MIPS will completely end and developers will move to RISC-V
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MIPS will completely end and developers will move to RISC-V
Silicon Valley-based Wave Computing said on Tuesday that it will introduce two new microprocessor designs this year using the RISC-V architecture as its once-popular MIPS architecture is on the verge of becoming obsolete.
The move adds momentum to RISC-V, an open-standard instruction set architecture (ISA), an emerging competitor to the proprietary architecture of British Arm, a semiconductor technology company owned by SoftBank Group Corp.
The growing popularity of the nascent RISC-V is largely due to its free and open standards. It also has the potential to help China build its own semiconductor industry, as Chinese companies developing technology based on the architecture may not be subject to U.S. export controls.
Wave’s MIPS architecture was developed in the lab of Stanford University professor John Hennessy for 35 years.
However, it has fallen behind the Arm architecture that dominates mobile chips, and x86, originally developed by Intel Corp., which dominates laptop and data center chips. After being owned by a series of companies, MIPS was acquired by Wave, which went bankrupt in 2020 and emerged from trouble early last year.
“For the company to survive, it needs to find another way to fight the ecosystem battle it has lost,” Desi Banatao, who took over as CEO after Wave’s bankruptcy, said in an interview.
He added that the company has signed a contract to supply a new processor design to an automotive technology company.
Sanjai Kohli, former CEO of Wave, said the MIPS and RISC-V instruction sets are so close that the company can easily modify many of the MIPS processors it owns.
Intel is backing RISC-V, investing in the ecosystem as part of the launch of a $1 billion fund to support companies with disruptive technologies building their foundry businesses.
RISC-V has also gained more attention after Nvidia’s acquisition of Arm raised concerns about the chipmaker’s potential to control Arm’s architecture. The takeover bid has since failed after being rejected by numerous regulators.
MIPS switches to RISC-V, the future of MIPS processors is uncertain
What a long and strange thing this is. MIPS Technologies no longer designs MIPS processors. Instead, it joined the RISC-V camp, ditching the namesake architecture with its rich history and technological ties.
The move clearly heralds the end of MIPS as a CPU family and further reduces the variety of processors available. This is the final link of the architecture.
As a company, MIPS “has been through the ages” and became part of the ill-fated AI startup Wave Computing a few years ago.
According to reports at the time, Wave computing developed its unique AI acceleration hardware based on MIPS CPU, and then they acquired MIPS .
Given that they have already licensed the necessary IPs, the move seems unusual, unnecessary, and a distraction.
Over time, however, MIPS’ business appears to be starting to become the company’s most stable part.
What’s more, Wave computing went bankrupt last year and emerged last week under a new name: the acquirer of MIPS technology.
According to reports, development of the MIPS processor architecture has now ceased, and MIPS (the company) will begin manufacturing RISC-V-based chips .
This is a complete change in business model, not just CPU.
Like ARM or Ceva or Rambus, the old MIPS lives on in an IP-licensed way without any substantial expansion and progress.
Companies like Wave Computing are its customers, and processors like ARM and RISC-V are its competitors.
Now, the equation is reversed.
RISC-V is the brainchild of Dave Patterson and his team at UC Berkeley, who co-authored the seminal textbook on CPU design with John Hennessy of Stanford University.
Hennessey’s MIPS (Microprocessor Without Interlocking Pipeline Stages) was about two decades ahead of RISC-V, but the two are very similar in terms of basic concepts and philosophies.
Both RISC-V and MIPS are simple, clean, and streamlined CPU designs closely tied to RISC’s philosophy of bringing hardware and software complexity to a climax.
The original MIPS, along with SPARC, Alpha, PA-RISC, and a few others, were at the forefront of the RISC revolution of the 1980s. For a while, it panicked Intel. (The company spent billions developing Itanium.)
MIPS processors are at the heart of DEC microcomputers, Silicon Graphics workstations, Nintendo video games, and a hundred systems in between.
The company went public in 1989. Microsoft even ported Windows to MIPS. The business was so good that Silicon Graphics bought it, then spun it off into its own licensing company and went public again in 1998.
MIPS is in direct competition with British upstart ARM, but is seen as the more serious and powerful alternative of the two. Phone makers use ARM, but engineers don’t end up choosing MIPS.
Fast forward to today, and the newly formed company’s official statement says, “MIPS is developing a new industry-leading, standards-based eight-generation architecture that will be based on the standard for open-source RISC-V processors.”
In this case, “8th generation” refers to the 7th generation of the traditional MIPS architecture, followed by the upcoming RISC-V design.
It sounds like the company is alluding to a smooth transition, with some level of compatibility between the old and the new.
This is a complete breakthrough as the company transitions from the old CPU designs it owns to the new ones in the public domain. The new MIPS is just the MIPS in the name.
The new MIPS is also a member of RISC-V International, the nonprofit that coordinates official RISC-V oversight. This has actually been going on for a while, which may have signaled their intentions.
As it happens, Mark Himelstein, CTO of RISC-V International, is a former employee of MIPS Technologies.
He told the author: “I would personally say that RISC-V is more concise and elegant than any other architecture.
The one that reminds me the most is MIPS. I’m very excited about the company’s next steps, including Their engagement with the community and what RISC-V products they will bring to market.”
As far as I know, the newly formed MIPS will continue to abide by the existing licensing agreements that were signed prior to the reorganization, meaning that licensees can still legally manufacture MIPS-based chips and still have to pay royalties to MIPS. That means support will become more obscure.
It’s unclear whether MIPS will have the staff or willingness to provide designers with substantial support. And future MIPS processor upgrades seem unlikely.
But with this company, everything happens.
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