Using a Graphics Card as a PhysX Processor – Beneficial or Not?

Recently we reviewed the ZOTAC GeForce GTX 980 AMP! graphics card, and a good point popped into our mind, what the heck do we do with our old graphics card? Of course whenever you upgrade your gaming rig, one option is to sell the old card. More than likely you won’t be able to use this card in SLI with the new card, unless is is the same GPU. Another option that we originally thought might be possible would be to use the older card as a dedicated PhysX card.

ZOTAC GTX 980 AMP 9

Prior to doing anything like this, of course we did some Googling to research whether this was even a good idea. We were greeted with forums upon forums of mixed opinions. Most of the opinions we found did not recommend going out a purchasing a second graphics card to be used as a PhysX card and that the money should be put towards buying an even more high end graphics card. We also found that other users had said that theoretically this would be beneficial, provided the PhysX card was a higher end card.

So of course, we needed to try this. Our research so far has shown us mixed opinions and no definitive answers. Today, we are providing you exclusive data as to this conundrum. Before we get started, we know very well that the likelihood of the second graphics card set to process PhysX alone may not improve graphic performance, but with so many mixed opinions we needed to see the data for ourselves.

WHAT ARE WE TRYING TO SOLVE?

Ok so what exactly are we trying to solve:

  • Firstly, will adding a second graphics card, set to process PhysX solely, increase our gaming performance in both theoretical and practical (real world) scenarios?
  • Secondly, will the performance be worth the added expense? Or worth keeping the card rather than selling it?

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Before we get started there are going to be some terms that we will refer to that, if you’re just starting your graphics card knowledge, it may be a bit confusing. We recommend starting off with our Understanding Graphics Cards article, this will provide you with a solid primer for getting to know that gorgeous piece of hardware that displays your PC’s content onto your monitor.

NVIDIA Logo

WHAT IS PHYSX?

PhysX is a part of Nvidia GameWorks, which also includes VisualFX, OptiX and Core SDK. It is an advanced platform that game developers can use to add advanced visual effects to their games. Back to PhysX – it’s purpose is to essentially make the physics within video games more realistic. To quote Nvidia, physics is important to gamers because:

“It’s all about how objects in your game move, interact, and react to the environment around them. Without physics in many of today’s games, objects just don’t seem to act the way you’d want or expect them to in real life … With NVIDIA PhysX technology, game worlds literally come to life: walls can be torn down, glass can be shattered, trees bend in the wind, and water flows with body and force. NVIDIA GeForce GPUs with PhysX deliver the computing horsepower necessary to enable true, advanced physics in the next generation of game titles making canned animation effects a thing of the past.”

PhysX is currently enabled in multiple game engines, some you may know such as Unreal Engine 3, Gamebryo, and Unity 3D. Some game publishers have also licensed PhysX in their studios, such as EA, THQ, and Sega. Probably one of the most well-known, and somewhat recent, game to use PhysX is Borderlands 2. For a full list of Nvidia PhysX supported games, take a look here.

HOW DOES PHYSX WORK?

To put it simply, games that support PhysX hardware acceleration, can be accelerated by a CUDA-enabled GeForce GPU that has at least 256MB of dedicated VRAM. This takes the physics calculations away from the CPU, which as you can imagine allows the CPU to worry about other important tasks. Nvidia, at one point, did focus their energy on dedicated physics processing unit on a standalone PhysX card. They have since integrated this technology directly into their GeForce GPU’s. Take a look below, or here, for a demonstration of how PhysX comes into play:

Nvidia PhysX Comparison

For those of you running an AMD graphics card, you could compare this to their Mantle API, which has been embedded in their drivers for the past couple of years, but was not formally released until March of 2015. AMD released it as a direct competitor to Direct3D and OpenGL.

mantle1920

There are also ways to have a hybrid set up with an AMD card running as your graphics provider, but that is outside the scope of this article.

The best way to sum up PhysX and Mantle is that the games that are enabled with these features allow for more efficient communication with your PC hardware, to push out a result that is more life-like.