Imagination takes on ARM and x86 with free MIPS CPU access

UK processor designer Imagination Technologies is offering a free and open access complete MIPS CPU to universities. While this initiative is positioned as a boost to computing and electronic engineering studies, it could also serve to boost the adoption of MIPS architecture as it battles giant rival microarchitectures ARM and Intel’s x86.

Imagination, which designs the graphics cores in Apple’s A-series SoCs, acquired MIPS back in 2013. MIPS is a RISC architecture, which shares a focus on efficiency with ARM, thus making it potentially suitable to mobile and embedded applications. However it has failed to achieve the mainstream adoption of its UK rival, and offering it to the next generation of chip designers could be a way to address that.

“What we’re doing through MIPSfpga is something that hasn’t been done before with a major CPU architecture,” said Imaginations Marketing EVP Tony King-Smith. We’ve been working on this program for about a year as part of our focus revitalizing MIPS under Imagination. During that time, we have found great support for the program, and great love for MIPS – it is the preferred architecture for teaching.”

“It’s been more than 30 years since we created the MIPS architecture at Stanford University,” said MIPS co-founder Dr John L Hennessy. “I am pleased to see MIPS rejuvenated under Imagination’s care, and to see Imagination rolling out this exciting new program that brings MIPS back to academia in a big way. With its pure RISC architecture based on efficiency and simple extensible design principles, MIPS is an ideal architecture for teaching and studying CPU design.”

While the official press release was careful to avoid any direct reference to ARM, Imagination CEO Hossein Yassaie was less guarded in an interview with Ars Technica. “No industry likes a monopoly,” he said. “Whoever tells you that it does is talking absolute nonsense. Whether we like it or not, ARM had no competition. That is not healthy. I think the change now is that MIPS is here, it’s a real alternative, we’re making investment, and the industry is believing it. I can’t be specific, but we are absolutely engaging and doing deals with tier one guys…Google supports us very heavily.”

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