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Blender and Physical Processing Chips (PPUs)


Bullet In Blender.jpgWith recent news of Physical Processing Chips (PPUs), or physics cards, like Aegia's PhysX I began to wonder if the eventual outcome of it's usage might its adoption into Blender as an alternative to Bullet (the dynamics engine), fluids, particles, and cloth. I asked a few of these aspects developers if they see PPUs being utilized in the future.

When I asked Willian Germano (a Blender developer) and he had this to say, which I thought wrapped up the issue nicely:

It's still a little early to know where to go with this. There's Ageia's PhysX hardware, but solutions via GPU by nVidia and ATI are also expected... The ideal for open source apps like Blender is that an open API becomes available and well supported (sort of what happened with shaders a while ago). For exchange we should have COLLADA [Physics - Chapter 6 of the specification], but to actually access the physics hardware we'll need support in something equivalent to OpenGL. When that happens coders should be able to make Blender benefit from it, but that doesn't prevent something from happening earlier, as coders get access to the technology. Of course the license of the physics API used will determine if it can be included in Blender officially or not.

I then heard from Nils Thuerey - the man who brought fluids to Blender. I asked him specifically because calculations a PPU "might" do include fluid dynamics. And I say "might" because currently, fluids on PhysX is most likely SPH (smoothed particle hydrodynamics), and not so high quality. This is what Nils take on it was:

I read about the PPU capabilities in a few places, but from what I've understood it uses particle based methods. So, as the fluid solver in Blender uses a different grid-based solver, I don't see a way to easily make use of the acceleration.

Of course, all this talk of PPUs might be a flash in the pan since ATI and NVIDIA have been looking at alternatives for some time, specifically, using the GPUs to do physics. And as the Aegia PhysX is a proprietary system, its adoption in Blender (if at all) is probably not likely. Though Blender's game engine already has a physics engine abstraction, and this makes it very easy to add another engine like the closed source PhysX system. I'll leave the technical comparison of physics calculations on the PPU vs the GPU to the hardware forums, but it should be mentioned that the other dynamics systems using the GPU for physics has been demonstrated. Bullet and other open source physics (such as cloth and water) can make use of the GPU for physics in the future but not likely on a PPU because it is not programmable, and certainly not programmable on all Blender platforms. Also, The GPU can be programmed in several ways (e.g. GLSL), whereas the PPU cannot.

About Author


Just a guy really into 3D, especially where Blender is concerned.


  1. well I wonder, the PC was allways so popular because it is modulized and the most cards,... have a very general use. I doesn't like the idea to install one more card only for games... . I would like a more dedicated general processing architecture. Not a CPU, a GPU a PPU a Crypto unit,...

  2. I dont't know so much about this detailed topic (I'm a beginner in 3D progamming), but why can't we merge what William says ("The ideal for open source apps like Blender is that an open API becomes available and well supported") with the words of etr9j ("Blender’s game engine already has a physics engine abstraction, and this makes it very easy to add another engine like the closed source PhysX system"). That is: why don't we start making an "open API" from what we have now (the "Blender’s game engine physics engine abstraction").?
    Sorry if I'm telling something wrong or something VERY VERY complex, but I had this idea while reading this.

  3. @well
    Personally, I think a more general architecture would cause specific processes to be hurt by it. Already the desktop CPUs are fairly general in their capabilities which limits their power in doing specific tasks (see the Cell processor vs the pentium for graphics)

    That's exactly what is needed. Given the newness of the PPUs I think it might be a while till we see something like this.

  4. Looks like a new gaming fad is on the horizon. It has a good chance of failing, though. And the Havoc engine recently incorperated in Max might get some attention. And gaming componies might take that into concideration.

  5. PPUs are a tough call. Right now they are aimed towards gaming but I'd be surprised if someone out there wasn't looking into how they can be applied to other fields. Hopefully legal dance won't get in the way of Open Source development with PPUs; I really think with a lot more people out there working on integrating them into a computer and utilizing the additional processing power when you're not playing a game would greatly increase not only the appeal of a PPU but the practicality.

  6. @[torc]

    Yeah, you're right, and the phyics is Half-Life 2 doesn't take very much processing power, so why only for gaming if it isn't much extra power? I'm guessing it's easier to start on gaming and then more complex apps, even though games are super-complex.

  7. I think there is too much hype and too little substance in this article and I really don't care. Hardware physics processing is needed for ultra-complex gaming application clients. I don't see that blender has a gaming runtime optimised for the most complex gaming applications though. Instead of thinking about cool harware PCI cards, let's start with the basics: do we want to tune the blender gaming engine for high complex graphics, physics and audio support?

  8. Hype? I thought I was shooting down PPUs. But as far as hype elsewhere, I certainly see it all over other gaming sites and even some sites claiming that it's being used for big fx scenes in movies (though I can't substantiate those claims). I personally am not being drawn into it at all... especially for the ~$200 plus Aegia will be charging for these things.

  9. of course the ppu is programmable. it's just a normal vector processor. they didn't bake a physics engine on a chip. it can only be used with ageia's api though which isn't open. otherwise it could accelerate stuff like nils' fluid simulator (and many other things like raytracing) aswell i guess.

  10. I am definatley all for the PPU. Have you guys seen some of the demo videos of what that thing is capable of?! It is truely beautiful. I will pour all my money on one of those PPU's,Im that type of gamer that walks around Doom 3 and thinks "if only I had the physics of HL2".
    An open API is great, but it will be a long time in the making.

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