Imagination Tech buys MIPS, gets license to thrill

These are certainly interesting times in the tech industry, not least because of the success of chip firms who license their IP for use by others—with ARM being the most prominent example. Right behind ARM in public awareness is Imagination Technologies, an early player in the PC graphics market (with chips like the Kyro II) whose PowerVR graphics processor designs power a host of popular devices, including Apple’s iOS offerings.

Now, Imagination Tech is looking to get a better foothold on the CPU side of things with the acquisition of a familiar name: MIPS Technologies, one of the microprocessor leaders from the old RISC vs. CISC wars who found itself on the losing side of a battle for supremacy against Intel. MIPS has since made a business for itself in embedded devices of various types, where it competes against a rising star in ARM. MIPS claims that over 700 million products based on its processor architecture shipped in its latest fiscal year, although it lost money during that span. Imagination Tech will pay $60 million to purchase MIPS’s operations and a subset of its patent portfolio.

Separately, a consortium of companies led by ARM will pay $350 million for the bulk of the MIPS patent portfolio. ARM says the transaction will "support continued innovation in system-on-chip design, whilst removing any potential litigation risk presented by the MIPS patent portfolio with respect to the consortium members." Non-members of the consortium will also be able to license the patents, if they wish. Furthermore, Imagination Tech and the consortium will grant each other licenses to the portions of the MIPS portfolio they hold.

So MIPS’s body has been quartered and taken to the four corners of the kingdom. Now, Imagination Tech will shepherd the MIPS architecture as an alternative to ARM, while ARM continues to develop its own Mali GPUs to take on PowerVR. Imagination already has an established CPU business with its SMT-enhanced Meta processors, which use their own ISA. One would expect Imagination to consolidate its development efforts around the MIPS ISA eventually.

Comments closed
    • shaq_mobile
    • 7 years ago

    after clicking the kyro 2 link, all i can think about is quake 3. sorry, scott. if you want people to finish reading your articles, you just cant link us to reminders of the quake 3.

    • Ushio01
    • 7 years ago

    Why is there so much hostility and cries for competion against ARM?

    ARM doesn’t make CPU’s if you want a CPU using the ARM ISA you can choose between Ti, Samsung, Nvidia, Broadcom or many others for “off the shelf” designs or go custom with Marvel, Qualcomm or Ziilabs that is loads of choice.

    Yet look at the computer CPU market, just like the mobile segment you have one ISA choice x86, yet you only have a choice between Intel, AMD and Via yet while there is talk about needing more competitors in the x86 space there is no talk about needing other ISA’s for the PC market.

      • Scrotos
      • 7 years ago

      It’s trendy to be a hater.

      • Chrispy_
      • 7 years ago

      Simple. ARM gains mean x86 losses

      Reduced x86 progress means less exciting bleeding edge development from Intel and a focus on power-saving, efficiency and treehugging hippy stuff.

      I like saving energy/my money/the environment as much as the next guy, but not at the expense of performance. I want forty bajillion frames a second at impossipixel resolutions with photo-realism whilst still being able to multitask the whole of the intertubes. [i<]Is that really so much to ask?[/i<]

        • MadManOriginal
        • 7 years ago

        [quote<]ARM gains mean x86 losses[/quote<] Serious problem with this: it assumes that the 'overall computing market' (encompassing everything from datacenter to desktop/laptop to mobile devices to embedded) is a zero sum game with no overall growth. The market growth over the last few years does not lead to this conclusion. Mobile was exploding (50%+ y-o-y market growth) and traditional computing was growing, even if at single digit rates. It's clearly not a zero sum game so gain by X does not mean loss by Y.

          • willmore
          • 7 years ago

          Exactly. Do you think we’d have tablets and smartphones today if we had stuck to x86 chips? There were no x86 chips that fit the power envelope. Past attempts at tablet computers pretty much flopped. It’s hard to make a useable tablet–size, battery life, and computing power–with x86. This whole market is only possible because they didn’t use x86.

          Now, yes, we’re getting some x86 chips that can almost compete in this segment, but do you think that development would have even happened if ARM/MIPS hadn’t opened the door?

          It’s not a zero sum game. They made a new market possible and now you’re going to complain that they should give it up to x86 ‘for the greater good of the x86 cutting edge’? Really?

        • ronch
        • 7 years ago

        What you need is a time machine to the year 3,000, as those things you’ve mentioned seem to be still so far away into the future.

      • ronch
      • 7 years ago

      The analogy here is that the different ISAs represent different countries. And within those countries there are corporations. Those corporations represent the real-life corporations competing within that ISA or country. So within x86, there’s competition between Intel and AMD (and VIA maybe). Within ARM, you have Nvidia, Qualcomm, TI, Samsung, Apple, soon AMD, etc. And it’s the same for most of the other ISAs such as PowerPC, SPARC, etc. and there are also some ISAs where in there is only one provider (IA-64 — I’m not aware that it’s being licensed).

      As there are competition between global communities, there are also competition amongst the corporations within a country. In this case, MIPS is the country trying to attract investors to invest in its country and compete there. Obviously, resources are limited and if a company decides to invest in MIPS it may have little resources to invest in another ISA (they’re not ambidextrous like AMD! LOL). Hence, that’s the kind of competition between MIPS, x86, ARM, etc.

      With regards to wanting more players so consumers will have more choice, the contenders of x86 (MIPS and ARM) are also competing with each other. It’s naturally that way unless ARM or MIPS is the only remaining non-x86 ISA. In the end, the market will become segmented, yes, but it will bring along with it more choice for consumers.

      As for having more ISAs in the PC space, there actually was one time when PowerPC tried to challenge Intel, but Intel’s x86 had a solid grip on PC manufacturers and no other ISA (including PowerPC) had enough infrastructure support (OSes, compilers, available applications, etc.) and installed base to really challenge Intel and x86. Now it looks like ARM actually has a shot.

    • ronch
    • 7 years ago

    For some reason I’d like MIPS to overtake ARM. Maybe it’s because I’ve had more good times with MIPS-based gizmos than ARM ones. Playstation 1 and 2, N64… They rocked back in those days.

      • willmore
      • 7 years ago

      MIPS had some warts as does (did) ARM. AARCH64 cleans up most of ARMs warts. I’ve lost track of what MIPS did since the SGI MIPS era. Hopefully they got rid of branch delay slots and dedicated multiply result registers.

    • brucethemoose
    • 7 years ago

    Good. MIPS has alot of potential, and it’s good to have a strong ARM competitor.

    • ronch
    • 7 years ago

    I don’t know what to make of this. Perhaps Imagination Tech (IT for short) can make the MIPS ISA more widespread with their recent fortunes and be able to push MIPS into more and more devices. On the other hand, I’m not too happy with the fact that ARM got the bulk of MIPS’ patent portfolio. It’s like MIPS just gave away half the farm.

      • Scrotos
      • 7 years ago

      They sold it away for 60 + 350 million, actually.

        • ronch
        • 7 years ago

        Yeah. But with most patents now with ARM instead of IT, IT has less patents to design future MIPS CPUs without knocking on ARM’s door. MIPS, as TR has said in a nicer way, has been butchered and some of the bits given off to its competitor.

          • MadManOriginal
          • 7 years ago

          No need to worry: [quote<]Furthermore, Imagination Tech and the consortium will grant each other licenses to the portions of the MIPS portfolio they hold.[/quote<]

          • Scrotos
          • 7 years ago

          Read press release. Doooo it!

          [i<]Bridge Crossing will acquire 498 of MIPS' total 580 patent assets for gross proceeds of $350 million. MIPS will retain the remaining 82 patent properties that are directly relevant and key to the MIPS architecture, and will also be granted a royalty-free, perpetual license under all of the patent properties sold to Bridge Crossing. MIPS will also provide a restricted license to Bridge Crossing under the 82 retained patent properties. Subject to consummation of the Bridge Crossing transaction, Imagination will acquire the operating business of MIPS, the 82 aforementioned patent properties, and license rights to all of the remaining patent properties of MIPS for $60 million.[/i<] Ergo, vis-a-vis, concordantly... IT owns the most important patents and gets access, forever and for free, to all the other patents sold off to the group that ARM is a part of. If anything, ARM is in the weaker position for creating MIPS-based devices since they only get a restricted license to the core patents for the architecture which MIPS/IT retains control of.

            • ronch
            • 7 years ago

            As much as I want to read the press release, sorry dude, [i<]when you gotta go, you gotta go.[/i<]

            • Scrotos
            • 7 years ago

            Many Bothans died to get you that press release!

      • Flatland_Spider
      • 7 years ago

      The Chinese will make the MIPS ISA more widespread. They are the ones who really wanted to buy MIPS.

        • ronch
        • 7 years ago

        Why buy it when they could just rip it off? 🙂

          • Flatland_Spider
          • 7 years ago

          Because then it will never be MIPS, it will be MIPS-like if they reverse engineer it, and they really do want to be legit. Real Chinese MIPS chips would be easier to sell then “fake” MIPS-like chips from China. Then China is trying to raise the image of products produced there. They want people to think of Chinese products the way people think of products produced in Japan, the US, or Germany.

          They want that to be China’s own ISA. They don’t want to deal with the whims of an external company, or nation, and at the scale they want, they might as well buy an ISA.

            • Scrotos
            • 7 years ago

            That, and the Chinese firm making the Loongsoon actually licensed the MIPS ISA in 2011 for full compatibility. They reverse-engineered most of it and only left out, what, 4 instructions or something like that.

            • ronch
            • 7 years ago

            I think China has this ISA called Unicore. It’s practically an ARM ISA with a few changes. I don’t know whether they have ARM’s blessing though.

    • mockingbird
    • 7 years ago

    Looks like tile-based rendering wins afterall, Videologic is doing better than nVidia and ATI/AMD who chose the path of brute force.

    Bet you NEC is kicking itself for letting go of their part of Videologic.

      • Scrotos
      • 7 years ago

      Yeah but when I asked Carmack about tile-based rendering at QCon2k2 (or 2k1?) he told me he didn’t see any future in it. He cannot be wrong!

      …then all the fanboys mobbed him for autographs and our conversation ended.

      • sschaem
      • 7 years ago

      Actually AMD sold to Qualcomm ATI tile based technology (binning) and IP.
      Adreno flex mode support both binning and direct rendering.

      If any kicking is happening, its AMD for selling ATI profitable & highly successful SoC division .

      edit: Intel also uses tile base AkA “Zone Rendering”
      I’m not sure if tegra went that way ?

      It seem everyone uses tile based on mobile , expect for AMD.

        • Scrotos
        • 7 years ago

        Was that from Bitboys or from ArtX? Or somewhere else entirely?

          • sschaem
          • 7 years ago

          The first imageon was based on artx. I saw the first mobile phone prototype running 3d games in 2003 or so. long before ATI aquired bitboys.
          [url<]http://images.anandtech.com/reviews/tradeshows/ces/2004/day3/aticellchip.jpg[/url<] I believe ATI paid allot for artx (400 million) , so qualcomm got a sweet deal. Edit: interesting reading, on how ATI is really another incarnation of SGI (via artx) [url<]http://eetimes.com/electronics-news/4044411/The-startup-that-saved-ATI[/url<]

        • destroy.all.monsters
        • 7 years ago

        “Actually AMD sold to Qualcomm ATI tile based technology (binning) and IP. ”

        Any linkage for this? AFAIK they just sold off the former BitBoys along with the Imageon tech – not the IP itself.

    • notfred
    • 7 years ago

    I can see the reasoning behind ARM buying the patent portfolio to keep it out of the hands of patent trolls who might attack them, but I can’t see any value in the MIPS processors themselves.

    MIPS was really old technology, people then moved to PowerPC and are now moving to ARM and x86. I don’t see the point in buying a dead processor technology for PowerVR.

      • dpaus
      • 7 years ago

      If you read the article, you know that there’s ‘over 700 million’ points.

        • notfred
        • 7 years ago

        That’s legacy shipping product, stuff that got designed years ago. New designs are x86 or ARM. That 700 million shipping units will dry up and they are still making a loss on that 700 million shipped.

          • dpaus
          • 7 years ago

          But it also says there’s a significant existing market, which means mature, stable tools and knowledgeable designers who are comfortable with the applications. If the existing tech will do the job adequately and reliably, new designs won’t go to ARM or x86 just for the sheer fun of it. Application of process improvements are likely to extend that situation for at least a few years, quite possibly several years, giving Imagination Tech enough time to implement non-disruptive platform improvements to keep competitive on the functionality front.

          So is it a gold mine? Of course not. Is it more than enough Future-Value cash flow to exceed the Net Present Value of the transaction? Absolutely.

          • Scrotos
          • 7 years ago

          Our firewall uses one of these: [url<]http://www.cavium.com/OCTEON_MIPS64.html[/url<] And they are still developing this product line, here's a press release from Feb of 2012: [url<]http://www.cavium.com/newsevents_Cavium_Unveils_48-core_OCTEON-III_MIPS64_Processor.html[/url<] Hell, the Loongson people even licensed MIPS32/MIPS64 in 2011 for continued development. I'm not saying MIPS is the best ISA and all over the place, but it ain't dead or irrevelant.

      • ronch
      • 7 years ago

      The MIPS ISA is not old technology. Perhaps you’re talking about old MIPS designs, but saying that you can’t design a fast MIPS CPU because it’s old tech is like saying you can’t design multi-GHz x86 cores (i.e. Sandy Bridge) because x86 is old tech and dates back to the late 70’s.

    • south side sammy
    • 7 years ago

    Ahhhh………. the Kyro II………. have one packed away. I think it was my first video card. still works. maybe somebody will give me $37,000 for it on ebay in 30 years ?… LOL

      • BiffStroganoffsky
      • 7 years ago

      Only if you throw in a vintage Win98SE system and functional driver disc… “I’d buy that for a dollar.”

        • destroy.all.monsters
        • 7 years ago

        People still keep 98 and XP gaming rigs. There are even extensions to allow 98 to run some XP and Win 7 binaries. Hell, there are some folks running even older gaming rigs than that.

        I’d love to see Creative bought up and pieced out just to get Sensaura and Aureal tech back out in the wild.

    • NeelyCam
    • 7 years ago

    ARM is in trouble. Let’s watch that 60+ P/E ratio tumble

      • dpaus
      • 7 years ago

      Dude! Move to Colorado and… well, get over this dangerous obsession you have with ARM’s P/E ratio before your friends have to schedule an intervention (you [i<]do[/i<] have some friends, right? I mean, other than SSK?) The big message from all this is that there's significant industry consolidation going on that does not bode well at all for Intel.

        • chuckula
        • 7 years ago

        dpaus now has a default solution for all problems: Move to Colorado!

        Don’t like how your GPU performed in the inside-the-second benchmarks? Move to Colorado and you’ll never notice the difference through the haze!

        Don’t like how hot your CPU is getting? Move to Colorado and use the extra heat to bake those brownies!

        Don’t like how your smartphone performs? Move to Colorado and after a few days of breathing in the ambient air you’ll forget why you were even trying to use that smartphone thing in the first place!

          • dpaus
          • 7 years ago

          Dude!!!! I, uh, um, ah….

          <giggles> Never mind, I forget. Hey, got any more of those brownies you mentioned?

            • ronch
            • 7 years ago

            Hey, perhaps TR can redo those Intel vs. AMD benchies in Colorado….

            Edit – Heck, AMD should move to Colorado! The heat will get their brains running to design a kick-ass Haswell-killer!

            • dpaus
            • 7 years ago

            They sent Cyril out there to do just that 4 months ago. Haven’t heard from him since.

            • Scrotos
            • 7 years ago

            Ahem.

            [url<]http://www.amd.com/us/press-releases/Pages/Press_Release_112927.aspx[/url<] And yes, it's still there. Advanced Micro Devices 2950 East Harmony Road Suite 300 Fort Collins, CO 80528-9558

            • ronch
            • 7 years ago

            I bet those FX chips reach 8GHz on all cores in Colorado. Sweet!!

            • Scrotos
            • 7 years ago

            Dude, did you see how they moved the stuff out of their cleanroom so they could make room for the grow lights? They got a totally sick setup now!

            • ronch
            • 7 years ago

            I was being sarcastic. I thought you’d catch it.

            • Scrotos
            • 7 years ago

            Ditto! 😀

            • NeelyCam
            • 7 years ago

            The journal paper on Piledriver’s resonant clock mesh came from Fort Collins.. maybe they’ll start doing something even wackier now..?

          • BiffStroganoffsky
          • 7 years ago

          Don’t like how your system plays the latest game? Move to Colorado and get baked! …woohooo!!!

        • NeelyCam
        • 7 years ago

        Sure – this is bad for Intel and ARM, but it’s good for everyone else. Intel will manage, though. They still have much higher R&D budgets and that infamous process advantage – that’s why I didn’t say Intel is in trouble

        I rather move to Washington. I like Seattle: rain is fun, and it’s close to BC.

          • chuckula
          • 7 years ago

          Intel also owns ~20% of Imagination, so being sued by them is somewhat unlikely.

      • Antimatter
      • 7 years ago

      If you are confident that ARM’s P/E will fall, why don’t you short it.

        • NeelyCam
        • 7 years ago

        I don’t short.

          • dpaus
          • 7 years ago

          You would if we put your battery in backwards.

            • Scrotos
            • 7 years ago

            Last time we tried, he resisted.

            • dpaus
            • 7 years ago

            Resistance is futile.

            • Scrotos
            • 7 years ago

            I don’t have the capacity to handle this load!

            • dpaus
            • 7 years ago

            Is Optimus Prime available? Maybe you just need a bigger Transformer….

            • ronch
            • 7 years ago

            SSK can handle any load.

            • dpaus
            • 7 years ago

            Oh, snap!

            • MadManOriginal
            • 7 years ago

            No, it’s (voltage/current).

            • NeelyCam
            • 7 years ago

            Re[V/I]

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