Intel Swallows Havok


Intel Snaps Up Havok | Metaversed

This is fairly big news in the game and virtual world’s industry. Havok has had one of the best sets of physics middle-ware around, used in Second Life (on the simulators) and in many games. Intel is in the business of making chips. So why would they buy a software company like this?

Well, there are a few reasons. First and foremost, Havok’s competition (apart from roll-your-own solutions and a few FOSS libraries) is hardware — the PPU — or physics processing unit, analogous to the GPU for graphics. Not many people have PPUs yet, but there will be more and more of a push from marquis games and high-end gaming PC makers.

In fact, I’d expect AMD, which swallowed ATI recently, to begin offering more generalized or bundled accelerator chipsets that can handle graphics, physics, and perhaps even AI together on the same board. Havok can take advantage of ATI GPUs as well as NVidia, but with this acquisition, we can only hope that continues.

So what is Intel to do with their own "multi-core" CPU push and sub-par (but very widely installed) motherboard 3D graphics business? Well, anything that needs more CPU cycles vs. buying specialty add-in boards is good for Intel. And physics simulation software scales nicely to multiple cores. It’s pretty simple when it comes down to it. If Intel gave Havok away for cheap or free, Aegia would have a much harder time selling PPU hardware.

The story that Intel is getting more and more into virtual worlds is interesting. Second Life, for example, is somewhat of a "thin client" approach (though not so thin — still lots of CPU needed to make it smooth), leaving more of the heavy lifting to the grid of simulators, which could use 80 core chips yesterday. Intel would certainly like selling beefy simulator chips, but there are far more customers out there to attend to. And virtual worlds often lead themselves to optimizations that push computing work to the server, vs. the more plentiful home PC.

So games and Peer to Peer virtual worlds may be more up their alley. Intel is reportedly paying one Palo Alto company, qwaq, for some undisclosed work, probably relating to business worlds. They’re using Croquet, which is an open source peer to peer world, of varying levels of visual fidelity. I doubt they use Havok, if the open source physics engines are reasonably sufficient, but I imagine Intel will make more investments in this area over the next few years.

 

  1. #1 by Alex on September 16, 2007 - 9:35 pm

    Thanks for the analysis, the TechCrunch story left me scratching my head. Makes more sense now.

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  1. Mike’s Musings » Intel Swallows Havok