[Beowulf] Quasi-Non-Von-Neumann hardware in a Beowulf cluster.

Andrew Piskorski atp at piskorski.com
Thu Mar 10 18:52:15 PST 2005

On Thu, Mar 10, 2005 at 12:07:01AM -0500, Omri Schwarz wrote:

> http://ageia.com

Interesting.  Commodity - or at least "cheap commodity" - means its
primary market has to be something other than HPC, of course.  3D
video games qualify.  So, the main questions I see are:

1. What kind of HPC stuff is this Ageia PhysX chip good for, and how

2. How likely is it to get really, really widely used in non-HPC
   fields, thus driving down price?

3. What other such candidate chips are out there?  Same questions for

4. What to do about it?  (E.g., "Heh, Ageia, there's this little HPC
   niche you could sell to with maybe no extra effort.")

Question 1 seems pretty open.  Looks like they've released nearly
nothing about its actual hardware design and performance.  Handles
40,000 rigid bodies, 0.13 um process, 125 million transistors, 25
Watts.  That's about it so far.

On question 2, who knows.  But, supposedly Sega has licensed the PhysX
chip.  (Naturally, no word whether or not they will be shipping it in
millions of game consoles.)  Some other googling suggests that at
least some big game developers are supporting for it (e.g., "the
Unreal Engine 3 thoroughly exploits the Novodex physics API").

So it doesn't seem totally impossible that either Ageia or some
competitor (say, the GPU companies) might succeed in creating a new
market niche.  But it's all very early, AFAIK no one has even
announced an actual board with the chip yet, much less offered one for
sale.  If I had to guess, they probably haven't fab'd (at TSMC) more
than a couple sample lots yet.  The press is that they're shooting for
retail hardware on sale for Christmas.

What I find interesting, is if these sorts of highly realistic,
"render explosions in real-time" simulations catch on, even if this
PhysX chip turns out to be useless for anything other than this year's
latest first person shooter, its successors may not.  Yet another
potential opportunity for cluster users to ride on the mass market

Andrew Piskorski <atp at piskorski.com>

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