Ghost Recon Summary

The most important title for AGEIA’s current success, Ghost Recon performance need to be evaluated.  From the time my initial testing was complete until publication, much on this subject from AGEIA, NVIDIA and Havok has been published by various websites.  First, Havok published an email claiming that the majority of the game engine for Ghost Recon uses the Havok physics engine, not the Novodex/PhysX engine.  Also, since they had seen the same performance decreases with the PPU installed as we did, they did some testing with the help of NVIDIA that showed the GPU has more than enough additional power for the extra physical objects that the PhysX code adds and that the GPU is not responsible for any frame rate slowdowns.  Therefore, the AGEIA PhysX driver and hardware are responsible for the slowdown.

BFG's AGEIA PhysX PPU Action Accelerator Card Review - Graphics Cards 45

I hypothesized this as well, and it seems to make sense.  However, just yesterday, AGEIA released a new driver revision for the PhysX card that would address the issue.  To quote the email:

“We appreciate feedback from the gamer community and based partly on comments like the one above, we have identified an area in our driver where fine tuning positively impacts frame rate. We made an adjustment quickly and delivered it in a new driver (2.4.3) which is available for download at today.”

They seem to be admitting that the performance WAS lower but they found the problem and it was addressed.  This sounds a lot like the GPU wars for the past 3+ years, doesn’t it? The end result remains the same from our perspective though — the AGEIA PhysX provides some additional effects and interaction without much (or any if the driver fix will work) decrease in performance. 

Cell Factor and Hanger of Doom Summary

These two games are really not that important for AGEIA’s success in the short term, as Cell Factor won’t be around for some time and the Hanger test is really just a demo.  Cell Factor played very well on our test system, though we didn’t show you any direct performance comparisons with anything in particular.  The graphical detail on Cell Factor was decent, though running the game at 1024×768 with the default detail settings did make our 7900 GT-based test system. 

Does the PPU affect the performance of the game negatively?  There is no real way to test it, unless we could find a CPU or GPU conversion of this code, which we don’t have and probably won’t.  For now, we’ll have to assume the PhysX is doing its job correctly. 

The power consumption on the AGEIA PhysX PPU seems to be pretty small, taking up only an additional 21 watts of power at idle and 23 watts with a game load on the system.  In the world of 100+ watt consumptions in GPUs and CPUs, that should come as very little additional stress on a power supply for most systems that are powering NVIDIA 7-series or ATI X1000 series graphics cards.

Future Titles

For the immediate future, the next upcoming title with AGEIA PhysX support is City of Villians, NCSoft’s very popular MMORPG.  Coming with a patch to current users, it will enable additional particle effects, cloth and rigid bodies that we have already been told will NOT affect game play directly.  The next title due up is Unreal Tournament 2007, and it’s a big one.  After speaking with Epic’s Mark Rein at GDC, he told me that they will have PhysX support in the game for particle effects and the like, similar to what we see in Ghost Recon and CoV, but that they planned on releasing a couple of maps that will REQUIRE the PhysX PPU in to run.  If these are impressive and convincing examples of the PhysX’s potential, AGEIA might have a big help in their sales late this year.

Final Thoughts

At its current state, the BFG AGEIA PhysX PPU card is a mixed bag.  On one hand, the card’s additions to Ghost Recon and the couple other titles that are in retail that support PhysX, are less than spectacular.  The changes in realism and visual quality are really minimal and I think most users would feel that the required additional $200 investment wouldn’t be worth it quite yet.

The word ‘yet’ is important here, as I think with a game engine like Unreal using the PhysX technology, there is a lot of potential for this technology to take off towards the end of 2006.  Even though Havok, paired with NVIDIA and ATI, has started implementing GPU-based physics calculations, they have admitted that Havok is aiming only at particle effects for the near future.  AGEIA seems to have set higher goals and intends to reach them in 2006.  If they achieve that goal, then a BFG AGEIA PhysX card might find a comfortable place in your system.  Buying one now might seem a bit preemptive, but there won’t be any hardware upgrades in the near future for AGEIA’s PhysX so there are no worries about hardware cycle time.  Until the software really takes off, you’ll have all the goodies in the mean time and have some bragging rights as well. 

Though the status of hardware accelerated physics is up in the air and could fall anywhere at this point, I think that by the end of 2006 the BFG AGEIA PhysX PPU will be a popular product with enthusiasts.

Other Articles of Interest on Physics in Gaming

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