The desktop and laptop world is dominated by x86, the mobile/embedded world by ARM. Conventional wisdom, right? Not really. There’s also MIPS – hundreds of millions of embedded devices run on MIPS, and for years now, the architecture has been trying to break into the mobile world dominated so much by ARM. They just a got a boost: MIPS has been acquired by Imagination Tech, most known for its PowerVR graphics chips used in a lot of smartphones and tablets.
As popular as MIPS may be for embedded use, to me it’s forever linked to the beautiful workstations from SGI – one of the many, many victims of the increasing raw power of x86 processors. Like PowerPC and Alpha, MIPS was forced to focus on areas of the market other than workstations (embedded and game consoles), and over these past few years, the architecture tried to make headway into the mobile world. Not with a whole lot of success, though.
Imagination Tech, which creates (it’s actually more like ARM in that it licenses designs) the popular PowerVR graphics cores used in many smartphones, has now bought MIPS. The focus is on engineers and patents; several will be owned by Imagination outright, while others will be sold on to a consortium of technology companies, which then licenses it back to Imagination.
This is all quite interesting, because Imagination makes it seem as if they want to move beyond graphics cores, and produce processors as well. “The combined business should be able to create a new industry-leading force in CPUs, and essentially will provide choice and an alternative to our good friends in Cambridge,” Imagination chief executive Hossein Yassaie told Reuters. ARM resides in Cambridge.
I’m really hoping they can pull it off. As much as I like ARM, the fact of the matter is that its dominance in the mobile space is inherently dangerous for competition. As such, having a successful company pick up MIPS to push an alternative is a very good thing. Android already supports MIPS anyway, so the world’s most popular mobile operating system wouldn’t care much about ARM or MIPS.
Also interesting to note: both Intel and Apple are investors in Imagination. It’s a small world.