[Updated May 28] — Imagination has joined with Broadcom, Ingenic, Qualcomm, and others to form a non-profit group called “Prpl” to build MIPS-based Linux and Android software.
With Prpl, Imagination Technologies aims to replicate some of the success of rival ARM’s Linaro non-profit firm, which has helped to stabilize and standardize Linux and Android code across a variety of licensed platforms. Just as ARM formed Linaro with many of its licensees, Imagination has tapped MIPS licensees like Broadcom, Cavium, Ingenic Semiconductor, and Qualcomm as founding members.
Qualcomm will focus on developing a carrier-grade version of the lightweight, low-power OpenWRT Linux distribution, which is often paired with its Atheros WiFi chipsets. OpenWRT and other lightweight Linux distributions are gaining favor in the new Internet of Things (IoT) era.
Other founding Prpl members include Ikanos, Ineda Systems, Nevales Networks, and PMC. Imagination also announced a separate deal with Oracle — not currently a Prpl member — to develop a MIPS-optimized version of Java.
Prpl (pronounced “Purple”) has a mission to “deliver innovation in efficiency, portability and compatibility for the good of a broad community of developers, businesses and consumers,” says Imagination. The group will focus on enabling “datacenter to device” portable software and virtualized architectures, with domains initially including data center, networking, digital home, embedded, and IoT.
Prpl will contribute MIPS-optimized code upstream to Linux distributions including Android, Arch Linux, CentOS, Chromium OS, Debian, Fedora, Gentoo, MEOS (MIPS Embedded OS), Montavista, OpenWRT, Red Hat, Tizen, Ubuntu, WebOS, and Yocto, “with more to follow,” says Imagination. The group has launched a Prpl community website for MIPS collaboration, which includes a “wide open source” code bank for LLVM, kernel, UEFI, gcc, buildroot, MIPS optimizations/SDK, and more, says the company.
In addition to the OpenWRT project, there are Prpl engineering groups for Linux, Android, and Developer Tools, as well as a project that will develop a MIPS/Linux Virtualization and Secure Hypervisor. The group will also focus on issues like MIPS hardware multi-threading and 32/64-bit compatibility.
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The Prpl website has posted six unidentified photos of hardware development platforms that will be targeted (see photo below). One is Ingenic’s Newton COM for wearable and IoT devices. The Newton module runs Android or Linux on a MIPs-based Ingenic Xburst SoC, and offers built-in WiFi and sensors.
Initially supported Prpl hardware platforms
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The three products in the bottom row are the OpenWRT-enabled Arduino Yun SBC (left), Linino Chiwawa module on a Collar EVB (center), and Diligent’s Arduino-compatible ChipKit WF32 SBC (right). The other two remain a mystery.
More than three billion MIPS-based devices have shipped to date, says Imagination. The Linux-oriented platform is well established in carrier-grade networking and telecom, with its 64-bit chips found in networking processors such as Cavium’s Octeon. MIPS also continues to perform in mostly low-end consumer electronics, especially set-top boxes, although it’s been increasingly marginalized by ARM platforms. Beijing-based Ingenics has had the most success in pushing MIPS out to mobile devices, with its Xburst processors. Yet, MIPS has yet to gain much of a share of the Android device market, despite having been the first major platform to support Android after ARM.
Last October, Imagination announced its first new processors since it acquired MIPS for $100 million in early 2013. The MIPS Series5 Warrior-P system-on-chip is equipped with six new 32-bit MIPS P5600 cores said to offer up to twice the performance of earlier 32-bit cores. The Warrior-P SoCs also provide 128-bit SIMD, hardware virtualization, enhanced security, and Linux-focused memory addressing.
“The commitment and support we have seen since our acquisition of MIPS in 2013 has been impressive and prpl will focus and develop a valuable strand of that support to deliver outstanding benefits for users, and compelling ROI for members,” stated Imagination CEO Hossein Yassaie. “As part of our commitment to community, and consistent with our agnostic approach to IP, the prpl foundation will be supportive of heterogeneous architectures.”
Prpl is open to membership now. More information may be found at the Prpl website.