Ageia says its new physics processing device and engine will do nothing less than revolutionize PC gaming. We see just how well Ageia's PPU (physics processing unit) can handle flying debris and shrapnel in Ghost Recon Advanced War Fighter, which you can also see for yourself by downloading our video.
So what is a physics processing unit and what does it offer games? The short answer is that a physics processor can handle the CPU's physics-related tasks. However, the PPU does not replace the graphics card, which is still needed to render images. Instead, the physics engine simulates effects that you would expect to see and experience in the real world, such as gravitational pull or friction.
So what does applying real-world laws of physics mean for game play? With GTA San Andreas, for example, each car's speed and weight are determined by a multitude of parameters. These parameters control how quickly a car can accelerate or the effects of a collision between two vehicles. Using a handling editor, these parameters can be altered, allowing for a heavy army tank to move as fast as a NASCAR race car or a go-cart to weigh as much as a jumbo jet.
The world of the role-playing game Oblivion also features some examples of intense physics at work: Objects tumble down steep inclines and the bodies of dead opponents float on water. When the bodies are tugged down beneath the surface, they will float back up after they are released. Arrows shot vertically will turn and fall back to the ground, sometimes skittering across stone floors, striking trees or sticking in tree bark.
Ageia now attempts to take in-game physics to the next level with its add-in card for the PCI bus. This card is meant to handle the physics calculations in games, allowing them to use more effects than a software renderer utilizing only the CPU could handle.
Ageia's PhysX cards sport a small fan, with 128 MB of GDDR3 memory, and are designed for the PCI bus. There are no external connectors, and except for a 4-pin power connector, the cards do not require additional cables.