Clearly, the integration of any two companies is a painful process. I got further explanation about the exodus of former MIPS people -- sales and FAEs -- in Korea, Taiwan, Japan and China.
Sources close to MIPS/Imagination cite a fundamental difference in pay scale between the U.S.-based MIPS and the U.K.-based Imagination. Former MIPS sales people were reportedly asked to accept pay cuts -- some as much as 60 percent; all will be receiving no commissions as of April. Since it was Imagination who acquired MIPS, you might say it’s only natural that Imagination favors its own people (each company had a sales team in the region before the acquisition). Put it all together and it makes sense to wonder if Imagination ever intended to keep any MIPS sales people.
Obviously, the new MIPS/Imagination team needs to get past any hard feelings born out of the recent changes. At the same time, the team also needs to convince, if not convert, skeptics who aren’t sure of the future of MIPS processor cores in Imagination’s hands.
I interviewed several industry sources including MIPS customers, industry analysts and former MIPS employees. Their concerns about MIPS/Imagination’s future can be distilled into three questions.
1. It’s no secret that 15 to 20 percent of Android apps do not run well on MIPS-based devices. As J. Scott Gardner, a senior analyst at the Linley Group, wrote in the Feb. Microprocessor Report, “Few mobile customers want a device that runs ‘most’ apps when it is so easy to buy an ARM-based device that runs all apps.” How will Imagination respond?
2. Several sources point out that enabling binary translation of ARM code to MIPS code on the fly might be the way to mitigate this. What progress has MIPS/Imagination made in their efforts to offer that tool?
3. Can Imagination afford not to go after the mobile business with its newly acquired MIPS cores?
Armed with these questions, I went back to Imagination.
That Imagination decided to cut the MIPS sales team is not surprising. Marketing and Sales are usually the first to be let go from the acquired company.
The challenge that Imagination will face is that eventhough they may be right in predicting that in due time most (still not all) applications will be not be platform specific, there will not be too many takers. Who would want to risk their android phones from not running a few apps. I cannot imagine (pun un-intended) the magic-code being as optimal as the ARM code.
The other challenge will be the variety of battle-hardended silicon available from the likes of qualcomm, samsung, apple, nVidia with ARM. Can imagination really imagine (pun intended) developing silicon that can out-perform and compete with those companies. All this while ARM continues to deliver on its roadmap. I feel nostalgic for MiPs but I still don't see them winning in this space.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.