While industry analysts have touted IP licensors such as ARM, Imagination and CEVA as possible buyers of processor IP licensor MIPS Technologies, we have explored the possibility that a buyer might come out of China (see Would the Chinese buy MIPS?).
Both academic and private sectors in China have long been familiar with MIPS architecture. Loongson, for example, is a family of general-purpose MIPS64 CPU developed at China’s Institute of Computing Technology (ICT) and Chinese Academy of Sciences. The early implementations of the family, though, did not use four instructions patented by MIPS in order to avoid legal issues.
In recent years, ICT, Loogson Technology and Ingenic Semiconductor licensed MIPS architecture directly from MIPS.
Some in the industry, including The Linley Group’s senior analyst J. Scott Gardner, believe that China's move to define a national CPU architecture specification could be boon to MIPS. “MIPS is a strong candidate,” Gardner noted. Others, however, aren’t so sure. An alternative interpretation for China’s CPU initiative is a sign that Chinese officials perceive the uncertainty around MIPS’s future as a problem.
Although acquiring MIPS and its patent portfolio would be a way for a Chinese company to increase its presence in the semiconductor industry, the biggest hurdle to a deal is cultural since China is new to the IP licensing business model and Chinese companies would no doubt struggle to administer it.
– Peter Clarke
The converse question to "Who might buy MIPS?" is "Why should MIPS want to sell?" I think the answer is probably obvious. Size matters, and MIPS feels it needs to be part of a bigger, better heeled company to survive and compete long-term in the CPU/GPU market.
And it isn't clear that ARM has won the war. The current war I see is all about power efficiency, and ARM is poised to make inroads into the server market because ARM cores use less power than Intel. It's even more vital in the mobile device market, where the scarce resource is battery charge, and you win by being able to work longer without needing to recharge.
I think a lot will hinge on just how good the newly announced MIPS designs are. If they are as power efficient as claimed, they'll get a lot of interest.
And while I don't expect it would happen, I know a company that might find MIPS a worthwhile acquisition: Intel. Intel has little penetration in the mobile device market, and the Atom processor hasn't really been able to compete with ARM. Intel might find it worthwhile to add MIPS both for the patent portfolio and the opportunity to better compete with ARM in the mobile market. They can certainly afford the price.
Intel used to license ARM IP, and had its own line of StrongARM processors, before selling it to Freescale in a reorganization. If they bought MIPS, they wouldn't be licensing someone else's technology. It would be theirs, because they bought it. And Intel has the fabs and the process technology to manufacture MIPS based chips in any form desired.
I don't expect it to occur for corporate ego reasons - it would be an implicit admission Intel has been unable to compete with X86 based designs in the mobile space, and had to acquire different technology they didn't create to do so. But it might make sense for them to do so.
Hi, Moronda. ARM may have won the war, as you say, but I wouldn't discount MIPS patents so quickly.
I wouldn't discount Sandeep so quickly either. Much of the difficulties MIPS had gone through are due to what happened even before Sandeep arrived at MIPS.
Lastly, I wouldn't want any company to go down the toilet. Every company, and every engineer on the team, deserves to do its/his best and eventually succeed.
Take a look at MIPS financials. That says it all. During an era with explosive growth in smartphones and tablets, MIPS revenue has been flat.
ARM revenue grew more in one year than the complete size of MIPS.
2011 2010 2009
MIPS 82M 71M 70M
ARM 764M 636M 492M
I'd say the war has been lost along with the battle. It is a complete domination.
Also, what good are MIPS patents really? Have the MIPS patents in any way prevented ARM from being successful? No.
What I like to talk about is CEO FAIL. These CEOs never get held accountable for total failure. Sandeep, what were you thinking when you joined MIPS? Was it just your overriding desire to obtain the ultimate title of CEO? Maybe if it gets bought though, it isn't a fail. It gets to be spun as a success. I took over MIPS and led it to a successful acquisition.
I hope nobody buys it. Why buy it? Just flush it down the toilet where it belongs. Not every company deserves to be or should be bought.
My current thought is the best deal for MIPS is to sell its patent portfolio while retaining rights to it as IPWireless did in a deal with Nvidia and IV this week.
That gives MIPS a solid cash injection and the freedom to develop next-gen products.
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.