There was a time when the MIPS processor architecture was considered a bright shining light to the future. I even had a Windows NT MIPS box that had better performance than the x86 computers of the day. But time ran out for the MIPS architecture before it really had a chance to shine, and 20 years later the x86 architecture dominates the PC world.
But with the success of the ARM architecture, a group of vendors is seeing the possibility that a new generation of MIPS can be successful across the board, from mobile devices to the datacenter. And to help drive this potential forward, they have founded “prpl” (pronounced “purple”), a non-profit foundation to support the MIPS architecture in “datacenter to device” portability.
Start-up members include Broadcom, Cavium, Ikanos, Ineda Systems, Ingenic Semiconductor, Lantiq, Nevales Networks, PMC, and Qualcomm, with more to come. And it’s not like the MIPS architecture had been abandoned — with over 3 billion units shipped since the instruction set was introduced in 1985, with the early generation Sony PlayStations being its highest profile product — but it had been primarily in the niche of embedded devices.
Prpl looks to change that narrow area of specialization and is starting off by focusing on embedded/IoT, networking, and the datacenter. This will be accomplished by providing, in addition to EOS (MIPS Embedded OS):
- a complete set of open source libraries, tools, and applications
- an open source code bank for LLVM, kernel, UEFI, gcc, buildroot, MIPS optimizations/SDK
- support for Linux distributions such as Arch Linux, CentOS, Chromium OS, Debian, Fedora, Ubuntu and Redhat
The MIPS architecture has some unique features in areas such as hardware multi-threading, 32/64-bit compatibility and hardware virtualization, but what made it special in the embedded device world may not translate into the across-the-spectrum devices that this ambitious plan envisions.