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MIPS enters Android Honeycomb tablet race

ARM and Intel face potent Chinese competitor

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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."

Last January, MIPS partnered with DTV-builder Western Mediabridge and SoC-maker Sigma Designs to create set-top boxes based on the Android port it had open sourced the previous August.

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." ®

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