Can the datacenter revitalize MIPS?

Can the datacenter revitalize MIPS?

Summary: New prpl community-driven foundation supports the MIPS architecture in 'datacenter to device' portability.

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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.

618px-MIPS_instruction_set_family.svg
MIPS instruction set generations (via Wikimedia Commons)

 

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.

 

 

 

Topics: Data Centers, Hardware

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