Imagination Technologies hopes to catch up with ARM and Intel in the mobile space with its first MIPS 64-bit processor core design, which could be in tablets and smartphones by 2016.
Processors based on the MIPS Warrior i6400 design will be able to run Google's 64-bit Android OSes starting with the upcoming L release, said Mark Throndson, director of processor marketing and business development at Imagination.
The new processor is smaller, faster and more power-efficient than a previous MIPS chip, the 32-bit InterAptiv, Throndson said. As a result, mobile devices will gain speed and efficiency, he said.
Some performance benefits come from the 64-bit design, which will allow devices to have more memory and run more applications in parallel. The multithreaded Warrior i6400 is close to 50 percent faster on some Android tasks than the InterAptiv, Throndson said.
The Warrior CPU core could also be used in servers, networking equipment, set-top boxes and embedded equipment.
Like ARM, Imagination licenses MIPS processor designs and architectures to chip makers. In late 2012, Imagination acquired MIPS Technologies, which was struggling financially but had already licensed 64-bit architectures for 20 years. But MIPS had not yet developed an off-the-shelf 64-bit processor design like Warrior i6400 that could be easily fabricated and plugged into mobile devices.
Makers of mobile chips will combine multiples of the MIPS i6400 CPU in one chip, much like Apple includes two ARM CPU cores in its 64-bit A7 chip.
MIPS processors dominate the embedded market and have been used in some low-cost mobile devices. But Imagination is lagging both ARM and Intel in the mobile processor market and hopes for a fresh start with the new 64-bit design.
However, MIPS will be late to 64-bit in mobile devices. The ARM-based iPhone 5S already has a 64-bit processor, and more smartphones and tablets with ARM and Intel chips are due to ship once Google releases the final version of Android L.
The 64-bit MIPS processor better exploits the power-management features in Android and has "finer granularity in controlling frequency and power consumption" of cores, Throndson said.
Power can be managed for individual cores, while on the MIPS 32-bit processors the power draw was centrally managed for all cores, Throndson said.
The design also has the hooks for hardware virtualization and ECC (error-correcting code) memory to correct data errors, which is important for servers and networking equipment.
MIPS is strong in the embedded and networking markets and is trying to translate that success to mobile, said Jim McGregor [CQ], principal analyst at Tirias Research.
The Warrior i6400 is the first of many 64-bit CPU cores that Imagination will release for mobile, embedded, networking and servers, McGregor said, but more work is needed for them to succeed in tablets and smartphones.
"I think their success is tied to the development of the ... software, tools and intellectual property" to go along with hardware, McGregor said.
Imagination is well known in graphics and has brought consistency to MIPS product releases after years of uncertainty, he said.
"We'll have to see where it goes from there," McGregor said.