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Thursday, 20 September 2007 23:33

Virtual environments are processor pigs

New research has confirmed what many a hard-core gamer already knows: the more realistic the virtual environment you're playing in, the more your processor is getting thrashed.

As part of ongoing research into virtual environments and the transition from the current Internet to more realistic 3D worlds, Intel has benchmarked the server and client utilisation of a range of common Internet environments.

While a conventional Web site only utilises 20 per cent of a local CPU and less than 1 per cent of its graphics processing unit (GPU), those rates change dramatically as environments became more realistic. Google Earth can consume 60 per cent of the local CPU and up to 15 per cent of the GPU, while for Second Life those figures rise to 70 per cent for the CPU and as high as 75 per cent for the GPU, Intel found.

"The growth in computational intensity is actually quadratic in nature," said Intel chief technology officer Justin Rattner, who unveiled the figures during the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco.

Server usage for virtual environments is also problematic. While a World of Warcraft server can handle up to 2,500 clients, Second Life supports a much lower 160, and a user number closer to 50 is better for a decent experience, Rattner said. Virtual worlds typically require anywhere from 10 to 100 times as much processing power as online role-playing games, he said.

Intel plans to eventually formally publish the research, Rattner said, though he didn't indicate a time frame.

Intel research scientist Daniel Pohl also demonstrated a research project aimed at increasing the realism of 3D environments. Using ray tracing software running on a dual quad-core system, Pohl was able to generate a highly realistic rendering of the Quake gaming environment, with a rate close to 100 frames per second and near 100% processor utilisation.

Such real-time rendering will become increasingly important as the user-generated content trend intersects with 3D environments, Rattner said. "You don't expect users to make everything look pretty the way professional graphic artists do in games."

Disclosure: Angus Kidman attended IDF as a guest of Intel.


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