Nvidia vs. Intel: Nvidia makes their next move

This last week Nvidia announced that they have finally released the free PhysX driver upgrade for their GeForce 8, 9, and -200 series of video cards.

This has come surprisingly soon after Nvidia’s acquisition of Ageia and the proprietary PhysX engine. Beyond the obvious “cool, free stuff” reaction for those of us with the applicable GeForce cards, we’ve started asking ourselves, what are the big implications of this?

Just barely over a month before this release, it was revealed that Nvidia had also began providing assistance to independent developer Eran Badit, editor-in-chief of NGOHQ.com, for developing a solution to allow PhysX to work on ATI (owned by AMD) video cards as well. This puts AMD in a tough situation, which already supported Intel’s Havok solution for physics on its multi-core processors. With PhysX support looming on the horizon for their video cards, whether they want it or not, it’s going to be hard for AMD to turn down the free compatibility that this will offer for ATI cards. They may be stuck supporting both solutions even if they are reluctant.

Intel’s Havok middleware relies upon the CPU to accelerate physics; however, it is known that offloading these calculations to the GPU is more efficient and would allow for more intensive physics processing than we’ve seen so far in Havoc applications. In other words, GPU-based physics processing will allow a greater amount of more complex effects onscreen. Some examples of games that have used the Havoc technology so far are Half-Life 2, Company of Heroes, and the upcoming Starcraft II. Those games sport some impressive looking physics effects, so we can’t wait to see what the power of the PhysX engine fully realized in some comparably big titles will look like.

Havok, the company, had an engine in development called Havoc FX to allow ATI and Nvidia GPUs to handle physics simulations before Intel bought the company and axed the project. It appears that this move by Intel was in order to protect their own interests since they don’t manufacture any discreet GPUs capable of taking advantage of such technology.

The PhysX engine, which previously required a proprietary PhysX card to work, has finally arrived to provide for gaming masses the solution that Havok FX would have, without requiring either a standalone card or any longer loading down the CPU.

What this ultimately means, is that PhysX is now growing legs to stand on among game software developers. With the groundwork for such widespread support for PhysX now laid, we expect to see lots of future games starting to support the technology, much in the same way that features like anti-aliasing and high dynamic range (HDR) lighting started making a major impact in graphics several years ago.

It seems apparent that Nvidia’s plan is to further strengthen their CUDA solution with PhysX integration in order to get a leg up in the war against Intel. How do you think Intel will respond?