Does PhysX diminish CPU performance?

NVIDIA logoSilicon Valley chip expert David Kanter has hypothesized that PhysX diminishes CPU performance by "exclusively" using an outdated x87 instruction set.

"x87 has been deprecated for many years now, with [both] Intel and AMD recommending the much faster SSE instruction [set]," Kanter told TG Daily in an e-mailed statement.

"On modern CPUs, SSE can easily run 1.3-2X faster than similar x87 code. By using x87, PhysX diminishes the performance of CPUs, calling into question the real benefits of PhysX on a GPU."

Kanter - who performed a detailed analysis of the instruction set - also acknowledged that Nvidia was free to "hobble" PhysX on the CPU by using single, rather than multi-threaded code "if it wished."

"[But] that choice does not benefit developers or consumers, and casts substantial doubts on the purported performance advantages of running PhysX on a GPU, rather than a CPU.

"[Still], for Nvidia, decreasing the baseline CPU performance by using x87 instructions and a single thread makes GPUs look better. This tactic calls into question the CPU vs. GPU comparisons made using PhysX; but the name of the game at Nvidia is making the GPU look good, and PhysX certainly fits the bill in [its] current incarnation."

However, Nvidia spokesperson Bryan Del Rizzo told TG Daily that Kanter's theory was "factually incorrect."

"Since the acquisition of PhysX, [we] have and will continue to invest heavily [in] PhysX performance for all platforms - including CPU-only on the PC. [But], we cannot become dependent on any hardware feature like SSE after the first revision has shipped.


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