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MIPS is still an Imagination

Last summer, Imagination’s CEO Hossein Yassaie said his company was after 25 percent of the mobile processor market within a half- decade. Now, is it any closer to moving away from Powerpoint slides?


Last year Imagination CEO Hossein Yassaie, hot off the purchase of MIPS, laid out an aggressive plan to shake up the mobile market: taking 25 percent of the processor market in terms of “design elements” within five years.

Imagination’s weapon of choice in this battle against mobile market domination by ARM would be the Warrior P-class CPU, coupled with its PowerVR GPU (which is already in use by many vendors in a number of SoCs including Apple). After all, MIPS isn’t inherently a new entrant to the mobile market game. There are already a couple of devices on the market with MIPS chips already, but these are ultra-low cost machines aimed at emerging markets and running one of MIPS’ older chips.

MIPS does have one advantage going into this great battle of the processors: Android supports MIPS as much as it does ARM and x86 since Google has “made official” the MIPS Technologies port of Android to the MIPS architecture. As Peter McGuinness, Imagination’s Director of Technology Marketing said to VR-Zone at CES in January, “Google does not want Android to become ARMdroid.”

But for of all the potential Imagination’s MIPS-based Warrier CPU and SoC has, one year into Yassaie’s five-year plan the wins have yet to materialize.

The party line from Imagination is that the wins and progress are there but still behind closed doors. “The progress on MIPS is very encouraging and has made a positive contribution to the business. We re-iterate that this is a long-term strategy to offer real choice in the CPU and processor IP market,” is the official statement on the topic from Imagination.

In a recent briefing with VR-Zone, Imagination’s Alex Voica, one of the company’s PR representatives, reiterated that progress is there but the neither Imagination nor its customers are ready to announce anything quite yet.

An SoC layout diagram from a slide in Imagination's recent briefing
An SoC layout diagram from a slide in Imagination’s recent briefing

“We’ve already licensed Warrior including the P5600  to a few companies, unfortunately I’m not able to disclose who those companies are because they’ve asked us to keep it secret,” Voica told VR-Zone. “But among those companies is a tier one company. It’s a major player in the vendor space.”

“It’s something that we are still aggressively targeting. It’s been one year, and we’ve seen a lot of interest,” Voica continued.

“On the ecosystem side we’ve established from very important partnerships.”

The paper win trap

Over the last few years semiconductor companies have developed a bad habit of hyping paper wins, reference designs and Powerpoint marketing slides as the real thing. AMD is a prolific offender of this, but Intel is certainly not exempt either.

Imagination certainly has the potential to disrupt ARM’s hegemony in the market, but falling into this common trap will let the aggressive goal of winning 25 percent of the market (Voica now clarifies this as the licensable market) in design wins slip away. Imagination’s hesitation has given ground to its competitors to launch some fairly legitimate criticisms its way. Speaking to VR-Zone in February, ARM’s VP of Segment Marketing, Ian Ferguson, said that while ARM has seen some interest in MIPS from its usual accounts, it’s not enough to hit the goal of 25 percent of licensable market design wins within five — now four — years.

“Licensing dollars and who you’re licensing to is a guideline of forward looking revenue. If you look at their space, I don’t see it,” he said at the time. “Their main customers are, at best, using two architectures today (between CPU and GPU). MIPS trying to come into our space as we try to go into their graphics accounts, but I’ll tell you: processor is stickier than graphics.”

“Imagination has made some really strong claims. I haven’t seen silicon, I haven’t seen licensing deals that would make me worry or make a path to 25 percent. I don’t want to sound complacent, we’re absolutely not. We see them in some accounts,” he continued.

As VR-Zone has argued before before, Imagination’s MIPS certainly has the potential to be a Trojan Horse in the mobile SoC market. Mostly because most SoC vendors don’t know what to make of MIPS since they license Imagination’s PowerVR GPU to pair with their respective CPUs.

But publishing marketing outlining the potential these new SoCs has isn’t enough. Announcing hardware wins is, as that is what’s needed to convince vendors to make the jump to this exotic platform.

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