MIPS Open-Source Group Takes Aim at ARM, Intel

Vendors like MIPS owner Imagination, Broadcom and Qualcomm are looking to drive MIPS adoption with the Prpl Foundation.

MIPS open source

Imagination Technologies is taking the open-source route in hopes of driving wider adoption of its low-power MIPS processor architecture in everything from small devices that are part of the Internet of things to servers and networking gear that run in data centers.

Imagination and several other vendors—including Broadcom, Qualcomm, Cavium and PMC—have created an open-source consortium that is designed to draw in developers who want to make software that can run on a range of systems powered by MIPS processors.

The companies announced the Prpl (pronounced "Purple") Foundation May 22 to rapidly grow the reach of the MIPS architecture and make it more competitive against more dominant platforms like ARM and Intel's x86 chips. It also will find competition from the OpenPower Foundation, IBM's effort to open up the Power architecture to bring it into more system and devices.

"For Imagination, this is an important new initiative in the further development of the MIPS ecosystem," Imagination CEO Hossein Yassaie said in a statement. "With more than 3 billion units shipped, MIPS is one of the world's leading CPU architectures."

There was a time when MIPS was among the leading RISC processor architectures, running in systems from the likes of Silicon Graphics (SGI) and communications products from Cisco Systems and others, Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst with Insight 64, told eWEEK. However, it struggled over the past few years as its ownership changed, going from independent to being under SGI's control and then back to being independent.

"A lot of potential users of MIPS were reluctant to invest in MIPS because they were not sure about its future," Brookwood said.

That's changed since Imagination bought MIPS for $100 million early last year, he said. Imagination has been open about its aggressive road map for the architecture, which is giving users more confidence. During a conference last year, Yassaie said the company was preparing to take on Intel and ARM in the low-power microserver market, with plans to release a CPU this year, though he admitted it could take several years before the company gained traction in the data center.

According to Imagination officials, the data center is one of several market segments the Prpl Foundation will focus on, with others including networking, digital home and the embedded and Internet of things (IoT) spaces. The foundation will serve as a resource depot that developers can leverage to create applications and devices for both the business-to-consumer and business-to-business markets.

The foundation will be a repository for a range of open-source projects based on the MIPS architecture and for everything from tool chains and libraries to debuggers and software.

Consortium members will work within specific engineering groups based on their particular expertise. For example, Qualcomm will work on networking projects, such as helping to create a community around carrier-grade OpenWrt. Qualcomm's Atheros business already uses OpenWrt in its wireless routers.