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AMD and Havok – Jon Peddie speaks

by Jon Peddie on 12 June 2008, 17:35


Quick Link: HEXUS.net/qanph

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Convincing the coders

It all began in back in ’05 when Ageia went public with its physics library and accelerator, which it had been working on for two years. It was one of the most disruptive developments in PC Land for some time and its ripples are still being felt.

As soon as Ageia showed up claiming to be the third processor and looking for the third slot (and maybe finding the third rail) ATI, Havok, Intel, and Nvidia went nuts. How dare this upstart muscle in on our territory!?

The unholy four then set about to a) discredit Ageia and b) prove they could do it better.

First up was Nvidia showing how it could run Havok’s code on a GPU (surely you remember those tiring barrel and brick demos.) ATI said it could do it too, and did. Intel said, excuse me boys but physics, real manly physics, is done, always has been done, and always will be done on the CPU, now go home and play with your pixels.

Buffeted, bumped, and bruised, Ageia carried on and proceeded to get PhysX stuck in more games and CAD programs and occasionally sold a card or two.


Then in September last year Intel announced it had acquired the plucky little Irish company Havok and would settle the issue of where physics is done once and for all. They (both Havoc and Intel) said Havok would carry on supplying it s physics libraries to developers.

But no one really believed that, given Intel’s amazingly bad track record for buying and burying companies and the likelihood of being locked into a code set that somehow only ran on an Intel processor.

Then in February Nvidia acquired Ageia, quietly put the hardware accelerator to sleep, and began porting all of Ageia's code to the GeForce. It made same consoling comments about Ageia code being open, and no one believed them either.

Now AMD was in a spot, it was the only CPU and GPU company without a physics library of its own.

But other dynamics were at work. First off Intel wasn’t ready to roll out Larrabee and use Havok to prove what a great multicore processor Larrabee is. Second Intel and Nvidia were in a spit-ball shooting contest, and third, despite the acquisition of ATI by AMD – Intel’s nemesis, the Intel folks really like ATI. So, since Intel was going to use ATI Crossfire to show off how powerful Bloomfield is, it seemed logical to let ATI use Havok code to show off how powerful its new R770 will be.

So that’s the political, er, marketing dynamics behind it all. But what about functionality, game play and, oh yeah, that troublesome consumer person?