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Imagination seeks to resurrect MIPS in the spotlight

Posted: 20 Jun 2014  Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:MIPS  Imagination  processor  ARM 

While it is largely held that MIPS long lost the processor battle against ARM in the mobile market, MIPS owner Imagination Technologies is making an effort to lead the processors in innovation across different markets. EE Times' Junko Yoshida relays the facts about where MIPS stands, and in which direction Imagination desires to direct it.

Does the industry know everything it needs to know about MIPS? Most industry analysts think they do.

And they're probably right. MIPS processor cores' architecture and its power-efficient performance are an integral part of the well told MIPS legacy.

Industry observers' enthusiasm for MIPS tends to be muted, if not non-existent, largely because the world has already decided that MIPS has lost the mobile battle against ARM.

MIPS's market position might still prove to be different in the nascent wearable device market, or in more established networking and home entertainment segments. But at a time when there is not a single MIPS-based application processor designed for smartphones on the global market, MIPS is a non-player in the mobile world. Realistically, it isn't even an "underdog."

For Imagination Technologies, the new owner of MIPS, to change the narrative is hard, and to reverse the momentum is even harder.

But that's not to say that the company shouldn't be trying.

Imagination recently put together two sets of comprehensive presentations—one illustrating how Imagination is enabling "innovation in SoCs across many markets," and another on "innovation in mobile SoCs."

Most industry analysts I contacted find no news in just another PowerPoint presentation. Linley Gwennap, principle analyst of The Linley Group, was blunt: "What Imagination really needs is to announce some new MIPS customers—to show some market momentum."

Well put.

It's hard to argue with Gwennap, but the Imagination presentations offered me a broader view of the company's strategy and a few new nuggets about MIPS CPUs.

At the risk of repeating what you might already know about MIPS/Imagination, here are a few facts about where MIPS stands, and some clues to the big picture Imagination hopes to paint for its new customers, if there are any. We sum them up in the following pages.

IP and IP blocks

Both ARM and Imagination offer CPUs and GPUs. What difference does Imagination bring to the table? The distinction lies in the breadth of IP blocks the two companies offer, according to Imagination.

Beyond CPU and GPU cores, Imagination now offers a variety of IPs ranging from hardwired video encoder/decoder blocks (PowerVR video processing unit) and an Ensigma radio processing unit for WiFi to Bluetooth, digital, and analogue TV/radio.

Imagination's other IPs include image signal processing (PowerVR ISP), a security block (Ensigma network processing unit), and an audio engine (MIPS MCU).

Currently, ARM offers no IPs for radio processing equivalent to Imagination's Ensigma.

Imagination believes it has an edge over its competitor by offering more IP blocks that, in theory, make it easy for chip vendors to shop for what they need and develop their own SoCs.

The point here is that Imagination isn't in the business of just pushing MIPS CPUs and PowerVR GPUs. Mobile isn't the only market Imagination is after, either. Other target markets include wearable and IoT devices, home entertainment, routers, home/enterprise networking, and automotive.

As Jim McGregor, founder and principal analyst at Tirias Research, told us, "Imagination is and wants to use any or all of its IP to win opportunities in these markets."

Against that backdrop, Imagination takes a long view in promoting MIPS CPUs.


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