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China link helps MIPS go mobile

January 05, 2011 // Junko Yoshida

China link helps MIPS go mobile

Every conceivable form of media tablet, e-reader and smartphone in the world is wending its way to Las Vegas to perform at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this week, and this pilgrimage includes MIPS Technologies.


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The processor IP core company will promote MIPS on Android while unveiling a host of MIPS-based mobile devices in its suite at the show. These mobile devices use systems-on-chips from MIPS licensees including Actions Semiconductor and Ingenic Semiconductor.

MIPS-based mobile devices scheduled to be shown include two smartphones (by two separate unnamed OEMs) and several media tablets. One of the smartphones uses a MIPS-Based Ingenic CPU as an applications processor, while the other uses a MIPS core from Actions Semiconductor for media processing, according to MIPS.

MIPS will also show off Cruz Tablets by Velocity Micro (Reston, Virginia). The Cruz Tablets running on the Android operating system have been on the market since late 2010, sold by Amazon, Borders, Best Buy, Walmart and others.

MIPS, in parallel, is announcing at CES a new licensee: Ingenic Semiconductor. Ingenic, a Beijing, China-based CPU provider founded in 2005, has now officially licensed the MIPS32 architecture for its mobile device SoCs. Ingenic-designed MIPS-based SoCs are, for example, built into Velocity Micros Cruz Tablets.

The connection represented by MIPS-Ingenic-Velocity Micro illustrates an emerging paradigm in the consumer electronics market: A China-developed processor is driving a host of new consumer devices, while a big ODM community based in greater China (i.e. Foxconn) designs and manufactures them, which are, then, promoted by U.S.-based marketing companies like Velocity Micro, who cultivate channel connections with top retailers.

MIPS, fully aware of the new world order in the CE market, has been aggressively courting key players in China and taking advantage of this new convergence, with efforts to pick up more design wins in mobile devices.


MIPSs entry in mobile market

Two design wins in smartphones are particularly significant for MIPS today, especially considering its failure to crack the mobile market, while allowing arch-rival ARM to sew up the mobile market over the past two decades.

Under new management, however, the mobile market has become MIPS top priority. By demonstrating two smartphones with MIPS-based processor IP cores in them, MIPS executives are eagerly re-iterating MIPS renewed efforts and commitment to go after new licensees in new markets. We are delivering on our promise [to enter the mobile market], said Art Swift, MIPS vice president of marketing and business development.

While MIPS will show off two MIPS-based smartphones, the company is not releasing the names of the OEMs. Swift noted that those units will go into production in the first week of January, and details will be unveiled before the Mobile World Congress in February.


Chinese connection

So, who is Ingenic Semiconductor?

The company isnt exactly a household name yet in the U.S. market, but it is said to be gunning for an IPO in China in the first quarter of this year.

Ingenic is known for its XBurst CPU processor, compatible with MIPS II, designed to offer high operating frequency, high-performance multimedia processing, compact die size and low power consumption. Noting that 25 million units of XBurst CPUs have been already designed into embedded devices including Mobile Internet Devices (MID), mobile TVs, GPS, baby monitors, fingerprint identification, etc., Swift described Ingenic one of the most vibrant Chinese chip companies today.

Clearly, an Ingenic-designed MIPS-compatible CPU has been shipping in volume for a while -- well before MIPS signed up the Chinese company as a licensee of the MIPS32 architecture. When asked how long MIPS has been working with Ingenic, Swift remained vague, only noting that it involved Swifts many trips to China in 2010.

This certainly does not mark MIPS first foray into China. MIPS announced in 2009 that the Institute of Computing Technology (ICT) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences licensed the MIPS3 and MIPS64 architectures to further development and commercialization of its Loongson family of processors. In 2007, MIPS licensee STMicroelectronics chose the MIPS64 architecture to support ICT's Loongson processor R&D. Two years later, MIPS succeeded in making the first direct license of the MIPS architectures by ICT.

Swift noted that the founder of Ingenic, a computer scientist, studied together with a founder of ICT during their PhD training in China. Asked if MIPS-ICT connection led to MIPS licensing agreement with Ingenic, Swift said, No. This took place independent of that.

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