The past few years have given me no shortage of opportunities to draw parallels between MIPS and Kodak. You see, both companies helped shape their respective industries, yet were ultimately surpassed by their competition and exiled to the annals of history. Consequently, Imagination's decision to acquire MIPS for $100 million in December 2012 and subsequently license nearly 500 of the company's patents did come as a considerable surprise.
Speaking about the due diligence process before the acquisition, CEO Sir Hossein Yassaie explained that two main factors fueled the ultimate decision to go through with it.
First, he stated that MIPS processors offer the cleanest "true RISC" architecture and that they had "maintained elegance" for over 20 years, facilitating superior performance in a smaller size with unmatched low-power credentials.
Second is the belief that ARM's entrenchment presents a danger of stifling the CPU landscape (perhaps similar to what we're seeing in the desktop space), and that the market requires "balance and credible choices" to reach its full potential. Hence, his oft-repeated adage that:
"The industry needs MIPS as much as MIPS needs the industry, because no industry can operate in an environment where it is a near-monopoly. I often say on this subject that wherever there is a Coke, there will be Pepsi. And MIPS is here to make sure that there is a Pepsi."
With regards to Imagination's objectives for MIPS, the company aims to ensure that people feel confident about the future of MIPS, and ultimately develop a family of class-leading processors that combine the underlying values of MIPS' architecture with Imagination's deep understanding of ultra-low-power and heterogeneous processing. These efforts be seen first in the MIPS Series 5 "Warrior" processors, though the company eventually aims to target any device requiring a CPU, from smartphones to servers and wearable tech.
MIPS Series 5 "Warrior" Processors
Although Imagination has yet to provide full technical specifications for those next-generation processors, the company confirmed that it plans to offer binary 32- and 64-bit compatibility across the full range, in addition to promising the best performance and lowest power consumption in a given die area. The family will also incorporate the MIPS SIMD Architecture (MSA), which it says will help developers leverage old code as they write new software, provide a highly-scalable security framework for content protection and networking protocols, and hardware multi-threading in select cores.
The MIPS Series 5 "Warrior" cores should arrive this year, with availability for all product devices and markets tentatively scheduled for the end of 2014.