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ATI claims crown in physics-on-GPU performance

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Computex 2006 ATI will use GPU-hosted physics processing to "overtake" arch-rival Nvidia's SLI technology "by this time next year", Godfrey Cheng, the company's head of platform marketing said today during the Computex show in Taipei.

Like Nvidia, ATI is looking to games middleware developer Havok to connect game code to its GPUs. The Havok FX API runs physics-based special-effects algorithms through pixel shader pipelines rather than the host CPU. ATI's pitch is that its graphics cards provide a better foundation for this technique than its rival's products do.

Indeed, the company presented a chart to journalists showing its GPUs massively out-performing Nvidia's when running object-collision detection routines - though it later admitted the chart was actually a forecast of the performance boost it expects its chips to provide rather than measurements it has actually taken.

ATI is pushing its Radeon X1600 as its physics-dedicated GPU of choice, a part it claims delivers twice the performance of Ageia's dedicated PPU chip - well, based on "estimates" derived from sphere-to-sphere collisions per second numbers made public by Ageia. The X1600's half the price of Ageia-based physics boards, ATI claimed.

Games with physics processor support are expected to ship late this year or early 2007. By then, ATI expects to have drivers available that will allow a graphics card to run as a physics card, whether that's one GPU alongside a pair of CrossFire cards that handle the imaging, or two GPUs, one for graphics, the other for physics.

Nvidia announced it was working with Havok in March. Keen not to be touting a "me too" offering, Cheng said ATI has been working with Havok for more than seven months. The company has said nothing about it until now, he added, because it didn't want to make an announcement without having anything to demo at the same time. Demo it did, and the acceleration of object collision and particle effects was impressive. But then, other such demos have been too.

By the end of the year, Cheng said, Havok expects to have realistic liquids, cloth and even hair effects made possible through its API and GPU acceleration. In the same timeframe, Cheng said he expects motherboards based on ATI's RD600 chipset to be shipping with room for three graphics cards. ®

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