AGEIA PhysX Launch - GDC Event Coverage
In 2002, AGEIA's founders broke into the gaming industry with the intention of revolutionizing the way PC games would be played. Focusing their attention on the notion of in-game physics, the ultimate goal was to bring a new level of realism to the latest and greatest titles on the horizon. In short, the company has developed the world's first Physics Processing Unit (PPU) and is aiming to use this new hardware to blur the line between virtual worlds and reality.
With no direct competitor, AGEIA's discrete PPU card largely shoulders the burden of lobbying developers and consumers for advanced physics in games. Here, it is impossible to not notice some blatant similarities between this situation and the same situation seen by 3dfx and other GPU vendors in the days when a "3D accelerator" was unheard of. With the visual and performance advancements brought to the table by these discrete graphics cards, 3dfx managed to change the way games looked and ultimately made a more immersive gaming environment. Today, the mere thought of not having a discrete graphics card seems insane as that hardware is now a critical piece of the foundation for a solid gaming platform. AGEIA is eager to follow in the same footsteps as 3dfx as they attempt to make the discrete physics processor an equally critical piece of that foundation. In the same manner graphics cards change the way a game will look, the PPU will ultimately change the way the game looks and feels as well, resulting in a much richer gaming experience.
Built at TSMC's leading-edge fab, AGEIA's PhysX processor consists of 125 million transistors and will run at an unspecified frequency. Somewhat surprisingly, the die size is rumored to be a rather large 182mm which is very close to the 196mm size of NVIDIA's new flagship GeForce 7900 (G71) GPU despite the graphics chipset's larger 278 million transistors. Although details are vague, we are told the PPU has been designed to be fully programmable. This is a key characteristic which will allow new features and functionality to be easily "unlocked" through future driver releases. With regards to the discrete physics card itself, we see initial PPU cards released as PCI solutions with 128MB of GDDR3 memory. Referencing the AGEIA-supplied photo of the current PPU card above, we see a standard Molex power connector as the board requires a direct connection to the PSU for adequate power. Unfortunately, AGEIA has been less than forthcoming with specific details such as total power consumption and even the process used for fabricating the PPU. As the launch of cards into the retail channel approaches, it seems inevitable that AGEIA will become a bit more willing to share this type of information.