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New PC Category: The Physics Accelerator?

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During my interview with ATI execs Rick Bergman and Dirk Behrens last week I discovered that moving the emphasis purely away from frame rates to image quality was a major concern. It now looks like Ageia has taken this idea one step further.



Co-developed with Asus, the ‘PhysX processor’ will arrive in May and is a rather radical idea which perhaps introduces a new category in PC hardware. Described as a ‘physical accelerator card’ the device works in conjunction with a traditional graphics card and takes on the load of calculating complex physics within games whilst adding entirely new and complex effects.

Curiously, for an officially announced product, hard facts on the card remain thin on the ground. We know, for example, that games will need to be specifically patched to work with the PhysX processor and that these games do indeed demonstrate vastly improved physics effects. Check out the side by side demo of Ghost Recon if you need convincing here, but a number of questions remain unanswered.

Primary in our minds is whether the PhysX processor can actually breathe new life into your current graphics card by increasing frame rates or if it just adds a layer of visual garnish. Secondly, no price has been announced for the PhysX processor which is a little worrying because a high price may simply convince consumers to buy a new, faster graphics card instead.



Industry backing is crucial to the development, however, and here the PhysX processor does seem strong. Ubisoft, Epic Games, Ritual Entertainment, Mythic Entertainment, Cryptic Studios, Spark, Unreal Engine 3, Sony and Microsoft are all confirmed supporters and currently available titles Call of Duty 2, Splinter Cell 4, Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends, Bet on Soldier and City Of Villains will all be receiving PhysX patches soon. Before Q1 is out we’ll also get Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, Gundam Online, Close Combat: Red Phoenix, Fritz 9 and Rail Simulator. In the second half of 2006 major titles include: Splinter Cell 4: Multiplayer, Unreal Tournament 2007, Killing Day, Gears of War, Sacred II and Sin 2

This all rather reminds me of the time 3dfx burst onto the scene with its Voodoo 3D accelerator. Its role was solely to take the 3D load off the graphics card and results were spectacular. That said, eventually this role was integrated into a single card and I wonder if the PhysX engine is ultimately headed the same way?

Have we just witnessed the newest and possibly briefest new category in PC hardware? We’ll keep you posted as we get more details.

Links:
Ageia
Asus UK

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