NVIDIA PhysX - CUDA Power in Gaming

Physics at Lightspeed

Physics at Lightspeed

If you are well into your teens, chances are you would have a smattering of knowledge in physics. You might also know that Earth, though as wondrously complex as it, is actually strictly governed by certain laws of physics. So encompassing are these laws that it is even possible to predict to a great degree of accuracy, the height of waves at your nearby beach, 10 years from now.

While that might be possible, it is certainly not easy. Remember that in physics, formulae are king. That's right, we are talking about things like F = MA, E = MC2, and these are only the simple ones. There are also more infinitely complex ones, involving differential, trigonometry, summation and integration.

By now, you might be wondering what does all of this got to do with games and, more importantly, graphics cards? Well, like the world we live in, game worlds are governed by their own laws of physics which are getting more complex to portray realism. While they are not as complex as the real word, they are still complicated enough to bog down your traditional CPU. This is where the CPU needs help from the GPU to keep the game running smooth and realistic, hence enter PhysX.

As a brief introduction, PhysX is a middleware physics engine which enables real-time physics in games. By middleware, what it means is that game developers need not write their own physics code, only that they need to license the engine for use, thus saving time and effort. But what really makes PhysX stand out from its competitors is that it is primed to take advantage of the parallel processing power of graphics processors through CUDA. Doing this takes the strain of calculating complex physics equations and algorithms off the CPU, resulting in smoother game play, leading to a better gaming experience.

Using the GTX 280 as an example, the reason why GPUs are so suitable for tasks like physics rendering is because it can run run far more threads simultaneously with its vast array of shader processors operating in parallel than an average CPU ever could.

Right now all GeForce 8 and above graphics cards offer support for PhysX right out of the box, so long as you've downloaded and installed the latest drivers. A couple of years ago however, this wasn't the case. Let's step back a little to see how PhysX has progressed to its current stage and what its potential is from our testing.

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