SAN JOSE, Calif. MIPS Technologies, Inc. and Imagination Technologies Ltd. will announce at the Embedded Systems Conference a non-exclusive marketing alliance geared to support chip designers using cores from both companies. The partnership is essentially a shot across the bow to a mutual competitor, ARM Ltd., which is developing its own graphics cores.
The deal could help Imagination expand design wins for its PowerVR graphics cores in a diverse range of wired systems where MIPS is strong. MIPS, which has launched an initiative to get design wins in handsets, gains a partner with cores already used in a broad range of top-tier handsets including the Apple iPhone.
MIPS and Imagination will not exchange any intellectual property or conduct any technical development as part of the new partnership. However the two companies have joined each other's alliance programs and will cooperate in supporting mutual customers.
"We are making sure our bus interconnect understands what the MIPS processor is doing, but we will not develop any RTL or drivers," said Tony King-Smith, vice president of marketing for Imagination.
Such co-development "could happen in the future, but for today this is purely a marketing alliance," said Art Swift, vice president of marketing for MIPS. "Our whole goal is to speed customer's time to market," he added.
The two companies will show at ESC a working high definition set-top box chip from Sigma Designs that uses Imagination's PowerVR SGX graphics core and a MIPS32 24Kf core. "There will be series of announcements coming," about other SoC designers using cores from both companies, said Swift.
Many of MIPS' existing customers in digital home products have used home-grown 2-D graphics cores to date. However, pressure to design more engaging user interfaces is driving use of high-end capabilities such as those of the PowerVR, Swift said.
"It wasn't until the new connected TV platforms, Android, Adobe Flash and OperaTV emerged in the last two or three years that consumer OEMs started to demand a richer graphics," he said.
ARM is also on the march, ARM acquired a graphics startup in 2006 to help build a graphics business and announced in 2008 it already had 18 licensees for its graphics cores including Samsung. The Korean giant announced in February it will use ARM's Mali graphics in its future SoCs.
MIPS will continue to work with its existing graphics core partners such as Vivante Corp. (Sunnyvale, Calif.) and Japan-based Digital Media Professionals. "We don't want to lock people into a particular solution, we are giving them a choice," said Swift in a jab at ARM.
Similarly, "Imagination is working with all processor vendors" including ARM and its licensees, said King-Smith. "Increasingly customers can chose any processor because it's about the OS and applications, and OEMs are moving away from being constrained by the instruction set," he said.
King-Smith expressed confidence Samsung and Apple will continue using PowerVR cores in their products. Apple owns nearly ten percent of Imagination's stock.