Ageia introduces physics processors for gaming

Ageia Technologies on Wednesday announced the availability of its PhysX processor — a dedicated “physics processing unit” (PPU) designed to work in conjunction with games that use Ageia’s physics engine. The company expects add in boards to start hitting retail store shelves in May, 2006.

Hardware-based physics processing represents a new trend in gaming. With hardware-based physics acceleration, games can feature dramatically more realistic real-time physics effects, including smoke, particle effects, dynamic physical motion and interaction far beyond what today’s games are capable of doing.

Up until now, such effects have placed their load squarely on the shoulders of the CPU, or sometimes, using graphical trickery, the 3D graphics chip. Recent advancements from Ageia and rival Havok aim to change that.

Ageia has been publicly promoting its PhysX technology for the past year. Ageia’s approach is to license a physics engine to game manufacturers that’s scalable to both software and hardware, and to produce a PPU that can then accelerate physics effects. Game developers license the PhysX SDK from Ageia and incorporate that into their games as a way of driving physics-based effects.

This is the second major announcement concerning hardware-accelerated physics to emerge from this week’s Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Jose, Calif. Earlier this week, graphics chip maker Nvidia announced a partnership with Havok to bring hardware acceleration to Havok FX software using Nvidia’s own graphics chips.

Nvidia said that Havok FX is particularly well-suited to work on PCs equipped with more than one Nvidia-based card, linked using Scalable Link Interface (SLI) — a technology that hasn’t yet made its debut on the Macintosh. In fact, Havok’s physics engine hasn’t been used on any Mac games at this point, either.

Ageia’s approach is different — it’s depending on third party manufacturers including board manufacturers Asus and BFG to produce cards that feature the PhysX PPU on board. It’s unknown at this time whether those cards will work in the Mac, but Ageia has positioned PhysX as a cross-platform technology. The company even has alliances with Mac-friendly developers like MacSoft parent Destineer Studios and Aspyr Media.

Ageia claims that more than 100 games supporting the PhysX processor are in development from companies including Ubisoft, Epic Games and others.

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