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Graphics Ageia PhysX Cards (PPUs): Are They Still Worth It?

Discussion in 'Hardware' started by mohawkade, 1 Aug 2011.

  1. mohawkade

    mohawkade What's a Dremel?

    1 Aug 2011
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    View the video to this post below.


    Hello, I'm Andrew Elliott, but in various online forums and games, I dub the name MohawkADE. If you ever looked at my system specs, you would see that I'm the proud owner of an Ageia PhysX card. That being said, I like to keep myself updated on any news that's PhysX related.

    Amongst my findings, I found a lot of debate on whether this now outdated technology is still worth looking into. So I decided to take a little time to settle the majority of these common questions in this informative post (video). I will start by going into a brief history lesson about the PhysX card, and it's impact on modern PC gaming, then discuss uses today and what people should consider before owning one (or if they already own one).

    The story of the PhysX card started in 2002, when a small fabless semiconductor company known as Ageia Technologies was founded with Manju Hegde as it's residing CEO. Though it was only after purchasing a software development kit (that simulated the laws of physics) known as NovodeX SDK in 2004, that they quickly redeveloped and relicensed this SDK into a real-time physics engine now known as PhysX SDK.

    Though PhysX SDK didn't differ from many other physics engines in itself, Ageia looked outside the box and announced the development of a unique add in card that accelerated PhysX enabled games, this add-in PCI card came to be known as a PhysX card, or a PPU. The Physics Processor Unit (PPU) differed from many other processor units that already existed...

    Where a CPU (Central Processor Unit) would handle all computing tasks, and a GPU (Graphics Processor Unit) would specifically calculate the math necessary to generate the image on your computer screen, the PPU however was specifically designed to calculate the math necessary to simulate the laws of physics in any program that supports PhysX acceleration.

    And so started the golden age of the Ageia PhysX card; from 2006 to early 2008, more than 60 developers saw the advantages of the PhysX SDK, and incorporated it into their own projects, with a dozen of those projects taking advantage of PPU technology. And even though the PhysX card was received by the public with much interest and wide acclaim, it also received it's fair share of criticism as well. With steep prices as high as 130 US dollars, and limited compatibility to only a select number of games, the PhysX card only attracted the most dedicated gaming enthusiasts.

    But all that changed in late February 2008, when graphics giant Nvidia finalized their acquisition of Ageia and effectively incorporated the PhysX SDK to be used with Nvidia's trademark CUDA technology. Because of this, PhysX enabled games can be accelerated using a conventional Nvidia graphics card (Nvidia Geforce 8000 series and higher). Following the acquisition of Ageia, Nvidia unveiled the Geforce GTX 200 series graphics cards (unofficially dubbed the lovechild of Ageia and Nvidia technologies). These cards had over 200 CUDA cores within them, allowing them to handle any next generation game in their highest settings with enough power to tackle any physics calculations a game has to offer.

    Needless to say, these new graphics cards rendered the Ageia PhysX card nearly obsolete, as a GTX 200 series and higher graphics card can process more than a PhysX Card ever could. So what does this mean to people who own a PPU or who wish to own one? Are they even worth having anymore?

    This isn't as simple as "yes, keep them" or "no, toss them", there are various pros and cons one must consider before deciding to buy/keep a PhysX card that vary between people with different gaming interests and predisposed situations.

    The first thing to consider is Budget, which is a Pro for the Ageia PhysX card as PPUs can be purchased for a fraction of the price they used to be if you're building a gaming PC under a budget.

    The second factor to consider is System Configuration, an Ageia PhysX card can be considered if you own a graphics card that doesn't support PhysX, or if you're trying to bring new life to an old PC with a graphics card on AGP architecture (as Nvidia graphics cards on AGP architecture aren't made to support PhysX).

    The third factor is Game Support, a good reason to keep or buy a PPU if you have an older PC is that a PhysX card will accelerate most game titles using PhysX SDK (even if the game is not optimized for hardware physics but rather optimized for CPU physics), giving you a slight performance boost.

    Game Support is also a reason why not to consider a PhysX Card, as games using the latest Nvidia drivers will not support the PPU, which brings us to the Cons of the Ageia PhysX card.

    The 1st Con is Driver Support. Nvidia has recently developed new PhysX drivers that drop support for the Ageia PPU altogether. This means that games like Mafia 2 and Metro 2033 will not receive acceleration from a PPU, nor will a PPU provide auxiliary acceleration to any PhysX game on the latest PhysX drivers like it normally would on older drivers.

    The 2nd and final Con of the PPU is good ol' LAG! Ever since Nvidia got their hands on PhysX SDK, Nvidia has been raising the bar higher and higher on how many physics calculations can be done at once in Real-Time, leaving the PhysX Card behind in the dust as newer PhysX games offer too many physics calculations for the PPU to handle alone.

    In Conclusion, an Ageia PhysX card makes a great addition to your Gaming Rig (if you're looking for some low budget physics acceleration to some old games that support the PPU), but if you're more of a hardcore gamer with your eye on newer PhysX games, then you'll want to look into some more serious hardware such as a Nvidia Geforce GTX card.

    Thanks for reading (watching), hope this post (video) was informational for you. If you still have any PPU related questions, you can ask them by replying to this topic, or exploring this site further or by visiting PhysXInfo.com.


    Now if you'll excuse me, I have some gaming to do!

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