Most desktop and laptop computers are powered by Intel and AMD chips based on x86 architecture, while most smartphones, many tablets, and some servers use chips based on ARM architecture. The distinctions aren’t as clear-cut as they used to be — you can find ARM chips in Windows PCs and servers, and x86 chips in routers and networking hardware.

But the point of this article is that x86 and ARM aren’t the only games in town — there’s also alternative chip architectures like MIPS, which has been around for a long time, but which has had a rocky few years.

After finding a new home with California’s Wave Computing this summer, MIPS is going somewhere new — open source.

MIPS P6600 processor

Wave Computing says it plans to “open source its MIPS instruction set architecture (ISA)” to make it easier for chip makers, developers, and researches to use the chip designs for their projects.

The MIPS Open program will allow participants to access “the most recent versions of the 32-bit and 64-bit MIPS ISA free of charge — with no licensing or royalty fees.” Users will also be covered by hundreds of patents owned by MIPS.

Right now MIPS is kind of an underdog in the chip space, but this approach could certainly attract developers looking for either a cheap (license and royalty-free) option for new products or for one that’s easy to work with (thanks to full access to the architecture design details). It could also become an attractive target for the free and open source software community.

MIPS won’t be the only game in town though — the RISC-V instruction set architecture is also free and open for anyone to use. It’s gained some momentum in the open source space in recent years, but it’s still a relatively new architecture (founded in 2010), while MIPS has been around for years (since 1985).

It’s also unclear at this point what impact the MIPS Open program will have on Wave Computing’s bottom line. While the company is giving away something it used to charge for, that move could help broaden the appeal of MIPS processors… so Wave Computing might offer the ISA for free, but charge for actual processors it produces that are based on that architecture.

Or the company could charge for support, something open source software companies have been doing for years.

Wave Computing plans to announced more details about the MIPS Open program in the first quarter of 2019.

via EE Times

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6 replies on “MIPS chip architecture is going open source”

  1. The problem with MIPS is that it has always been relegated to low end computing and that it simply doesn’t have a lot of support which meant that a wide variety of apps simply weren’t available because developers didn’t see the need to port to it

    1. Years ago I had a Casio pocket PC. It was well made but ran a MIPS processor when most of the other pocket PCs were running ARM chips. I ran into a lot of incompatible software.

    2. Not true. Some MIPS chips went into mid to mid-upper range processors in the old days. Like, 2 decades ago. Of course those chips are way slow now.

  2. This seems like something that will help in an educational capacity, but probably not actually aid in delivering any products to the general public that appeal in any typical ways.

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