AMD’s physics secret revealed: It’s Havok

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

Sunnyvale (CA) – AMD had to find an answer to Nvidia’s Ageia acquisition and the conversion of the PhysX engine into CUDA. We knew that AMD’s graphics team was up to something, since the manufacturer was highlighting “game physics processing capability” in its RV770 launch materials. Now we know, since AMD just announced a partnership with Havok. In case you are wondering: Yes, that is the same company that Intel acquired last year and now is a subsidiary of the blue team.

One month ago, we were fortunate enough to come across numerous launch details of the upcoming Radeon 4850 and 4870 graphics cards and the specific note of physics processing capability got us scratching our heads. Since Ageia was snapped up by Nvidia and the PhysX API is pretty much converted into CUDA on the one side and Intel secured Havok’s physics engine last September, we were wondering what AMD (ATI) was up to. They must have been developing their own physics engine along the way, right?

Wrong. In an announcement that we have to admit caught us a bit on the wrong foot, we learned today that this physics processing capability will come from Havok. AMD’s Godfrey Cheng, director of product marketing in the company’s platform and gaming technologies division, stressed today’s news does not include a product announcement, but simply points out that there is relationship being formed between AMD and Havok and the two companies are working together to “optimize” physics processing on AMD CPUs and AMD (ATI) GPUs.  

So, why Havok? Cheng reasoned that Havok’s technology and toolset have been widely accepted by developers and are considered to be “very mature”. He also noted that Havok follows AMD’s open approach philosophy. The executive indicated that Nvidia’s PhysX strategy does not match AMD’s strategy and that the company does not believe in forcing people to use a particular API. While Cheng said that AMD is aligned with Havok at this time, he did not want “exclude” a possible future announcement regarding PhysX. No such announcement is currently planned, we were told.

AMD said that Havok’s physics technology “scales extremely well across the entire family of AMD processors, including quad-core products such as the AMD Phenom X4.” As part of the collaboration, Havok and AMD plan to “further optimize the full range of Havok technologies on AMD x86 superscalar processors.” The two companies said that they are also “investigating” the use of “AMD’s massively parallel ATI Radeon GPUs to manage appropriate aspects of physical world simulation in the future.” 

While we are still a bit dazzled by the fact that AMD decided to go with an Intel-owned physics engine (and we are pretty sure that some people at Intel may be a bit surprised as well), Cheng stressed that Havok remains “independent” from Intel. Also, while we do not have any confirmation for this speculation, this relationship appears to be driven by the ATI team, which anyway has been working with Intel not just pre-AMD, but also recently on graphics products for Montevina (Centrino 2) notebooks as well as Crossfire X solutions. So this relationship may not be as awkward as it first sounds after all.  

Now, of course, we are interested in seeing in what products this relationship will result.