Computex 2006: ATI Physics

ATI announces support for the Havok physics API.

A humid hello from Computex Taiwan, where ATI has announced support for the Havok Physics API in a move set to blow Ageia clean out of the water. Although no games have been released supporting Havok, and games supporting Ageia’s API are thin on the ground – this is still an important announcement that will shape the way physics processing is developing.

ATI’s solution is of an asymmetric design, rather than the symmetric approach that nVidia takes. For example, when nVidia (who also supports the Havok physics engine) process physics it uses one GPU for rendering and one GPU for physics. Likewise, in a Quad SLI configuration, two GPUs are used for rendering and two for physics. This is quite a waste to have two cards dedicated to physics. Due to the current limitations of SLI, these also need to be identical cards.

ATI’s proposal suggest the possibility of not only a 1+1 configuration (one rendering graphics and one processing physics), but also a 2+1 configuration using CrossFire for graphics rendering and a third card dedicated to processing physics. What is most interesting about this is you can use anything from an X1600 upwards to process the physics. This means the addition of a relatively inexpensive graphics card could dramatically improve gameplay and give your CrossFire cards something decent to render. ATI suggest that a single X1600XT provides twice the physics processing power of a dedicated Ageia PPU and that an X1900XTX would offer up to nine times the performance.

However, to do so will require three PCI-E slots which very few motherboards currently have. However, both the reference Intel 975 chipset board and the RD600 based motherboards used have three slots available. Pictured below is the RD600 reference board using two X1900XTX cards and a passive X1600 nestled snugly in the middle.

Most interesting was ATI’s quick adoption of Intel’s Core 2 Duo or “Conroe” technology. A big emphasis was put on how this is “the fastest processor ever” and a perfect match for CrossFire. There wasn’t an AMD CPU in sight. For ATI to make such a leap, Conroe must be something pretty special – yet more evidence that Intel is going to significantly change the marketplace.

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