Kevin Kahn, a senior fellow at Intel and the corporate technology group director, was talking about the next online evolution, the 3D internet. The presentation started with a “virtual” IDF from within Second Life and continued on the matter of user created content.
The interesting part here is that Intel seems to think that a virtual 3D world will be the next extension of the internet and not only for games. There are many limitations before this can be realized and although broadband penetration is growing, people are using up more and more bandwidth.
However, this presentation focused on what Intel believes will solve some of the heavy server loads that user created 3D content will bring, while maintaining a world that looks real. In their example, Eve Online can host some 34,000 users per server, World of Warcraft can handle about 2,500 while apparently Second Life can only manage 160 users per server. No server specifications were given, though.
Intel’s solution to this is real time ray tracing, as it will offload a lot of the server data loads that the 3D environment adds. At the Games Convention earlier this year, Intel showed a real time ray tracing demo with a quad core Yorkfield based CPU which managed to do around 90fps at 768x768. At IDF Taiwan they showed the same demo on a dual Xeon X5365 which had a total of eight cores and it managed to run the same demo at 1,280x720 at 90+ fps.
This is far from being a consumer system, but it gives a glimpse into the future. A demo made by Ron Fedkiw, a Professor at Stanford University who works extensively with the movie industry, was shown to further demonstrate the need for a powerful CPU for online 3D applications. Professor Fedkiw specializes in Physics and specifically in water and fire effects. You can view a short video of the demo here.
All of this points to the fact that the graphics cards guys and companies such as Ageia need to take a different approach as to how they do things, rather than leaving it up to the CPU to take care of all this heavy work. Don’t expect to see real time ray tracing happening any time soon, as it is very processor intensive and would exclude most people from being able to access this kind of content. While it is a great concept, we do not expect this to be viable in the market for some years.