No longer just a play thing for uni students, network devices and televisions. At least we hope so!
We've been wondering why AMD haven't dipped their toes in the thriving mobile market. The potential to start from scratch on an emerging platform may be exactly what AMD needs to get out of their current slump in the CPU market, and leverage the strong GPU talent that they inherited when they bought ATI in 2006.
A recent report by BSN has reignited hope that AMD may be seriously considering producing mobile processors through a potential acquisition of MIPS Technologies. MIPS Technologies licence the famous MIPS architecture, which currently powers many networking devices and set top boxes.
MIPS is a RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing) processor architecture which was designed at Stanford University, and was first commercialised in 1985. The processor boasted the first non-interlocking pipeline design which allowed for processors to handle pipeline hazards without constantly locking/stalling. It also focused on internal simplicity to allow pipeline stages to be performed over one clock cycle, unlike previous designs which would split parts such as memory accesses over several cycles. This allowed for faster clock speeds and overall improved performance. Many of the innovations that MIPS introduced are part of modern processors today.
The MIPS RISC architecture would allow AMD to compete with Nvidia, who have licensed ARM's RISC architecture for their own Tegra line of mobile parts. ARM is by far the most popular choice for smartphone and tablet SoCs (System on a Chip) due to their high performance and relatively low power usage compared to CISC (Complex Instruction Set Computing) ISAs. Both Intel and AMD currently produce x86 based parts which are CISC based. Interestingly, Intel are trying to push their x86 Atom platform onto smartphones by leveraging their highly refined manufacturing processes to reduce power consumption.
A few days ago Bloomberg reported on MIPS Technologies hiring Goldman Sachs to help negotiate with potential buyers. There's also rumours that ARM and Google may bid for the company. It was only a couple of days ago that Google's plans to integrate a GNU MIPS compiler into the Android NDK came to light. What Google would do with the company is anyone's guess, but chances are it'd be to distribute the patents to various Android partners to fend off litigation.
Currently MIPS is betting on low cost Android tablets to push their architecture. But without large companies investing in the platform, the best we'll get may be this corny video.