ATI and PhysX Co-exist on the Nintendo Wii
Like a huge slap in the face to ATI, rival company Nvidia has signed a "tools and middleware" license agreement with Nintendo, bringing PhysX technology to the Wii console.
Yesterday Tom's reported that Nvidia signed a deal with Sony Computer Entertainment Inc that gives PlayStation 3 developers access to the PhysX software development kit (SDK). According to the company, the kit is now available as a free download on the SCEI Developer Network and consists of a full-featured API and "robust" physics engine. But because the console's RSX GPU--based on Nvidia's G70 architecture (think GeForce 7800)--doesn't support PhysX in a hardware (or CUDA) sense, the middleware thus relies on the Cell's Synergistic Processing Units (SPUs) to process the physics rather than dumping the entire load on the Cell's Power Processor Unit (PPU).
Now Nvidia is taking another step into dominating the gaming industry by inking a deal with Nintendo that grants Wii developers access to the PhysX SDK as well. “Nintendo has reshaped the home entertainment and video game market with the success of the Wii console. Adding a PhysX SDK for Wii is key to our cross-platform strategy and integral to the business model for our licensed game developers and publishers,” said Tony Tamasi, senior vice president of content and technology at Nvidia. “With Nvidia PhysX technology, developers can easily author more realistic game environments for the evolving demands of a broad class of Wii gamers.”
Currently the Nintendo Wii is the heavyweight champ in regards to overall console sales, selling over 22 million units in North America alone since its launch back in November 2006; 48 million units worldwide. While porting the PhysX technology over to the blockbuster console is smart in a business sense for Nvidia, what makes the whole announcement rather curious is just how the Nintendo Wii hardware can even handle physics processing. Of the three major consoles on the market today, the Nintendo Wii is the least powerful in a visual sense, relying more on the interaction provided by the Wii Remote.
Let's look at it this way: the Nintendo Wii relies on the PowerPC-based "Broadway" processor clocking in at 729 MHz and developed using 90 nm SOI CMOS processing. On the graphic side, the visuals are rendered by ATI's Hollywood" GPU, clocking in at 243 MHz and developed using a 90 nm CMOS process; there's a 3 MB embedded GPU texture memory and framebuffer thrown in there as well. As for the console's memory, there's 88 MB total: 64 MB "external" GDDR3 SDRAM and 24 MB "internal" 1T-SRAM integrated into the graphics package.
So how will the Nintendo Wii carry the burden? That question has yet to be answered, however after closer inspection of the Gamebryo LightSpeed announcement released last week (link), reporting that Emergent Game Technologies integrated PhysX into its Gamebryo 2.6 development platform for the Wii, today's announcement should not have come as a surprise. According to a Nvidia rep, PhysX has been a part of game development for some time; the company merely made it official with today's announcement. With the new SDK implimentation, Nvidia can now make changes directly to the middleware without the need for developer involvement.
Still, with an ATI GPU under the hood of Nintendo's Wii console, it seems almost comical that Nvidia has invaded their "space" so to speak, now assimilating all three gaming consoles into the overall PhysX collective. Like yesterday's report with Sony's PlayStation 3, hopefully Nvidia will shed a bit more light on how the PhysX middleware will interact with the Wii hardware, and if gamers will see any performance issues as a result.