Imagination Technologies (ImgTec) announced their intent to acquire Sunnyvale-based MIPS Technologies for $60 million in cash. This price includes the operating business as well as ownership of 82 patents relevant to the MIPS architecture. The 482 remaining patents in the MIPS portfolio have been sold for $350 million to Bridge Crossing LLC, but Imagination Tech retains a royalty-free, perpetual license to them. The acquisition is expected to close in Q1 2013.

The deal brings together 2 of the top 5 semiconductor design IP vendors and strengthens ImgTec's position and opportunities in the TV/set-top-box and networking markets. While ImgTec does have its own embedded Meta 32-bit CPU core, the MIPS cores complement this lineup with the popular 32-bit and 64-bit CPU applications processors.

While the ImgTec acquisition is straightforward, the acquisition of patents by Bridge Crossing LLC seems to be worthy of further analysis. While ImgTec and MIPS don't go into the details of the companies behind Bridge Crossing LLC, ARM has come out with a press release indicating that they are a leading member of the consortium. Out of the $350 million being shelled out, ARM is contributing $167.5 million. Bridge Crossing LLC expects to license out the patents to companies who aren't part of the consortium. The acquisition of the patents by a licensing authority is more of a defensive move to prevent valuable MIPS patents from being picked up by patent trolls. While we don't have the full list of companies behind the LLC, it appears that most of them are affiliated to the Allied Security Trust, whose members include Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Intel.

MIPS has also been making a little bit of headway into the mobile space (mainly in the Chinese market), but this deal cuts down the number of players in the mobile space from three (ARM, Intel and MIPS) to just ARM and Intel now. We usually don't comment too much on the financial aspects of such acquisitions, but it does appear as if ImgTec got itself a good deal in the process.

 

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  • jjj - Wednesday, November 07, 2012 - link

    It makes little sense for Imagination to invest in CPU cores,add the MIPS team (that ups expenses quite a bit) and not fully use some of that work in mobile.Since they acquired what matters most to the MIPS architecture it makes sense to actually use it,if not then they got to go ARM ,make and licence a custom core but i doubbt it and that would be somewhat dissapointing.
    There isn't much info out there for now,so hard to figure out if they are really going to push MIPS but from a business perspective,while more costly ,it does have a lot more upside.

    This quote might be relevant but it's also true that he doesn't mention any sectors.
    "The combined business should be able to create a new industry-leading force in CPUs, and essentially will provide choice and an alternative to our good friends in Cambridge," Imagination chief executive Hossein Yassaie told Reuters
    Reply
  • Penti - Sunday, November 11, 2012 - link

    They got no mobile processors to license to begin with. The mobile processors in China aren't MIPS Technologies designs at all to start with just MIPS compatible and their own efforts has zero design wins. They collaborated on the software side though, but not processor IP.

    MIPS has always been heavily dependent on third party implementors most of which doesn't use MIPS cores or only use them in low end products. Now only a few network firms hold on to MIPS and license the ISA, designing their own chips. Only thing MIPS-driven by themselves that they are trying to show off is cores suitable in baseband and they are just not used as baseband processors. Not even by the companies building with MIPS app processors. Ingenic's design which they try to pitch a ride with is Ingenic's own design. Not a product from MIPS tech.

    Mips technologies have yet had any aspirations of their own in the field. ProAptiv isn't realized yet

    Mips licensees can be expected to continue whatever they do irregardless of what Imagination wants to do with it. Having stuff like TV and STB chips with PowerVR graphics would help against custom solutions built on Mali. Any licensee of MIPS can use whatever though, Mali, Vivante etc. They would basically have to design and sell complete solutions to do a difference there.

    ProAptiv series do want to have success in the CE like STB, home networking, embedded/automotive field as well as mobile. My guess would be that they only tries to slightly alter their own MIPS processor IP to include options to license the design together with PowerVR graphics to make it an more attractive choice for multimedia. A macro or synthesisable design with the whole SoC ready. Supporting Chinese firms to run Android (i.e. porting, supporting software tools) of course also helps in the CE/STB/Infotainment field

    Powerful network equipment semiconductors will continue to build their own architectures that is either MIPS or PowerPC compatible. It's not like they are trying to sway people into licensing new 64-bit designs. MIPS Technologies hasn't designed 64-bit chips /designs since the R5000 that was actually built by a partner company we knew back then as QED. R4200/R4300i was really the last 64-bit design architectured by MTI. MIPS Tech. doesn't sell any 64-bit design IP today. SGI also worked on the R10000 series, but went under before making any huge strides. MIPS is essentially low-end at least as far as MTI is concerned. They also had MIPS64 5K, and MIPS64 20Kc which they licensed for a while. All the others, the other MIPS processors by vendors are basically their own architectures and design when it comes to higher-end chips. I expected that they would expect input into the MIPS64-design and ISA and would switch ISA if there is any trouble there. Imagination will just be able to offer processor IP for less money when they control the MTI. Not sure they want to start to compete with much more advanced chips themselves. Or to design them. Can they get others to do it for them, then great.
    Reply
  • semo - Tuesday, November 06, 2012 - link

    I was really hoping that MIPS will eventually give ARM a good kick in the pants but I guess we'll never see that happen.

    I don't think we need another Intel for the mobile market (big margins, slow innovation). ARM is still dragging their feet when it comes to releasing a 64 bit architecture. Their designs are not as power efficient as they could be too.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, November 06, 2012 - link

    With AMD (and Via I suppose) as the only major CPU designer missing from the licensee list this still stinks of trolling. Intel can't go after them directly without anti-trust larts being swung at their head; but a 3rd party in which they only have a minority stake is a great cover. Reply
  • Kevin G - Tuesday, November 06, 2012 - link

    With AMD licensing ARM cores now, that vector doesn't appear to be very probable. AMD and Imagination likely have a cross licensing agreement in place already due to the overlap of technologies necessary to produce a modern GPU. I can see this being extended to incorporate CPU patents.

    Via could be a target but it would be odd considering their size and low volume nature.
    Reply
  • bengildenstein - Tuesday, November 06, 2012 - link

    I'm really surprised that practically nobody has talked about Imagination's Meta SoC CPU cores, that have been announced for what seems like a month now.

    The Meta core eschews out-of-order multi-core for in-order, 'virtual-core' that is supposed to be a much better handler with common cache misses (up to 3x performace with 4 virtual cores compared to quad-core) and a result in a die-space that is 1/4 the size of the traditional OoO core. It's 3x faster with typical workloads, and a scant 25% of the size, which should translate into great power or ridiculous performance, depending on the SoC makeup. It looks like a very hot tech.

    The downer is a different ISA, which will hurt uptake in some regards.

    It will be interesting to see how the acquisition of MIPS affects this strategy. It may be a play for MIPS' customers. Imagination seems to be making a play for the CPU, and while they may not find themselves in high end products right away, their Meta cores show that they are at the very least applying the same forward-thinking vision that keeps them securely in the lead with PowerVR.
    Reply
  • andrewaggb - Tuesday, November 06, 2012 - link

    3x faster, 25% of the size, what's the big gotcha/caveat surrounding this? I'm assuming there is one....

    I read http://www.imgtec.com/meta/meta-technology.asp and it says up to 2x the performance for equivalent size.

    "This unique approach to embedded processor design enables Meta to deliver up to twice the measurable throughput (e.g., Dhrystone) for the same clock speed and silicon area to comparable, state-of-the-art conventional processors."

    Also it sounds like they use a variant on hyper-threading to make the cpu appear as 4 processors and that through very fast context switching can achieve better overall utilization. Anyways, that sounds good, but almost every processor can achieve up to 2x something over it's competitors in specific tests.

    Anyways, unless i totally misread that, it was nothing at all like 3x faster, 25% of size.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, November 06, 2012 - link

    It is a different ISA. When you start with a fresh slate, you can do things a bit better. 3x at 25% area is probably marketing talk when optimized for specific workloads. You can probably find another workload where it is probably 10x worse than the competition.

    Some of the Aptiv cores from MIPS also use 'hyper-threading'. So, MIPS and ImgTec make a nice match there.
    Reply
  • iwod - Tuesday, November 06, 2012 - link

    Well the reason why no one said anything is simply because no one knew about it!. I did a search and even anandtech doesn't have an article or a press release on it. How would you expect the world to know if it is not on anandtech site? :D Reply
  • ET - Wednesday, November 07, 2012 - link

    I agree that it's interesting. Using the MIPS team and patents to strengthen Meta is a likely option. When Apple bought PA Semi there was speculation that PA Semi's experience with PowerPC meant that Apple was thinking of using that architecture again, but it used that expertise for producing ARM chips. It's entirely possible that Imagination will use MIPS to strengthen its Meta IP, both on the engineering side and for marketing.

    However it turns out, I think we have some interesting times ahead.
    Reply

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