AGEIA PhysX PPU graphics card review

The concept of a dedicated add-on card just for gamers really isn’t anything new. Heck, who didn’t go out and buy a dedicated graphics accelerator to get the best out of Quake and similar games 10 years ago, just as soon as they had the available cash? The point is, if you want to get the best out of a game visually speaking then you need to throw all the graphics processing power you can get your hands on at it.

Trouble is, we still want more realism when blowing up a building or torching a tank. So where do we go to get it?

That’s the question the folk at AGEIA have not only been asking, but have become the first people to answer with a product in production, on the shelf, that you can go buy now and increase the gaming realism factor by miles and miles and miles.

The secret is all in the physics. OK, OK, please don’t hit the next button thinking that you will fall asleep just like you did at the back of the class in school, this is exciting stuff, and it’s relevant to you!

Physics is a hugely important element of all modern games, handling the way that objects on screen interact with each other be that a bullet striking an alien, a rocket exploding on contact with a building, or a couple of vehicles crashing into each other at speed.

It’s all physics, and advanced in-game physics programming has been moving forward in leaps and bounds recently courtesy of new games consoles such as the Xbox 360 and PS3 which have the requisite dedicated hardware to turn the code into a visual experience for the user.

But the PC gamer has been left behind, unless they have deep enough pockets to buy what is in effect a supercomputer just for playing games. Unless your Dad is Bill Gates this is unlikely, and you’ll have plenty of other problems to compensate for good measure.
Until now, that is.

The AGEIA PhysX Physics Processing Unit is a dedicated slot-in card that handles all the computationally intensive physics routines in compatible games, taking the strain off the CPU and releasing the true visual experience for you to wallow in.

What this means in your bedroom or lounge is flying debris in a depth of detail you’ve never seen before, flowing liquid that really does look natural, and even the wind catching objects and acting upon them. What’s more, thanks to the power of this beast, you won’t see the same reaction twice so no more canned animation to spoil things, your game will really be brought to life.

It can do this courtesy of the 125 million transistor AGEIA Physx processor, the 128MB GDDR3 memory, the 12Gbytes per second memory bandwidth and 733MHz clock speed. Remember, all this dedicated just to in-game physics, none of it wasted in graphics or game logic. Although it means as little to us as it will you, there’s also the small matter of the 530 million per second maximum sphere-to-sphere collision rate and the 533,000 per second convex-to-convex collision rate to consider. See, we told you.

The downsides are so few, and so petty, we feel slightly embarrassed mentioning them – but we will. Your PC will run hotter and use more power with the card installed. The cooling fan built into the card isn’t that quiet, so expect a noise overhead as well.

The two biggest problems are the price, but early adopters never get a great deal for being first on the block to be better than everyone else, and the lack of games supporting the card at the moment; it only works out of the box with a select few game titles although more are promised.

The point is that it will get cheaper and there will be more games as time goes by.

Verdict

It’s a real shame about the relative lack of games supporting the PhysX card at present, although we are sure this will increase quickly enough should it prove a success. If your favourite game is supported though, buying extra physics processing capability is a no-brainer. Just do it!

For now you can check out the compatibility list at the AGEIA website where you can also download screenshots and in-game videos and see the difference for yourself.