Dell XPS M1730 Mobile Gaming Notebook

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Hardware Accelerated Physics

A highly advertised feature of the XPS M1730 is that it is the first laptop to have a dedicated physics processor. A physics processing unit, or PPU, is a dedicated chip that is designed to offload physics related processing from the CPU. Essentially, a PPU does for physics calculations what a GPU does for 3D graphics.
AGEIA PhysX 100M mobile physics processing unit comes as standard equipment on all M1730s and provides the same features as the desktop version we first looked at over a year ago.

However, the decision to make the PhysX card standard equipment, rather than optional, raises a bit of controversy stemming from the lack of widespread PC game support for AGEIA's PhysX PPU. One of the biggest problems with PhysX is its slow adoption and the lack of supporting games. It is difficult to justify the purchase of a dedicated physics processing card when only a small handful of games support them. Surely your money would be better spent on a beefier video card or another stick of RAM? And therein lies much of the objection to Dell's decision to make the PhysX card mandatory.

AGEIA PhysX Titles for the PC

 Title  Developer
 Auto Assault
 Net Devil
 Bet On Soldier: Blackout Saigon
 Kylotonn Entertainment
 Bet On Soldier: Blood Of Sahara
 Kylotonn Entertainment
 Bet On Soldier: Blood Sport (patch)
 Kylotonn Entertainment
 CellFactor: Revolution
 Artificial Studios, Immersion
 City Of Villains
 Cryptic Studios
 Dark Physics
 The Game Creators
 Fallen Earth (coming soon)
 Icarus Studios
 Metropolis Software
 Stoked Rider: Alaska Alien
 Atomic Elbow
 Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter
 Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2
 Unreal Tournament 3 (AGEIA Extreme Mods)
 Epic Games
 Warmonger Operation: Downtown Destruction
 Net Devil

The above list is taken from the AGEIA website and as you can see, there aren't very many PhysX supporting titles available for the PC. However, there are a couple big names on the short list including both installments in Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter series. The XPS M1730 ships with a copy of the second game in the series so you can make use of that PhysX processor right out of the box.

Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 (GRAW2) incorporates PhysX physics processing in two ways. First, hardware physics processing can be enabled to enhance the standard software processing. Enabling hardware acceleration for physics processing enhances the visual quality of physics in-game and it also increases the amount and diversity of physics-related visual effects. Explosions are more impressive and debris effects are bigger and more realistic. However, the most exciting is a special level called AGEIA Island that can only be accessed on machines with an AGEIA PhysX card.

Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 (AGEIA Island)

AGEIA Island is a unique level in GRAW2 that showcases what PhysX can do and more importantly it demonstrates the potential of interactive physics. Unlike other levels in GRAW2, AGEIA Island features destructible terrain. Every structure, tree and fence can be shot, damaged and destroyed in fantastic, realistic ways. The three screenshots above demonstrate the joy of explosives on AGEIA Island.

While AGEIA Island is fun, it's still only a single level. More recently Unreal Tournament 3 was released and with it, the PhysX mod-pack. The PhysX mod-pack includes tools for developing maps that incorporate interactive physics as well as two pre-made maps called Lighthouse and Tornado. This mod pack has been in development for some and and we first heard about it in mid-2006.

The basic premise behind the PhysX mod-pack levels for Unreal Tournament 3 is the same as that for AGEIA Island. A level which incorporates interactive physics and destructible terrain. However, the mod-pack levels have a couple extra tricks. First, the mod-pack alters the way the Shock Rifle's secondary fire works. It still shoots a blue orb, but now the orb attracts surrounding debris to it and flying debris can cause damage to players. Another trick is found in the second of the two pre-made levels.

Unreal Tournament 3 (Tornado)

The Tornado map is aptly named because it features an active tornado. The huge whirlwind travels through the level sucking things up as it goes; including you if you're not careful. Like a real tornado, it also launches debris in all directions and if something strikes you on its way down, your dead. The tornado doesn't just pick up players and debris, it also effects projectiles like rockets shot from the rocket launcher. Overall, this is a thoroughly enjoyable map that really displays what PhysX is all about.

While PhysX can be quite impressive when properly supported and implemented in a game, the fact remains that support is extremely limited. Outside of the very short list of games at the top of this page, you will see no benefits from having a PhysX card in your system. While it's nice that Dell has included a copy of GRAW2 with the system to compliment the PhysX card, it doesn't justify the PhysX card on its own. Ultimately, we wish the PhysX card was optional in case none of the supported games interested the buyer.

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