MIPS Strikes Back: 64-bit Warrior I6400 Arrivesby Stephen Barrett on September 2, 2014 10:00 AM EST
When it comes to processors, enthusiasts and laymen alike can identify the three largest players: Intel, AMD and ARM. Those names are also not mutually exclusive: AMD utilizes ARM designs for consumer security coprocessors and in its Opteron A1100 server processor. There are other processors out there (e.g. IBM's POWER CPUs), but they're generally not as well known. That's also the case with MIPS.
Not everyone knows the name MIPS, but Imagination hopes to change that by offering a viable alternative to the embedded market dominated by ARM. MIPS already has a large presence in networking and embedded devices. Introducing the I6400 keeps MIPS relevant and places additional pressure on ARM. According to the provided numbers (admittedly from MIPS) and feature descriptions, the I6400 appears to compete with and even surpass the highly anticipated ARM Cortex-A53. Imagination projects general availability of the I6400 to SoC designers by December 2014. We can estimate end-user availability at least 6 to 9 months after that.
Consumers will most likely directly experience the MIPS I6400 CPU in low cost Android tablets and handsets. Due to Android's Java heritage, some applications will work out-of-the-box. Other applications using the Android Native Development Kit (NDK) targeting Intel or ARM ISAs will unfortunately be incompatible. Until MIPS achieves enough volume to convince application developers to code to the MIPS3264 ISA or stick with Java, MIPS Android devices will be second class citizens. This is something to keep in mind if you're purchasing a phone for yourself or a tech savvy friend. Of course, basic operating system features like email, phone, text, web browsing, and chatting should all work fine.
Intel has enjoyed dominance of its performance leading processors in non-handset settings for the better part of a decade. ARMs embedded low power heritage has emerged as Intel’s biggest threat as mobile devices have exploded and now dominate the computing landscape. As Intel and ARM continue to battle for the high end embedded market, Imagination and MIPS hope to erode away ARM’s mid-range and low-end core competency. As a consumer, we can lean back and enjoy the competition that will force each company to work harder each and every year.
The I6400’s revised MIPS3264 Release 6 ISA, instruction bonding, and SMT execution pipeline bring a refreshing set of new innovations to the small-core market. In our A53 coverage we noted ARM was pushing in-order CPU performance about as far as it could possibly go. I’m always happy to see we might have been wrong.