Imagination’s very first customer was NEC, who used its graphics cores in Sega game machines. “Our business with NEC gave us enough funding to start R&D for mobile,” said Harold. “Without Japan, Imagination would have been a very different company now.”
Imagination’s current IP licensees include Renesas Electronics (which absorbed NEC Electronics), Fujitsu, Ricoh, Sony and Sharp. Of Imagination’s 40 customers, fully one quarter are based in Japan, according to Harold.
Imagination nevertheless hopes to “reinvigorate” MIPS through the acquisition. Harold stressed that the deal “is not for a GPU plus CPU play [a la ARM’s Mali],” as many have speculated. “This isn’t it.”
The plan is for Imagination to “scale up CPU development operation” by merging its own Meta CPU efforts with the MIPS CPU engineering team's expertise. The goal is to use both companies’ CPUs to “create a strong alternative choice,” said Harold. “We believe there is a desire for that in the market.”
Harold was mum on the timeline for integrated CPU development. The MIPS acquisition is not expected to close until the first quarter, 2013.
Side by side?
MIPS and Imagination currently share 16 customers. Of these, only three use a MIPS CPU core side-by-side with Imaginations’ graphics core: Ingenic Semiconductor (Beijing), Sigma Design and Silicon Integrated Systems Corp., the Taiwan-based TV chip company.
As for Imagination’s licensees in Japan, Harold said it has maintained good relations with Sony and Renesas Electornics signed a license agreement last year for IP from Imagination’s PowerVR Series6 ‘Rogue’ graphics family. Target designs will be SoCs for smartphones, tablets, in-car infotainment, car navigation systems and other consumer chips.
Separately, Onkyo, a Japanese audio manufacturer, announced a deal this week with Imagination to collaborate on connected audio technologies. Onkyo will initially become a reseller of Imagination's Pure unit's digital audio products. The second phase involves Onkyo working with Imagination's silicon and ecosystem partners to develop connected audio products.
Onkyo will use Imagination’s Flow cloud connectivity technology platform that has been optimized for Imagination’s Meta processor and Ensigma communications technologies. The Japanese partners also will integrate streaming radio and audio content along with music services, Imagination said.
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.