MIPS enters Android Honeycomb tablet race
ARM and Intel face potent Chinese competitor
Amid all the brouhaha about the low power–chip tussle between Intel and ARM, another processor architecture has been quietly advancing into the same tablet and smartphone battleground: MIPS Technologies, which has announced a partnership with Beijing's Ingenic Semiconductor to port Android 3.0, aka Honeycomb, to the Chinese chipmaker's upcoming ultra–low power system-on-chip.
"With its new chip, Ingenic is bringing a new level of MIPS applications processing to the mobile market," MIPS marketing and biz-dev vice president Art Swift said in the companies' announcement on Tuesday.
The SoC in question, Ingenic's 1GHz JZ4770, includes the company's XBurst CPU core, an 1080p video processing unit and OpenGL ES 2.0 3D-capable GPU, plus Wi-Fi, 3G, Bluetooth, TV, USB, camera, GPS, and other connectivity options.
The JZ4770 requires only about 250 milliwatts of power when running at at 1GHz, with the XBurst core and its L1 cache consuming around 100 of those milliwatts. The 65nm chip is sceduled to be released in the third quarter of this year.
MIPS and Ingenic announced that the Chinese chipmaker had licensed the MIPS32 architecture this January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. At that time, they said that MIPS-based Ingenic chips would be "targeting a broad range of mobile products including e-readers, tablets and smartphones leveraging the Android platform."
MIPS work on Honeycomb is not the first MIPS Android port. Over two years ago, Embedded Alley announced that it was preparing an Android port for MIPS-based processors, targeting a veritable laundry list of applications: "personal multimedia and Mobile Internet Devices digital video and home entertainment (STB/DTV/HDTV), automotive (GPS and infotainment), medical devices, home automation, SOHO networking, instrumentation and industrial control."
Android 3.0 is not yet open source. Google has said that the Honeycomb code will not be open sourced before the end of the year. But the company is sharing the Honeycomb source code with certain partners. Tuesday's announcement that MIPS and Ingneic would partner to port the tablet-specific Android 3.0 to the JZ4770 adds a third SoC competitor in the tablet market in addition to ARM and Intel.
In January, Ingenic said that its chips were powering "over 25 million products" in the Chinese market. In the companies' announcement on Tuesday, Ingenic chairman and CEO Qiang Liu said that he was expanding his target to "the China market and beyond." ®
They describe a system that would have blown away top-end workstations of a decade ago, and suggest it might be usable in phones and e-readers.
It seems that Gates' law trumps Moore's every time.
Low power servers..
But when will we actually be able to buy hardware based on this? I want to buy a small low power mips or arm based server, but there doesnt seem to be much on the market.
MIPS might make a better choice for servers than ARM, there is already a well specified tried and tested MIPS64 variant which should work well for servers.
I had similar thoughts..
The poster above saying that; 1GB should be find for a small web server and such, or the article a few days back complaining that a phone "only had 512MB" to run in.
At the other extreme I clearly remember using VAX/VMS at work with as little as 20MB Ram and tiny hard disks, that supported:
- 10-20 concurrent software developers editing, compiling and testing code (via dumb terminals).
- a decent file system, with native indexed files, version numbers and more.
- a built in mail client.
- the equivalent of MSN (called Phone)
- printer server
- Word processing (WordPerfect was available for VMS)
- File serving via FTP and DECnet
- and much, much more.
I acquired a couple of VAX's a few years back and I gave one to a friend who has used it the run his personal web site for nearly 10 years.
It has never been hacked (though the logs show the script kiddies were trying within 40 minutes), and the only down time has been due to him moving house and a few power failures.
Not bad for a microVAX 3100-95 (~38VUPS or the speed of a 100Mhz Pentium) with the maximum 256MB and a GB or so of hard disk.
The original MIPS32 ISA has horrible code density, so I would choose ARM any day over that. Even the original 32-bit-only ARM ISA has a much better code density. MIPS, however, made a Thumb-like extension that has decent code density (though not quite as good as Thumb2), so if the planned processor implements this, it might be O.K.
Still, MIPS and ARM were designed with 80's technology in mind, and it is not a clear fit to modern technology, though both have evolved somewhat with extensions and coprocessors (ARM more than MIPS). It would be refreshing if someone would make a new ISA that was a better fit for modern technology. It would take quite an effort to get a good code base, though. This could be partly remedied by supporting LLVM and JVM, though.
Used in microcontrollers too...
Microchip Technology's PIC32 microcontrollers are MIPS based apparently. Never used them though, I'm happy sticking with ARM.