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MIPs, one of the three major chip architectures in the world, is down! Turn around and join risc-v camp

via:博客园     time:2021/3/10 22:46:09     readed:386

MIPs, one of the three major chip architectures in the world, has become history.

According to foreign media reports,The affiliated company announced that it would give up designing MIPS architecture and devote itself to risc-v camp.

As a pioneer in RISC reform, MIPs was founded by John Hennessy, winner of Turing Award and chairman of Google's parent company. It was listed eight years after its establishment.


How hot was it then?

Microsoft will transplant its Windows system to MIPs, and Intel will spend billions of dollars to develop Itanium architecture to meet the challenge of RISC in the market at that time.

Even MIPS was once considered by the industry to be comparable to arm and x86, becoming one of the three major architectures in the world.

Today, MIPs, which should be 40 years old, suddenly lost its loneliness and turned to the risc-v camp.

As a result, some netizens exclaimed: This is another BlackBerry that meets Android.


Born in Stanford, 40 years old

In 1981, John Hennessy, then a Stanford Professor, led the team and implemented the first MIPS architecture processor.


MIPS is called microprocessor without interlocked pipeline stage. It adopts 5-level instruction pipeline and can execute at a rate close to one instruction per cycle. It was rare at the time.


In the 1980s, when RISC launched the first wave of impact on the complex instruction set (CISC) represented by x86, the momentum of its development even led Intel to invest billions of dollars in the development of Itanium.

MIPS is one of the earliest attackers in RISC camp.

In 1984, John Hennessy left Stanford and founded MIPS technology. And in the second year of its establishment, it launched the first chip design R2000.

In 1988, MIPs launched R3000. This product was a great success and sold over a million.

Many companies use R3000 in their consumer electronics products, such as Sony's PS. The first computer company in the United States, such as Dec, Epson, Japanese electrical appliances and other well-known enterprises, are also its customers.

In 1991, MIPs launched the 64bit R4000. Its competitor arm did not start to promote 64bit processor design in a large scale until 2012.

Until now, you can still find it in many products.

For example, mobile eye, Intel's autonomous driving company, is still widely using its technology. MIPS is not uncommon in home router products.


Loongisa instruction set of loongisa developed by Chinese Academy of Sciences is also based on MIPs. However, last year, loongarch announced that it was preparing to develop a set of instruction set loongarch which fully adopts Chinese technology, so as to realize further independent control.

It's worth mentioning that MIPS and risc-v are from the same school and are based on the same idea in many aspects.

John Hennessy, the founder of MIPs, and Dave Patterson, the father of risc-v, are also closely related.

Two textbooks, computer architecture: quantitative research method and computer composition and Design: Hardware / software interface, are widely used in undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

Patents were divided up and changed hands several times

However, what I didn't expect is that MIPs, which was so brilliant in those years, has gradually stepped down from the altar since the beginning of the 21st century.

And every step of it is so dramatic.

First of all, the explosion of the era of smart phones has put rival arm in the middle of the stage.

As mentioned earlier, MIPs was designed to focus on high-performance products, such as game consoles, routers, printers, etc., as opposed to Intel's x86.

Since its birth, arm has been aiming at embedded low-power areas, so that in the era of smart phones, arm can immediately cooperate with Qualcomm, apple and MediaTek to build mobile processor chips.

At that time, MIPs products did not have the advantage of low power consumption, so it was too late to react.


In addition, there are different authorization methods between the two. The authorization of MIPS instruction set architecture is very cheap, and the CPU core is very expensive, which forces many companies to choose to design their own MIPS core, add instructions, and release development tools

Arm, on the contrary, allows many CPU manufacturers to share a set of instruction sets and compilation tools, and even designs a convenient and cheap USB debugging tool to please programmers.

Because of a hesitation, MIPs lost a key opportunity, and even ended up being eaten by arm.

In 2012, it was reported that MIPS was looking for a buyer to sell itself.

At that time, potential buyers included Qualcomm, Broadcom, AMD, Google, etc., but the final winners were competitors arm, semiconductor and software design company imaging.

Arm, together with its own organization bridge crossing (specialized in acquiring technology patents), has acquired nearly 500 MIPS patents with us $350 million, of which arm has contributed US $167.5 million.


The remaining patents (82 key patents related to the core architecture) and the company's operators were sold to imagination for only $60 million.

The two purchasers also reached a cross licensing agreement on these patents: imaging obtained 498 lifetime free licenses for stripped patents, and bridge crossing obtained 82 restricted licenses for retained patents.

I thought it would be the end of MIPs when it was sold so cheaply.

But I didn't think that this was the beginning of an ill fated journey.

Imaging wanted to strengthen its CPU business through this acquisition, and Intel, its largest shareholder, also wanted to curb the development of arm.

However, after apple, an important customer, chose to develop its own GPU, the imaging business was in a hurry for a time, and then chose to sell off MIPs, which also faced the fate of acquisition.

MIPS has changed hands twice, and finally fell into the hands of wave computing, an AI start-up, in June 2018.


Because they want to develop their company's AI acceleration hardware on MIPS CPU, and then they buy the whole MIPs.

According to the media, they already had the relevant license at that time, but there was no need to buy it at all.


Of course, the reason does not rule out that many people in the wave computing team are from MIPs. For example, Derek Meyer, CEO of MIPs, was once vice president of MIPs.

They hope to attract more enterprise customers and developers through free and open strategy.

However, when I thought MIPS should find a good home, it didn't last long. In the second year after the acquisition, wave computing filed for bankruptcy and reorganization.

Since then, the fate of MIPs has been in the air.

Officially join risc-v camp

Now, it returns to our vision with a new attitude: abandon the previous architecture of the same name and join the risc-v camp.

In an official statement, the company said:

MIPS is developing the eighth generation architecture, which will be based on risc-v processor standard.

As I said earlier, MIPs and risc-v are from the same school.

They all follow the RISC concept and are famous for their simple and streamlined CPU design.

Last year, risc-v, who just turned 10, was out of the loop.

Because the architecture is simple, low power consumption area, more importantly, open source, which reduces the development threshold of manufacturers, has been favored by many developers.

Just like the flat head brother of Ali, he developed a xuantie 910 chip based on risc-v shortly after its founding, and its performance is at the A72 level of arm.

Not long ago, they also announced that they have successfully transplanted Android 10 system to this chip, and open source all the code.


There is also a foreign company, sifive, which launched a Linux computer with risc-v processor last year.


As for the manufacturers that have been authorized by MIPS before, they can still produce MIPS based chips legally.

However, it is not known whether technical support can be obtained in the future.

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