ATI touts physics on GPU

Written by Brett Thomas

June 6, 2006 // 7 p.m.

Tags: #acceleration #ati #bad-axe #graphics-card #intel #physics

Computex starts tomorrow (already 'today' by the time you read this, at least in their timezone)!

But as is typical with our industry, nobody likes to wait that long to release big news. In fact, the traditional trade show plan is for vendors to start the show a day or two before it is actually scheduled, with different 'A' list parties and launch events.

In this most noble tradition, we bring you news from the Red corner. ATI has announced that it is thinking about physics in 2006 and 2007, but not in the way you might think. As the buzz for they PhysX processor ramps up, ATI has teamed up with the crew over at Havok to offer a solution using technology you already own... sort of. They want you to use a third graphics card to provide physics support.

The idea is part of ATI's new "boundless gaming" initiative. In it, they explain how Crossfire is best optimized for Intel's Core Duo machines, and the flagship board for the initiative is the 'BadAxe' Intel board, which sports three PCI Express graphics slots. AMD support will soon be coming, the boys assure us.

Why do we need new motherboards? Well, because the initiative wants us to have three seperate graphics cards. They recommend a 2+1 configuration of two X1900 XT cards, but stress that any ol' (/sarcasm) 1600 or later board will suffice as the third one. That's two cards in Crossfire mode, plus a third used as a dedicated physics processor.

ATI also mentioned offhandedly that it could work in a 1+1 configuration if you did not want to mortgage your house.

So, with that in mind, why would someone want to spend so much for seperate physics? Simple - ATIs promise 9 times the processing power of an Ageia PPU, and theirs functions with the industry's most popular physics middleware. All with a piece of kit you would normally just retire when you buy your next upgrade. Moving to DX10 functionality? Plug your old DX9 X1600 XT or later card in your second (or third) slot and enjoy blazingly fast physics in games that are already out on the market (one could assume there will be a patch for current Havok based games). Pretty slick, huh?

We have to admit, it's a pretty neat idea for using some of your older cards. One has to wonder whether the efficiency of running a rather powerful (even by today's standards) graphics card to do something other than graphics is truly going to be better than running a card optimised for physics calculations, but time will be the judge of that. According to HardOCP, the initial results were pretty impressive.

Got a thought on this new move by ATI? We've enabled the physics to let you drop it in our forums.

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