By acquiring MIPS Technologies, Imagination hopes to build a strong platform to compete against the incumbent ARM and daunting challenger Intel on a more equal footing. We go through the company's portfolio to determine its strengths and opportunities.
Headquartered in the UK, Imagination Technologies was founded in 1985 under the name VideoLogic. The company started out by focusing on graphics, sound acceleration, home audio systems, video capture, and video conferencing systems. A year after it went public in 1995, VideoLogic started licensing its PowerVR GPU IP to NEC, and by 1997, NEC owned 3.5% of the company.
Realizing what a lucrative business it had discovered, VideoLogic refocused on licensing intellectual property products in 1999, changing its name to Imagination Technologies.
In the next couple of years, Imagination started expanding. It acquired Ensigma and Cross Products Limited, two companies that were working on digital signal processing technology. In 2006, Imagination won a big-name client, Intel, which then proceeded to use the PowerVR graphics IP in its Atom processors.
Just two years later, Imagination won another big customer called Apple. The partnership with Apple has been Imagination’s most profitable business, since its revenues grew along with the popularity of iPhones and iPads. Those devices were using PowerVR-sourced GPUs from the beginning.
Imagination has acquired several more companies in the past few years, but two of the more notable ones are Caustic Graphics, a developer of real-time ray tracing graphics technology, which led to Imagination’s launch of the “Wizard” hybrid GPU, and MIPS Technologies, which could help Imagination become a major player in the CPU space, too.
IP Product Categories
Currently, Imagination offers multiple IP products, including most of what a chip-maker would need to build its own SoC. This includes: CPU cores, GPU cores, the imaging signal processor, audio engine, RPU (radio processing unit), VPU (video encoding and decoding accelerator), and an NPU (for networking and security).
All of that technology is internal to an SoC. However, the company also sells IP products that are external, such as: 2G/3G/4G modems, power management microcontrollers, GLONASS microcontrollers, as well as smart card microcontrollers.
Imagination seems intent on becoming a “one-stop shop” for platform designers, perhaps even more so than ARM, which so far has been mainly focused on CPU and GPU cores, security modules, and only recently started selling designs for video accelerators with the arrival of Mali-V500.
While Imagination is known for offering IP products in the graphics market, it’s also involved in automotive, wearables, home entertainment (smart TV, consoles, etc), networking, and computer vision.
Imagination is optimizing its products for each market's individual needs. For example, the high-end mobile space requires exceptional performance and cutting-edge features, while the wearable market needs smaller processors and more targeted feature sets.
By offering its customers exactly what they want without any excess features, Imagination hopes to offer more sensible pricing than its competitors, while simultaneously making it easier to deal with a wider array of specific space and power constraints.