Veteran architecture shares some with ARM, but features an even lighter instruction set

The Microprocessor without Interlocked Pipeline Stages (MIPS) reduced instruction set computer (RISC) architecture has undergone a lot of quiet evolution since 1981 when Stanford University Professor John L. Hennessy (today president of the university) began to develop it.  MIPS got serious as a startup in 1984, and then underwent a brief period of ownership by defunct Silicon Graphics (SGI), before a spinoff left it fully independent as MIPS Technologies, Inc. (MIPS).

But MIPS is still far from a household name.

Meanwhile the industry has watched another RISC architecture -- ARM -- rise to prominence, courtesy of ARM Holdings plc (LON:ARMdominance of the mobile and embedded market.

In comparison to ARM, MIPS has some similarities.  Its most recent evolutions have added multiple cores, superscalar processing, out-of-order execution, and other niceties.  However, MIPS features a far leaner instruction set which would make even ARM look bloated.  And unlike ARM, it already has 64-bit processors.

The veteran chipmaker is looking to shake up the market with its new Aptiv family.  High-end chips are dubbed "proAptiv", mid-range "interAptiv", and low-end "microAptiv".
MIPS Aptiv
MIPS Technologies has unleashed a new family of RISC cores. [Image Source: New Electronics]

MIPS Technologies is looking to take the fight directly to ARM, showing off benchmarks that indicate that in the CoreMark CPU-centric benchmark, its proAptiv cores scored 50 percent higher than Cortex-A9 cores.   That would put the proAptiv cores in the same league as ARM's new architecture, Cortex-A15.

Like ARM Holdings, MIPS Technologies hopes to lure in system-on-a-chip designers like Qualcomm, Inc. (QCOM) and NVIDIA Corp. (NVDA) to license its intellectual property cores for use in embedded and mobile device chips.  Unlike ARM Holdings, MIPS Technologies has virtually no such contracts in place in the mobile market.

That said, with a fine historic pedigree and many advanced features MIPS could be the latest architecture to make a splash as the market warms to RISC designs.  As ARM steps up its campaign with Windows PC support and higher clocked chips, is it possible we might see Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) adding MIPS support as yet another x86 alternative?  It's possible, but MIPS Technologies has a long way to go first.

Source: MIPS Technologies

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