units and millimoments of listening about audio processing units, it is time to learn the new term. It's time to start talking about physics processing units (PPUs).

I have a feeling that we will be talking much more about such PPUs in the near future as these are going to change the way computer games look like. The company behind this marchitecture is called AGEIA and is a "Fabless Company" with lots of investors around, including mighty Taiwanese giant TSMC and the almost almighty Bank'o'America. Here in San Francisco's Games Developer Conference the firm revealed its chip called symbolically PhysX. It’s the world first Physics Processing Unit (PPU), they reckon. These guys have taped out the chip and made a final product and reference card design ready as we write.

The answer is actually an add in card with either PCI Express or a PCI interface with up to 128MB of dedicated GDDR 3 memory that will take over all physics in the games. We saw some cool demos done in software on a laptop of what this card can do. It can operate with 32000 particles/rigid bodies or should I say bones? [You should, Fudo, you should. Ed.] When we talk about fluids, such cards can handle up to 50000 rigid bones. A CPU can do a couple hundred at the most.

The card operates under 25W (Watts) so the company is still not sure whether it needs an external power connector or not. The chip itself has 125 million transistors and it's quite a large piece of silicon but that's no probbo for TSMC. The chip and card designs are ready, so the company only needs retailers, OEMs and notebook manufacturers to embrace the marchitecture and start releasing designs. There will be cards for notebooks to boost gaming physics on notebooks as well.

The company said it's following the Nvidia business model as it wants to produce the chips and sell them to OEMs and manufacturers that will later make boards based on the design. Or "partners", as the INQUIRER describes such souls.

Companies such as Epic are actually very interested in the marchitecture and we are told that at least 15 significant games are going to be released using this marchitecture. We are told to look for the games by the end of the year and that's the timing for the so called "time to market".

We saw some cool demos where the company demonstrated "liquid fluids" with many "bones" and you can see the "lava" and "water" stimulations that look much better than ever before. It looks more real and much more alive.

Such cards can give some life to collision detection and can for example make a character go through grass and move every single grass while walking, adding a higher lever of realism into the scene than ever before. Looks cool I have to say. What need for grass?

We also saw some liquid simulations, where you could see blood spilled more realistically than ever before. It's especially good when you blow up a house into the smallest infinitesimal pieces, or bricks and mortar as the INQ calls them. It actually looks out of this world. I cannot imagine this in a war game. It will blow your minds. It almost looks like Bosnia and Herzegovina 12 years back.

Big guys like Gabe Novell, the developer of Half Life 2, asked for more physics and Jon Carmak of Doom 3 wanted the same. The industry likes the marchitecture and developers want to programme for it. The application programming interface (API) is the well known Novadek physics engine and AGEIA actually owns this famous physics engine company. The big publishers have worked on the titles for the last 14 months and you will see some of the releases very soon.

You can expect to see such cards in shops by the end of the year, and the company will release the things when enough developers finish their titles. µ

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