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As AGEIA startup approaches actual introduction of its physics processors, graphics firm ATI Technologies says that its chips are already capable of processing physics and it is only a matter of time for the graphics giant to enable the capability on commercially shipped units.

Raja Kodouri, a senior architect at ATI Technologies told X-bit labs that the company’s graphics processors, including the RADEON 9700, which is the world’s first DirectX 9.0 graphics processing unit (GPU), are capable of processing arrays of vertexes, similar type of operation that AGEIA’s physics processing units (PPUs) can perform. The arrays of data should be processed using pixel shader processors within a chip, the architect said.

Current generation of graphics processors has 16 pixel pipelines, which may not be that many. Nevertheless, in future graphics chips will have more pipes, which will also be unified to process both pixel and vertex shaders. For instance, the Xenos graphics chip used in the Xbox 360 game console from Microsoft has an array of 48 arithmetic logic units (ALUs).

In addition to cost advantage over dedicated physics processors, GPUs also have higher bandwidth to send vertex data to itself after physics is processed.

According to ATI, in case mainstream physics engines, such as Havoc, support physics calculations, the company will not need any special application programming interface in order to allow game developers to take advantage of capabilities.

Even though Mr. Kodouri implied about possibilities for physics processing on graphics chips, he did not reveal any performance benefits estimations concerning the matter. In fact, AGEIA, the developer of the world’s first PPU, also does not talk about performance of its product.

In case ATI and NVIDIA Corp. manage to implement physics processing capabilities into their graphics chips, companies like AGEIA may find it difficult to push their physics processing units to the mainstream market. Nevertheless, in the high-end dedcated chips may still outperform graphics and central processors when it comes to physics.  

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