On September 6 core licensor MIPS made two announcements that promise to make life easier for MIPS licensees. In the first of these announcements, MIPS revealed that it had acquired FS2, a company specializing in debugging technology. FS2 is best known for its "On-Chip Instrumentation" (OCI) embedded trace modules. FS2's embedded trace modules are included as part of some licensable cores; these trace modules are also available as a licensable option for some cores.
FS2 already offers embedded trace modules for a variety of MIPS cores. BDTI has not evaluated these embedded trace modules, but it has evaluated the FS2 embedded trace modules offered for the LSI Logic ZSP family of DSP cores. In its recently-published
report on the ZSP cores, BDTI found that the FS2 embedded trace modules "provide unusually powerful debugging features as well as performance analysis capabilities that should aid code optimization."
In addition to the embedded trace modules, FS2 offers supporting debugging tools. MIPS states that the acquisition will allow it to more tightly integrate FS2's tools into MIPS' tool suite. According to MIPS, this tighter integration will help its customers get their products to market more quickly. MIPS also notes that it is focused on multi-core and multi-threading processors, which present particularly complex debugging challenges. According to MIPS, its acquisition of FS2 will help it address these challenges.
MIPS says that it will continue to offer the FS2 technology for non-MIPS cores. However, it is worth noting that FS2 currently offers technology for use with competing general-purpose processors, including the ARM, ARC, and AMD Geode processors. Users of these processors are likely to be concerned about MIPS' commitment to supporting its competitors' processors. Even users of the ZSP DSP cores may be uneasy about using the FS2 technology because MIPS' recently-announced MIPS24KEc core competes with some of these DSP processors.
In addition to acquiring FS2, MIPS announced that it has expanded its alliance with Virage Logic, a provider of logic cell libraries. Under the new program, customers are able to license both a MIPS core and the Virage libraries needed to synthesize the core under a single license from MIPS.
MIPS' acquisition of FS2 and the alliance with Virage resemble the activities of its main competitor, ARM. In recent years ARM has acquired a number of companies offering development tools, and ARM recently acquired Artisan—the other major provider of logic cell libraries. Although MIPS and ARM appear to be following similar strategies, ARM's approach is notably more capital-intensive. For example, ARM paid nearly a billion dollars to acquire Artisan. In contrast, MIPS is only "allying" itself with Virage.
Looking forward, it is likely that there will be even more cooperation between core vendors like MIPS and companies that provide supporting technology, such as FS2 and Virage. SoC design is becoming ever more difficult as applications become more complicated and as advanced fabrication technologies present new headaches. As these challenges grow, it will become increasingly crucial for core vendors to provide solutions that help their licensees address the challenges. MIPS' recent moves are clearly intended to do just this—but MIPS still has much work ahead of it before its offerings are as comprehensive as those of ARM.
For more on these announcements, see "MIPS buys long-time Oregon debug partner" and "MIPS, Virage link up to license IP."