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Monday, May 10, 2010

Perplexed Execs Dissect PhysX.

PhysX, the accelerated game physics technology from the 2002 upstart Ageia, has officially been taken off of life support by Nvidia, the GPU behemoth that acquired Ageia in early 2008. While the PhysX API continues to be actively supported and developed, the actual acceleration will only be supported by utilizing the GPGPU capabilities of the Nvidia graphics cards moving forward. The dedicated specialized add-in cards, first produced by Ageia and later licensed by other companies such as BFG, ASUS, etc. are effectively dead.

This was in my mind a case of the light at the end of the tunnel turning out to be an oncoming train. As I predicted in the HardOCP forums during the early days of Aegia, this was a dead man walking. GPGPU was at the time already coming into its own, and it was patently clear that graphics cards would be able to do the same types of calculations as the pricey Aegia add-in card on hardware already owned by the gamer. Perhaps not as rapidly at the time, but just as Apple found themselves hobbled by the glacial rate of performance progress for the PowerPC CPU they used in the past compared to Intel's rapid pace, it was clear that the performance progress of GPU hardware would rapidly surpass that of the custom hardware dictated by Ageia.

Owners of Nvidia GPU hardware can continue to enjoy the benefits of the PhysX technology, but owners of the various dedicated add-in cards now find themselves with expensive paperweights, unless they choose to never update their Nvidia drivers.

Accelerated game physics remains the red headed stepchild of the gaming world. The list of games that utilize the proprietary API is rather limited, with developers more likely to use their own physics technology or one of the middleware packages such as Havok.

Long term, Microsoft will surely incorporate a game physics component into DirectX with abstractions similar to the audio and graphics components. This will allow game developers to utilize a common API that shields them from the vagaries of the underlying physics 'engine', be it GPGPU based (Nvida or ATI), or middleware based (Havok, ODE, etc.)

Gamers will see better and better implementations of accelerated, complex physics in their games for certain, but we've really only seen baby steps up until now.

My prediction for the next piece of dedicated hardware that will fall by the wayside? The ridiculous voodoo-ware by Bigfoot Networks, producers of the ludicrous 'Killer' network interface card series.

One look at their marketing hype should raise red flags for any intelligent gamer. I've yet to see any of their 'tests' that are plastered all around their site contain any details of the protocols and systems involved, giving them more of the appearance of some late night infomercial for Miracle Magnetic Healing Shoe Inserts than that of a truly valid scientific test.

Surely, hardware that is about as useful to a gamer on a modern high performance gaming PC as a diamond encrusted platinum swastika is to a rabbi. I'm sure they'll find some special customers for these products, just like the makers of  overpriced ($55,000.00 a pair!) speaker cables do, even though it has been shown audio kooks couldn't discern the difference between expensive cables and wire coat hangers.

I hope my favorite 'Minimum BS' PC magazine gets their hands on a recent model and puts it through the wringer. PC gaming enthusiasts have a myriad of better things to spend their hard earned cash on.

Heck, I may go buy one myself and put and end to this nonsense with a controlled scientific test.

Z9$^&$^03H#$^90efjdv28e0^#%$*( dR - Oops, sorry, I just slipped on a puddle of snake oil...

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