Latest cores from MIPS may make it relevant again

May 14, 2012 // By Junko Yoshida
MIPS Technologies has rolled out a new generation of microprocessor cores called Aptiv. With the cores' smaller die size and reduced energy consumption compared to ARM’s midrange core like A15, MIPS is hoping that the new family of cores can put the company back on track.

“We will gain leadership again” on the competitive microprocessor IP market, according to Gideon Intrater, vice president of marketing at MIPS. “We believe that Aptiv can beat A15 by a large margin.”

MIPS is at a crossroads, however. Some analysts see Aptiv arriving in the market a little too late.

Indeed, until recently, MIPS had not introduced new cores for two years. Meanwhile, its rival ARM busily pumped out a series of new microprocessor cores.

Why did MIPS, once a technology leader, fall behind? One explanation is MIPS’s acquisition of ChipIdea, an analog and mixed-signal IP supplier, in 2007. This deal apparently posed a huge distraction. MIPS’ plan then was to offer its customers a ‘virtual SoC’ by creating a strong IP arsenal — going beyond microprocessor cores – to mount a challenge to ARM. The marriage ended, however, after 18 months. “Once we decided to sell ChipIdea in 2009, we were able to put an emphasis back on microprocessor core development,” said Intrater.

MIPS is also facing an even bigger upheaval: the company’s potential sale. Recent speculation that “MIPS is up for sale” has not died down, and MIPS has neither confirmed nor denied the reports. Gary Mobley, senior research analyst at The Benchmark Company, calls the sale “a distinct possibility,” as MIPS has been shopped around at various times in the past 10 years. But he added: “It is important to note that if the company intends to sell, it better do so soon before potential licensees grow more concerned regarding MIPS’ long-term processor roadmap.”

Against this backdrop, MIPS is betting on Aptiv to turn things around. The Aptiv family, consisting of high-performance proAptiv, multi-threaded interAptiv and highly-efficient microAptiv, is the fruit of the company’s substantial investment and development efforts over the last three years. While the Aptiv family addresses distinct performance levels for applications across mobile, home entertainment, networking and embedded, MIPS’s focus is squarely on mobile.