by Anton Shilov
02/04/2008 | 03:14 PM
Ageia Technologies, the developer of dedicated physics processing units (PPUs), said on Monday that it was taken over by Nvidia Corp., the world’s largest supplier of discrete graphics processors. The move will allow Nvidia to offer better physics support with its GeForce graphics chips in games that can take advantage of Ageia PhysX PPUs.
“Nvidia is the perfect fit for us. They have the world’s best parallel computing technology and are the thought leaders in GPUs and gaming. We are united by a common culture based on a passion for innovating and driving the consumer experience,” said Manju Hegde, co-founder and chief executive of Ageia.
Back in 2007 the world’s largest manufacturer of x86 central processing units (CPUs), Intel Corp., acquired Havok, a developer of technology that allows physics to be processed on GPUs. The consequence of the takeover was abandoning the development of Havok FX, a physics middleware that relies on graphics chips’ stream processors to process physics.
Intel Corp. is currently the largest supplier of graphics adapters through its core-logic chipsets with built-in graphics cores, but Intel at this point does not supply discrete GPUs, which computational power is required for physics effects processing. For that reason, it was relatively important for Intel to ensure that Havok FX – potentially, a very popular middleware – does not make it to the market, as in the opposite scenario the importance of a high-end CPU inside a personal computer for video gaming would decrease. However, the acquisition of Havok was a particularly unpleasant situation for Nvidia, who has been claiming that its GeForce graphics chips could process physics in video games for several years and which is interested in boosting importance of high-end discrete graphics processors.
The acquisition of Ageia will almost certainly enable Nvidia to accelerate physics in video games using Ageia’s middle-ware, which means that Nvidia GeForce graphics cards will be able to display higher quality physics effects in titles that take advantage of Ageia PhysX PPU. The development of the latter will most likely be halted. It should be noted that both graphics and physics processing requires massively-parallel processing engines, meaning that there is hardly a difference for end-user or game developer whether physics effects are computed on a CPU, PPU or GPU.
“The Ageia team is world class, and is passionate about the same thing we are – creating the most amazing and captivating game experiences. By combining the teams that created the world’s most pervasive GPU and physics engine brands, we can now bring GeForce-accelerated PhysX to hundreds of millions of gamers around the world,” stated Jen-Hsun Huang, president and chief executive of Nvidia.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Ageia’s PhysX is the world’s first physics processing unit (PPU), which offloads software physics processing from central processing units and graphics processing units to it. The architecture of the PhysX PPU is tailored for multi-threaded processing of vertexes, which allows game creators to develop detailed, soft and precise animation and simulation of movements, hair, clothing, liquids, fluids and other.
To take advantage of advanced capabilities the PhysX has, game developers have to create games using Novodex SDK supplied by Ageia, which requires some additional effort from them. Currently there are almost no games that can take advantage of Ageia PhysX, therefore, neither Nvidia, nor users with Nvidia GeForce hardware will benefit from the acquisition in the short term. However, the company may benefit in longer term, provided that Ageia PhysX becomes an open standard.
Following the acquisition of Havok by Intel actual deployment of a Havok-developed physics engine for video games that could take advantage of GPUs is under a big question mark, said Richard Huddy, developer relations chief at Advanced Micro Devices, last November.
According to Richard Huddy, who joined AMD when it acquired graphics chip company ATI Technologies back in 2006, Havok FX is unlikely to be released at all or power many video games. While AMD admits that there are some games on the horizon that can compute physics effects on GPUs, it is highly unlikely that there will be a significant number of them, unless comprehensive tools for GPU physics are available. In fact, by acquiring Ageia, Nvidia is likely to make those tools available after some time needed for their development. Given that Ageia PhysX SDK (software development kit) is used to create games for all three modern video game consoles – Microsoft Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii and Sony PlayStation 3 – game developers may gladly jump on the bandwagon and make use of “GeForce-accelerated PhysX” when it comes to PC versions of their games.
Nevertheless, physics processing on GPUs may get a boost in popularity when Microsoft releases its DirectX 11, which is projected to support additional features that will provide new opportunities for games developers. In fact, Microsoft already promised Direct Physics application programming interface (API) [which was projected to rely on GPU as well] sometime back, but not actual product has yet been released. When and if Microsoft releases its Direct Physics, it will inevitably compete against Nvidia-owned Ageia PhysX technology.