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New MIPS processors coming, may target Android

Jun 27, 2013  |  Eric Brown

Imagination Technologies announced a MIPS “Warrior” family of 32/64-bit processors designed for everything from high-end networking equipment to Android tablets, and also announced updates to its embedded-focused MIPS Aptiv 32-bit processor line. The Warrior IP will feature multi-core hardware virtualization and multi-threading, MIPS SIMD architecture, and Imagination’s security framework.

The new Warrior and updated Aptiv product lines are the first new MIPS processors to be announced since MIPS Technologies was acquired by Imagination Technologies for $100 million in early February (see farther below for background).

The Warrior architecture will be formally launched later this year, but Imagination offered a few details in the meantime. The cores will include 32-bit and 64-bit variants, ranging from entry-level embedded to high-end applications, and will offer binary compatibility with earlier MIPS processors. “The broad range of tools and applications built for the 64-bit MIPS architecture over the past 20+ years will seamlessly work with ‘Warrior’ cores,” says Imagination.



Imagination’s MIPS product roadmap
(click image to enlarge)

 

Additional Warrior details include:

  • Hardware and software virtualization across the entire range of cores, including “energy efficient mobile platforms”
  • Hardware multi-threading in select cores for better throughput, QoS, and power/performance efficiency
  • Imagination’s scalable security framework, including content protection on mobile devices, secure networking protocols, and payment services
  • MIPS SIMD architecture (MSA) for accelerating compute-intensive applications with efficient parallel processing of vector operations, with support for C or OpenCL
  • Consistent toolchain across all cores for easier development and debugging

No fabrication process was announced for Warrior. MIPS’s high-end cnMIPS64 III cores based on its Release 5 MIPS architecture (MIPSr5) are fabricated using a 28nm process on processors like Cavium’s Octeon III. Warrior is also said to be based on the MIPS Series5 architecture.

At least some of the Warrior cores will support Android, and the Warrior announcement page features a prominent Android robot icon (above). There was no mention of Linux, but it’s always been the go-to development platform for 32- and 64-bit MIPS processors.
 

microAptiv and interAptiv CPUs updated

MIPS announced its Aptiv line of 32-bit processors last year to widespread acclaim, which along with MIPS’s patents, helped to raise the company’s acquisition price to $100 million. Like all advanced MIPS processors, Aptiv supports Linux development, and Android is cited in particular as a good fit for the high-end proAptiv line.

With the new updates, Imagination has introduced a new floating point member of the low-power microAptiv family. It also added a small-footprint, single-core version to the mid-range interAptiv family that dispenses with the extra logic associated with multi-core coherency and L2 cache controller. There do not appear to be any changes to the high-end proAptiv family.



MIPS microAptiv microcontroller and microprocessor cores (with MMU)
(click images to enlarge)

 

Here’s are some updated profiles for the Aptiv processors:

  • proAptiv:
    • Single- through six-core multi-threaded models available
    • Optional hardware floating point
    • Triple-dispatch superscalar, Out of Order (OoO) architecture with “best-in-class” branch prediction
    • Enhanced Virtual Address (EVA) technology
    • High-performance cache memories
    • DSP extensions for common audio and image processing tasks
    • Optimized for mobile device running third party apps, such as Android games
  • interAptiv:
    • Single-, dual-, and quad-core multi-threaded configurations
    • Optional floating point
    • Aimed at applications including baseband modems, audio processing/codecs, automotive, storage, high-reliability devices
    • Single-core model is recommended as upgrade for “single-core MIPS classic cores,” and has lower power consumption than MIPS 34K; extends available memory with EVA; updated DSP
  • microAptiv:
    • Low-power designs for embedded M2M, “Internet of Things,” and simple mobile devices
    • Available in versions that target microcontrollers and “deeply embedded processors”
    • Optional floating point for applications including electric metering and motor control
    • Choice of MMU for Linux development or MPU (Memory Protection Unit) for RTOS or analog use

 

MIPS and Imagination background

Like Imagination Technologies and Imagination’s new U.K.-based rival ARM, California-based MIPS Technologies is a fabless design firm that sells IP for processors instead of fabricating CPUs and system-on-chips (SoCs). MIPS was founded in 1984 and turned its Linux-ready RISC variant into a major processor architecture for everything from set-top boxes and Blu-ray players to high-end networking and storage equipment.

More than 125 partners license MIPS IP for a claimed 500 million processors per year. Major partners for its 32-bit, primarily consumer electronics line include Broadcom and Sigma Designs. Broadcom expanded into 64-bit last year with its acquisition of MIPS networking chip vendor NetLogic and its XLP processors. The main partner on the high end is Cavium, the owner of MontaVista Software, which manufactures 64-bit MIPS Octeon processors. While all these vendors support Linux as their main development platforms, MIPS also has a huge business in low-power microcontrollers focused on the RTOS market, primarily via Microchip’s PIC32 line.

Despite recent attempts to enter the Android mobile space — MIPS was the first non-ARM architecture to announce an Android port — it had only modest success with partners like Android tablet vendor Velocity Micro. As ARM continued to bite into MIPS’s consumer electronics market share, MIPS Technologies started looking for a buyer, and found one in Imagination. The latter is a leading source for graphics IP, including the popular PowerVR GPUs which are integrated into many ARM Cortex-based SoCs. As ARM began pushing its own Mali GPUs, Imagination decided to diversify itself into the CPU market.

Imagination appears to be serious about competing with ARM. It claims to have nearly doubled the resources applied to MIPS, investing in tools, compilers, debuggers, operating systems, and software. Imagination is also “developing the MIPS presence in key segments such as mobile by continuing to grow the MIPS ecosystem, and by exploiting open operating systems and emerging trends toward architecture neutrality and portability,” says the company.

“If Imagination does as great a job with the new MIPS generation as it has done with PowerVR GPUs, then the industry will have another strong player in the CPU IP space,” stated J. Scott Gardner, senior analyst of The Linley Group / Microprocessor Report.
 

Further information

The new Aptiv processors appear to be available now. Imagination Technologies will launch the Warrior line of processors later this year. More information may be found on Imagination’s website, on this Aptiv page and this Warrior page.
 

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