A company called AGEIA is working on Physics Processing Unit, a chip similar to the GPUs found on graphics card but with its sole purpose to offload phyiscs calculations found in most modern games from the CPU onto their new PPU. Read more for some thoughts on this development from Kaya Memisoglu.Although it is a really interesting idea, I wonder if this concept will have success or if it will fail. Especially when looking at the new multi-core CPUs from Intel and the Cell Processor, I doubt that there will be a real market for such a highly specialised chip. It would have to offer a really huge acceleration to be more attractive than a multi-core or multi-CPU systems, with todays CPUs already offering fast acceleration of common vector operations through SSE or AltiVec.
Plus how many people would by an additional PCI card containg this chip to accelerate a handfull of games based on the Novodex Physics SDK (which seems to be the only SDK that benefits from this chip)? I guess there are only some hardcore gamers with a big budget that would spend some money on such a card.
On the other hand a PCI card based on the Cell processor seems far more attractive to the masses, as it has an open standard and can be used for far more applications than only physics simulations. The high specialisation of the AEGIA Physics chip is one of its biggest drawbacks, so I predict it will only be able to gain a negligible market share.
But only the future can tell how this PPU will position itself within the gaming market.