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Imagination takes on ARM and Intel with MIPS chip redesign

Respin of 64-bit MIPS I6400 targets mobile devices to servers
Thu Sep 04 2014, 11:54
The MIPS I6400 intended for high-performance SoCs

UK CHIP DESIGNER Imagination Technologies is challenging ARM and Intel with a redesigned MIPS I6400 processor.

The firm said this 64-bit version of the venerable MIPS processor architecture is designed to deliver energy-efficient performance all the way from mobile devices up to data centre servers.

Announced this week, the MIPS I6400 is a multi-core system on a chip (SoC) processor featuring integrated graphics and other functions. Notably, the MIPS64 architecture is one of the three supported by Google's upcoming Android L mobile operating system, along with ARM and x86.

Like ARM, Imagination Technologies is a mainly chip design firm that licenses its intellectual property (IP) to chip makers. It is best known for its PowerVR GPU technology that is used in many SoCs found in smartphones and tablets, but it acquired MIPS at the end of 2012.

The firm is making bold claims for the new MIPS I6400 design, saying it sets new standards for mainstream 64-bit processing in a wide range of applications including embedded, mobile, digital consumer, advanced communications, networking and storage.

Imagination EVP of marketing Tony King-Smith said, "The I6400 is more efficient, flexible and scalable than the competition, and its feature set clearly lends itself to the needs of a wide range of next generation applications including smartphones and tablets.

"We know that unique features like multi-threading provide significant advantages for many applications, and customers already using this technology agree. Unsurprisingly, we've already secured licensees for the I6400 across multiple markets."

However, the firm was not willing to disclose licensees developing MIPS I6400 chips, and would not say when it expects the first products featuring the new architecture to come to market.

The MIPS I6400 can process up to four threads per core simultaneously, and can be integrated in clusters of up to six cores alongside PowerVR GPUs and other IP blocks such as WiFi, Bluetooth and sensors. The design allows for each core in a cluster to have a separate clock speed and voltage level for fine-grained power management, according to the firm.

Imagination claims that the design can achieve 50 percent higher scores in the Coremark benchmark, and 30 percent higher DMIPS Dhrystone benchmark scores compared with "leading competitors in its class", although the firm did not give specific details of the configurations used for these tests.

Imagination also claims it has a broad ecosystem of support for the MIPS I6400 from a broad range of partners, including Broadcom, Qualcomm, Cavium, PMC and others, especially through a newly formed PRPL foundation backing the MIPS architecture.

The MIPS architecture was created more than three decades ago and was used by SGI, DEC, NEC, Siemens Nixdorf, Tandem and other computer makers, and once featured in workstation processors supported by a version of the Windows NT operating system from Microsoft, as well as mobile chips found in PDAs, games consoles and other devices. µ


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