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The physics-intensive Cell Factor: Revolution demo will soon be "No PhysX Card Required"
NVIDIA's purchase of AGEIA leads to a PhysX-on-CUDA port

With the announcement earlier this month of NVIDIA's acquisition of AGEIA, rumours began to fly immediately surrounding the future of dedicated physics hardware -- and it now appears that the PhysX name will live on as a checkbox beside the capabilities of some current and most future NVIDIA GPUs.

During NVIDIA's fourth-quarter financial results conference call, CEO Jen-Hsun Huang responded to several questions about the plans for technology obtained in the AGEIA purchase, revealing that the plan is to port the AGEIA PhysX engine to NVIDIA's CUDA (Compute Unified Device Architecture) C-like programming language.

"We're working toward the physics-engine-to-CUDA port as we speak. And we intend to throw a lot of resources at it." said Huang. "[PhysX on CUDA] is just going to be a software download. Every single GPU that is CUDA-enabled will be able to run the physics engine when it comes."

NVIDIA's choice to run a physics engine on a GPU runs in stark contrast to AMD's assertion in late 2007 that "GPU based physics is dead until DirectX 11." Every NVIDIA 8-series GPU is currently capable of running CUDA applications, and future GPUs will no doubt retain this feature.

The idea of using SLI for more than graphics has been brought up by NVIDIA in the past, so it was no surprise to hear Huang endorsing its further use again. "It might - and probably will - encourage people to buy a second GPU for their SLI slot. And for the highest-end gamer, it will encourage them to buy three GPUs." No mention was made of the use of the upcoming "Hybrid SLI" technology showcased at CES 2008, but an onboard GPU supporting CUDA could theoretically be used as a physics processor while discrete GPUs handle the rendering.

No timeframe for the release of the PhysX-on-CUDA software was specified, but with the PhysX engine to be available to a larger audience, it will no doubt encourage the development of more accelerated physics engines in upcoming titles.

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Old Video Cards
By BMFPitt on 2/15/2008 11:43:59 AM , Rating: 5
Now the big question for me is whether I can plug in an "old" video card to do my physics while a "new" one does my graphics? I'd me much more willing to buy a $200 8800GT if it meant my 7900GT would then become a Phys-X card (instead of a dust collector.)

RE: Old Video Cards
By Chris Peredun on 2/15/2008 11:49:36 AM , Rating: 5
Now the big question for me is whether I can plug in an "old" video card to do my physics while a "new" one does my graphics?

Unfortunately not - CUDA isn't supported on anything other than the 8-series right now, just due to the requirement for a more programmable unit.

Depending on the efficiency of the PhysX-on-CUDA engine though, you could pick up a low-end 8-series card just for physics and let your 7900GT continue to handle graphics.

RE: Old Video Cards
By mendocinosummit on 2/15/2008 12:16:39 PM , Rating: 2
I am surprised that they don't all have to be the same card or do they have to be?

RE: Old Video Cards
By Chris Peredun on 2/15/2008 12:20:47 PM , Rating: 2
I am surprised that they don't all have to be the same card or do they have to be?

While the current iteration of SLI requires that the cards be identical, just for the ease of balancing the workload (either via SFR or AFR) - the upcoming Hybrid SLI's "GeForce Boost" is aiming to negate that requirement.

Also, if the cards are not in an SLI configuration - or in a two-card SLI with a third acting totally outside the graphics loop - it would seem that only the "paired" cards would need to be identical; the third could run on its own time.

RE: Old Video Cards
By UppityMatt on 2/15/08, Rating: -1
RE: Old Video Cards
By Proteusza on 2/15/2008 2:47:01 PM , Rating: 2
My guess is that if you could, you would need to treat one of the cards as a 320MB card.

Why bother anyway, unless you got one of them for free.

RE: Old Video Cards
By Clauzii on 2/15/2008 10:37:46 PM , Rating: 2
The 640MB card will behave like it only had 320. (Don't know if nVidia changed that with recent drivers??)

RE: Old Video Cards
By MPE on 2/15/2008 11:50:58 AM , Rating: 2
As they said, it has to be an 8xxx card to run CUDA.

RE: Old Video Cards
By teldar on 2/15/2008 11:55:36 AM , Rating: 1
Beat me to it. Was just going to say, it has to be an 8 series or after product.


RE: Old Video Cards
By drank12quartsstrohsbeer on 2/15/2008 12:24:19 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, but what (i think) the original poster meant was will it work with two non-identical supported cards. For example a 8800gt and a 9xxx card.

I think a lot of people would be willing up upgrade sooner if they can still use their older card for something.

RE: Old Video Cards
By lompocus on 2/16/2008 12:03:19 AM , Rating: 3
The 8800 alone is good enough for physics. It won't use up too much processing power, and you won't notice it unless you're playing Crysis. Crysis does not use PhysX, however, and in my opinion I could go with losing 20 frames off of the 100+ frames I get in every other game under the sun.

OMG Imagine the R700 with physX, even though that will never happen. The R700's architecture just BEGS for a similar physics thing!

RE: Old Video Cards
By goku on 2/17/08, Rating: 0
RE: Old Video Cards
By 3kliksphilip on 2/20/2008 11:59:25 AM , Rating: 2
Disabling that pretty flag effect, I can run Cell Factor smoothly on a Geforce 8800 with out any sort of Physics processor. There were some smaller demos as well which I managed to get working, with a rippable carpet and a big block. All ran at a constant 60 fps. You'd have thought that they would have prevented people from running the programmes with out the Physx card completely.

All I need now is a way of running ATI's new videos to demonstrate the power of the X2900 and X3800 series ;)

RE: Old Video Cards
By Polynikes on 2/15/2008 1:20:10 PM , Rating: 2
I guess it's just a question of whether the card supports CUDA, as that's how they'll implement the physics capability.

RE: Old Video Cards
By Magnus Dredd on 2/16/2008 2:50:46 PM , Rating: 2
No but the 8 Series cards (GeForce 8xxx) start at around $40 on newegg for a EVGA 256MB GeForce 8400GS ($38 + $5 shipping - 10 rebate). Unfortunately you'd be losing an x16 PCIe slot for a relatively slow card.

After PhysX is ported to the 8 Series Nvidia cards, we'll actually be able to see how fast the Ageia cards are... It's possible that a bottom of the line Nvidia card will be as fast, or possibly not.

Needs an standard API
By phatboye on 2/15/2008 10:44:06 AM , Rating: 5
I'd rather wait till there is a standard API like an "OpenPL" or dx11 before jumping on the Physics PPU bandwagon. I don't want to be stuck using one vendors products.

RE: Needs an standard API
By ochentay4 on 2/15/2008 11:19:32 AM , Rating: 3
I totally agree with you. If physics is "the new thing", better be a standard API. It will kill competition, and probably make products expensive. Competition is always good, specially for consumers.

RE: Needs an standard API
By bighairycamel on 2/15/2008 11:27:43 AM , Rating: 3

...Huang endorsing its further use again. "It might - and probably will - encourage people to buy a second GPU for their SLI slot. And for the highest-end gamer, it will encourage them to buy three GPUs."

For now I think the only people who would potentially go for this are the same people who go for the "gaming" NIC or a 1000W PSU... all just overkill.

RE: Needs an standard API
By dsumanik on 2/15/2008 11:30:05 AM , Rating: 2
Agreed except for one thing,

You are not jumping on a single vendor's bandwagon and getting a standalone ppu here that may or may not become a dust are getting the option to run pure all out SLI framerates or trading some of the number crunching on the second GPU to do the physicas calculations.

This costs you as a consumer nothing, unless you want it too and at worst end up with SLI..


RE: Needs an standard API
By oldman42 on 2/15/2008 11:34:03 AM , Rating: 2
Good point... Plus, in 4-5 years when games start showing up using DX11, your actions right now will have absolutely no impact whatsoever.

RE: Needs an standard API
By Mitch101 on 2/15/2008 1:08:16 PM , Rating: 3
Actually AGEIA had a number of in game enhancements and some add on levels so this already has a game base or instant effect on some of todays games. The difference though is you could have gotten these enhancements with a $99.00 Ageia card instead of purchasing a second 8800gt for $205.00.

The ones to benefit would be those who have SLI rigs already but dont need SLI for a paticular game and can have one card render the graphics while the second one adds the physics eye candy.

Pretty smart NVIDIA. Now if we look at Intel's purchase of Physics software we find that NVIDIA made the smarter move. One with an existing game base that can be seen immediately rendering the Intel purchase a poor one. Which in the end will just make Intel more mad with NVIDIA. Expect more rife between these two.

RE: Needs an standard API
By GreggSauce on 2/16/2008 3:45:08 PM , Rating: 2
I never comment but I had to after this, I figured AGEIA going to die considering their card was way too expensive for the what? Like 3 games that had its physics on it, then the framerates got lower so it really didn't do all that much.

Havok on the other hand is used in over a hundred games and is even used in movies as well as applications....

AGEIA was a bargain bin buy, NVIDIA has a lot of cashm but which one was smarter again?

RE: Needs an standard API
By Jedi2155 on 2/17/2008 6:28:38 PM , Rating: 2
Plus didn't the PhysX card launch at $299...that really hurt the player base by launching at such a high price and with only 3 or so titles at the time that had physx support.

RE: Needs an standard API
By omnicronx on 2/15/2008 1:34:32 PM , Rating: 1
You are not jumping on a single vendor's bandwagon and getting a standalone ppu here that may or may not become a dust collector...
It could be... the PC gaming industry is falling out of the spotlight, not only that but there are currently only a handful of games that currently use physics, just because developers do not want to code for something that not nearly everyone has. As the majority of users still have a video card lower than GF8, we may not see these features implemented for a few years, and by that time who knows, we could see hardware based physics embedded in the videocard itself.

RE: Needs an standard API
By PrinceGaz on 2/17/2008 12:10:57 AM , Rating: 2
Agreed. The PC gamer market with a GeForce 8 class card is so tiny that no-one would develop for it alone. Therefore all games will support AMD cards as well as older nVidia cards at the very least. They might add extra pretty effects for GeForce 8 owners, though there is always going to be the balance between how many of our shaders are used for physics, and how many for graphics-- I've only got one 8800GTS (G80) and don't intend to buy another card for a long time, so I don't want more than about 24 of my 96 shaders diverted to doing physics.

I'd be happy for some of my card's power being used for physics, provided I remain in control of how much is allocated to do so (ideally dynamically via a physics-quality setting which maintains framerates by discarding physics calculations and returning null results to allow the shaders to be used for graphics work when needed).

By omnicronx on 2/15/2008 1:27:27 PM , Rating: 1
Now if it is software based, what makes current GF8 cards and above so special? Why would this not work with say a 7800/7900? lack of processing power?

And really why waste all this time implementing physics into your code, and not take the time to implement a physics chip into the videocard itself. I just don't see software physics being the wave of the feature, its going to have many downfalls.

RE: hmmm
By Vinnybcfc on 2/15/2008 1:48:09 PM , Rating: 2
CUDA was only developed for the Geforce 8, it would be impossible to implement it on lower versions.

It isnt just a case of software, your hardware needs to be compatible with CUDA as well

RE: hmmm
By FITCamaro on 2/15/2008 4:19:39 PM , Rating: 2
The Geforce8 series was the start of the unified shader architecture cards. Previous cards had dedicated pixel and vertex shaders. While pixel shaders can be programmable, vertex shaders are locked to doing a single task. Unified shaders can do the work of either type. This is why it won't run on anything other than the Geforce8 series. It's not possible. The architecture doesn't allow it.

RE: hmmm
By FITCamaro on 2/15/2008 4:24:08 PM , Rating: 2
And I agree that it should go to dedicated physics chips on the GPU itself. But the problem is to do that, you really need a more defined API for it. Otherwise developers will have to code the physics differently for each brand. While yes they already do use some optimizations for each brand of card, they'd have to do even more.

This is where a company like Microsoft comes in handy since they can push the standard out there.

RE: hmmm
By PrinceGaz on 2/17/2008 12:24:29 AM , Rating: 2
The last thing we need at eh moment are dedicated physics-chips. GPUs and CPUs are converging, give them time to do so and PPUs will be irrelevant.

At best PPUs introduce a proprietary new physics-language that will be utilised by at best 1% of game players (I doubt even 0.1% of current PC game players have bought a PhysX card), and therefore a small minority of games.

Over the next year or two, the PC gaming market will advance again as the console world settles into its usual cycles. There will never again be a dedicated PPU, or onboard physics-unit on a graphics-card because it is too small a market to develop for.

But in two or three years, graphics-card shaders will be so flexible that the line between them and general-purpose CPUs will be a little blurred. Your 8 or 16-core CPU will be able to handle a lot of physics, as will your parallel-processor card.

I have an 8400gs
By Suomynona on 2/16/2008 10:52:07 AM , Rating: 2
my 8400gs I doubt would beable to do any physics calculations, even if I upgraded to 8800xxx, the 8400gs would not to very much in physics processing could it?

RE: I have an 8400gs
By AggressorPrime on 2/16/2008 6:59:38 PM , Rating: 2
Any GeForce 8 should do well.
Consider this:
PhysX had 125 million transistors, used a 130nm die process, and had 128MB of RAM connected via a 128-bit interface. Moreover, it used a PCI bus.
The GeForce 8400GS has 210 million transistors, uses a 80nm die process, and has at least 256MB of RAM connected via a 64-bit interface. Also, you have TurboCache which gives you even more memory and memory bandwidth via your system memory by means using your PCIe 16x bus as a transfer medium.
Considering that, any GeForce 8 GPU should be as powerful as the PhysX PPU or more so.

RE: I have an 8400gs
By goku on 2/17/2008 9:17:14 AM , Rating: 2
That is a bunch of nonsense. Remember, this is a GPU, intended for, you guessed it, GRAPHICS. Just because it HAS the capability of doing something, it doesn't mean it'll do a very good job at it. Sound familiar? It should, and it's called a CPU. The PPU had dedicated hardware for JUST physics. And what's worse is that this GPU physics is absolutely worthless because all it will do is add second order physics. In order to change the game world and how you interact with a game, you need FIRST order physics, which isn't going to happen.

Also incase anyone has forgotten, nvidia only bought ageia because they were bitter about the failure of HavokFX which only did second order physics.

ATI physics?
By nafhan on 2/15/2008 12:02:20 PM , Rating: 2
If physics become "necessary", sounds like ATI is going to have to get Havok or AGEIA in hardware.
Hopefully, nVidia or Intel license their API under a permissive/inexpensive license, and it gets adopted quickly by the other two so we don't end up in a physics format war.
Who knows? With the right software, it might be possible to run either physics engine in modern graphics cards programmable shaders.

RE: ATI physics?
By saiga6360 on 2/15/2008 2:24:47 PM , Rating: 3
Time to test that new Alliance.

Will this work on Vista?
By Mclendo06 on 2/15/2008 2:38:07 PM , Rating: 2
Last I checked, CUDA wasn't supported on nVidia's Vista drivers (XP, various flavors of Linux, and a beta for OS X only), so I am pretty sure that until the Vista implementation comes along, this will only work for games on XP.

Video + Physics On One GPU
By AggressorPrime on 2/15/2008 7:28:52 PM , Rating: 2
I'm guessing this means you can run physics and video on one GPU instead of a requirement for a GPU for graphics and a GPU for physics.

By tirouspsss on 2/16/2008 10:23:17 PM , Rating: 2
anyone know if its possible to have a ATi GPU do graphics & a (say) 8600 do physics?

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