Asus 128mb PhysX Card Review/Preview Page: 1
Introduction

When Agiea released information about their PPU's (Physics processing Unit): there was much excitement in the tech and gaming world. Was this to be the next revolutionary thing in gaming?

We're going to take a look at an Ageia card made by Asus and see what all the fuss is about, whether PhysX is all what it promises and whether this will be able to develop into something big in the future.

This is a Review AND Preview. I am saying this as I have a retail packaged Ageia card in my hands but I feel that this technology is slightly in its infancy and needs to have more games out before I make a "final" judgement. This is not to say that there aren't reasons for and against I would just like to make it clear how I see this article.

Packaging

Asus have packaged up the card very nicely. The main packaging is good with a definite bow to the physics aspect of the card and a pretty cool inside sleeve type box that gives more info about the card. The information on the card is explained pretty well although this is definitely a "new" thing and so harder to get specs comparable to other products easy for the customer to interpret.

ageia physx

ageia physx

agiea physx

Inside we can see that Asus have bundled this up nice and tight with separate compartments for the card and the extra's. This is one PhysX card that will not be getting damaged in transit unless your postman thrown it out the van on the way past!

ageia physx

Top marks to Asus so far



Asus 128mb PhysX Card Review/Preview Page: 2
The Card

The card itself is pretty small - comparable in size to my Creative Audigy 2 ZS. It has a small cooler with an Aluminium heatsink and you can see it requires a molex power connecter. You can see the cooler also cools some of the mosfets so that's a bonus.

ageia physx

The rear of the card shows that the heatsink is pretty firmly attached so no problems there.

ageia physx

All in all a decent arrangement. Obviously the card does not need a huge amount of cooling.

Naked we can see the PhysX chip and the PCB with 4 x 32mb Samsung K4J52324QC-BC20 chips rated at 500MHz

ageai physx naked

It's pretty strange seeing a PCI backplate that has no outputs but thats what Ageia's card has!

ageia physx

Specifications

There is a general lack of information about the actual tech specs of PhysX on the web but from what I can glean

PCI Interface

* Processor Type: AGEIA PhysX
* Transistor Count: 125 Million
* Silicon: 14 x 13.5mm (some 188mm²)
* Manufacturing Process: 130nm
* Bus Technology: 32-bit PCI 3.0
* Memory Interface: 128-bit GDDR3
* Memory Capacity: 128MB
* Memory Bandwidth: 12Gbytes/sec.
* Memory Clock: 733MHz
* Peak Instruction Bandwidth: 20 Billion Instructions/sec
* Sphere-Sphere collision/sec: 530 Million max
* Convex-Convex (Complex) collisions/sec: 533,000 max
* Adaptor/Cable bundled: Power Cable

Support for up to 32,000 rigid body objects, soft body objects, particle systems containing 40,000-50,000 particles, fluid modelling and collision detection.

Ageia have said that they are going to implement PhysX on PCI-E, but the card is on PCI at present.

Upcoming Games

Can be found here

Here is the list from Ageia's site.

ageia release list
































Development

Ageia provide tools to developers:

PhysX Builder™

Comprehensive tool set to create, preview, tune, and debug physics content

PhysX Create™


Includes plug-ins for both 3DS Max and Maya

  • Add physics to game objects
  • Advanced rag-doll creation and editing
  • Creation of cloth and clothing
  • Preview physics interaction in the interactive viewport!
  • Import/Export via binary, ASCII or Collada to content creation tools or game editor/ game engine

PhysX Rocket™


Enables high-performance preview and tuning of PhysX content

  • Modular and extensible allowing developer to customize to suite own needs
  • Ideal environment for creation, viewing and tuning of fluids and vehicle models
    • Import/Export via binary, ASCII or Collada to content creation tools or game editor/ game engine

PhysX VRD™


Real-time visual remote debugger

  • Real-time view into the PhysX runtime
  • Captures and plays back PhysX simulation for interactive debugging
  • Stop and inspect data at any point in the simulation
  • Connects via TCP/IP to PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 runtime

So all in all PhysX looks good for what it can do. The exciting thing for me is real time dynamic liquid simulation as well as cloth effects and then the obvious particle behaviour you will notice the most. Ageia have also made the PhysX engine easy to approximate on next-gen consoles so that once deployed in a game this can be a cross-platform development platform.

Basically PhysX accelerates a whole lot of physics in the dedicated hardware. This enables some awesomely cool physics effects - given good game programming.

Bundle

I was pretty impressed with the Asus bundle with this card.

Included is:

Asus PhysX Card
Molex Power extension cable
Demo of Switchball (small physics puzzle demo)
Demo of Cell factor
Full Version of Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter
Ageia PhysX Drivers
Ageia PhysX installation CD
CD Wallet

ageia physx

This is about as complete as you could get a bundle with the card at this time. Asus has done well with the bundle.

asus physx ageia

The wallet is pretty good quality and this is a nice touch from Asus making you feel that you have bought something a bit special.

Including GRAW is basically a must with this card in my opinion and it is good to see this included in the bundle. It is an AAA title and so this is a definite plus when considering the bundle.

The Cooler

Usually we look at graphics cards coolers in our reviews: so lets take a closer look at Asus's cooling implementation.

ageia physx

ageia physx

The fan stays on full throughout the time that the PC is on, but the noise does not stand out above even a quiet system with the nice 7900GTX 512mb cooler on it. The fan is an Evercool 12v T125010DM. Obviously this card does not put out much heat as this heatsink and fan combo is pretty lightweight and quiet.

Also note it take up a single PCI slot and so you can fit another PCI card in the bottom slot if you are using a single 7900GTX like I decided to in my review.


Asus 128mb PhysX Card Review/Preview Page: 3
Testing Notes

With our graphics cards I test to a "real-world" experience. I believe that seeing numbers for tests is all well and good but it's the actual performance that the end user will see that is the most important factor in testing. With PhysX this means that I took a look at the games that are available for PhysX and played them thoroughly to ensure I got an impression of the gameplay you will get with a PhysX card.

I was going to set up the card with dual 7900GTX's in SLI: but I decided that most people would have a discreet sound card installed in their system so I used one 7900GTX and kept in my SB Audigy 2 ZS.

Test Setup

The test setup was as follows:

AMD Opteron 175 @ 2.8GHz (watercooled)
DFI LANPARTY UT Sli-D motherboard
Mushkin Redline PC4000 running at 255 x 11 1:1 3-3-2-5
Club3d 7900GTX 512mb running 91.31 Forceware
HDD: OS - 160gb Hitachi Deskstar SATA II
HDD: Gaming - 2 x 40gb Hitachi Deskstars in RAID 0
Sound: SoundBlaster Audigy 2 ZS
Power: PCP&C 510 SLi
Lian Li PC70B modded for watercoling and plenty of additional cooling.

G.R.A.W. was running all the latest patches and I installed the latest beta release of Cell Factor.

Please note that movies have been resized for easy upload/download

Installation

Installation of the card was simple. I inserted the card in a spare PCI slot, checked for seating and booted up, making sure the additional Power Molex was properly inserted. I installed the latest drivers on Ageia's website: 2.4.4.

There was no issues installing the drivers of the card and no issues with the Ageia's PhysX card running any of the games.



Asus 128mb PhysX Card Review/Preview Page: 4
Gaming Testing - Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter

G.R.A.W. is a game that is allows for hardware and software support of the PhysX card. It's the first full retail game that can claim this and as far as I am aware the only game actually out that allows for PhysX card support.

G.R.A.W. is a first person shooter that is heavy on HDR lighting, particle effects and of course: physics effects. It does not put a huge strain on the PC is was using although with it being a slow FPS I found that around 30FPS was acceptable. If your PC can run CoD 2, F.E.A.R. and Oblivion then it can definitely run this game: although I will say that you need to run it at fairly high settings to see all the nice particle physics effects.

I am not here to give a review of the game itself but I will make some comment on the gameplay seeing as the game is bundled with the card.

Gameplay

The game is a tense, tactical shooter. I'll revise that. It's a hard tense tactical shooter. For someone like me who usually plays a game on normal, then on hard it is pretty hard.

The HDR lighting effects are very nice but I feel that the colours are very slightly "washed out" - maybe I haven't got to a bright bit in the game yet. The graphics are very nice altogether and are definitely worthy of a new PC game - perhaps lacking the "sparkle" of games like Oblivion.

The controls are pretty intuitive and I quite enjoy sending my team here and there to kill enemy soldiers.

But, I hear you cry, "What are the physics effects like?"

In my opinion G.R.A.W. has not fully utilised the strengths of the physx card. This is not to say that it does not use them at all, it does use them with sparks flying when you hit metal, cars being destroyed when you shoot them and walls with lots of fragments coming off them.

All is not rosy for those among you who are really wanting to see what PhysX can do. After you shot that wall and the dust settles the fragments disappear and sometimes makes you feel a little non-plussed. But then sometimes you'll have enjoyed blowing up the lorry so much you simply will not care!

However when you do come across some decent explosions the PhysX card takes it all in it's stride and they are very impressive. It's just a shame more isn't made of the physics aspect of the game. Imagine being able to blow down the top of a building and kill several enemy soldiers in the process!

Screenshots and Video's

I have provided you with some screenshots and video's of PhysX in action.

First a comparison of no PhysX and PhyX on destroying a wall:

No PhysX

ageia physx

With PhysX

ageia physx

The gun is different but you get the point: the particles fly all over the place and are much more prevalent than they are without PhysX

Next we see some car/lorry destroying:

ageia physx

Lorry explosion (2 pics sequence)

ageia physx graw

ageia physx graw

Car explosion (2 pics sequence)

ageia physx graw

ageia physx graw

The sparks are a very nice touch and all cars in the game can really be shot and blown up!

Here's a video of a grenade thrown at a van. Click Here to download

And a very nice clip of a lorry I decided to blow up click Here

You can see the effects of a grenade in the game is much more pronounced than in normal games with a lot more debris. I was very impressed with the lorry being blown up in the clip and this was definitely a fun thing to do.

Does G.R.A.W. really take advantage of PhysX?

All in all I think that G.R.A.W. lacks that killer touch when it comes to physics. It is better than your average game but when you take a look at F.E.A.R. and the explosions and effects in that you are a little disappointed in all honesty. However it is good fun destroying lorry's and all sorts of other objects in the game and the game itself grows on you.

Don't be dissuaded yet...read on to see why I think PhysX really is an excellent product...



Asus 128mb PhysX Card Review/Preview Page: 5
Cell Factor combat Training

Cell Factor is currently in its beta stages and Ageia have released a one-map playable demo beta. It has some very nice HDR effects and the graphics are pretty decent although once again slightly drab. Perhaps it is the genre?

The game is currently a multiplayer game that gives you a gun, a barrel mounted grenade launcher, a kind of "gravity grenade" that draws up everything near it in a big bundle. You also get some pretty cool "psi" abilities. You can psi-pull pieces of the environment towards you and psi-push it away again. This combines with a power-up that gives you some psi-flying ability and you have a game that really shows what Ageia's card can do to gameplay.

You can kill your adversaries with large objects and hurt them with smaller rebounding objects and you can certainly have fun playing around with all the exciting physics around you.

Gameplay

Just a small comment on gameplay at this time. It isn't amazing it has to be said and is actually a pretty strange game to get used to. You can zoom in your rifle but it has a lot of kick-back (think the AWP in Counter-Strike). The thing that has made me go back and play this game again and again is simply the physics in it: they are nothing short of awesome to play. It's fun to actually blow stuff up. It's fun to mess around and rip up cloth or blow up a barrel with some kind of toxic waste in it. I have spent quite a bit of time in this game just for the physics rather than the gameplay.

Remember though: Cell Factor is in beta so I am going to give Ageia the benefit of the doubt.

Screenshots and video's

I have rather a larger array of video's of Cell factor as I feel that this game shows off PhysX rather more than G.R.A.W.

First off I launched a grenade into a big pile of boxes:

Explosion sequence (three pictures)

ageia cell factor

The effects of a "gravity grenade"

ageia cell factor

Some Psi-Pull action (holding barrel like object in the air)

ageia physx

Some clever cloth effects after shooting a banner

ageia cell factor

Liquid effect

ageia cell factor

As you can see there are some pretty impressive physics effects in the game. To really show what I mean we are going to have to play some video's. Click on the hotlinks below:

Cell Factor Video 1

Cell Factor Video 2

Cell Factor Flying/explosions

Cell Factor Cloth effects Video

It's hard to think what else to say at this point apart from the fact that I actually recorded these on my PC. I cannot see how (as a gamer) you would fail to think that this looks fun, and it certainly is.

While cell Factor may not be complete and indeed may not be an amazing game it certainly shows off what the PhysX card can do and it will be interesting to see how it develops


Asus 128mb PhysX Card Review/Preview Page: 6
Does PhysX affect my Frames per second?


Well the simple answer would have to be: Yes. with all the extra particle effects and pixels flying around the screen FPS is bound to be affected. But then with the amazingly fast increase in power of graphics cards and the approach of DX10 I cannot see this being a particular problem.

More than likely if you've shelled out the extra £200 for the PhysX card then your system will be able to handle gaming. I played Cell Factor at 1600 x 1200 and G.R.A.W. at 1920 x 1200 and the FPS was certainly fine - on a single 7900GTX.

Those of your with top-spec Crossfire and/or top-spec SLI will have NO worries running the games that I have mentioned at ultra high res.

Conclusion

Is it worth buying a PhysX just for G.R.A.W.? No I can honestly say it is not quite worth it. Is it worth buying a PhysX for G.R.A.W. and Cell factor?...yes.

If the games that are due to come out using PhysX are as good as Cell Factor is with it's interactivity and physics effects then I have to say that it WILL be worth buying a PhysX card. I have great faith in Epic Games to produce the "killer app" in Unreal Tournament 2007 and if this turns out to really utilise PhysX then this card will be a must buy for gamers.

This card is currently on sale at Specialtech for £179.85 inc VAT

If the future has more physics of the kind that Cell Factor shows us then PhysX is a very nice piece of hardware indeed.

I am going to give PhysX 8/10 with current games

reviewed

And an innovation award with hope for the future.

innovation

Pro's

+ Awesome interactivity with environments
+ Amazing physics effects
+ Very real object manipulation
+ Fun
+ UT2K7 supports PhysX

Con's

- No "killer app" as of yet
- G.R.A.W. slightly disappointing
- A bit of a waiting game for AAA titles.

Thanks to Specialtech for providing the card for review

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