After “losing” Loongson, what will happen next for the MIPS architecture?

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After “losing” Loongson, what will happen next for the MIPS architecture?

Posted Date: 2024-01-28
Electronic Enthusiast Network reported (Text/Wu Zipeng) Recently, the MIPS technology licensing lawsuit that lasted for nearly three years between Loongson Zhongke and Xinlianxin finally came to an end, and Loongson won! According to the official announcement issued by Loongson, the "Award on Arbitration Fees and Claimant's Application for Payment of Royalties (HKIAC/PA 21030)" issued by the arbitral tribunal stated that Lianxin Compensation Company's arbitration fees as of June 23, 2023 were 41476582.71 yuan (or 403,428,29.15 yuan, to be determined), as well as Loongson Zhongke’s accrued royalties of 24,129,200 yuan (excluding tax) as of December 31, 2023, and deferred payment expenses. The arbitral tribunal determined that Loongson Zhongke was the overall winning party in this arbitration. Based on this determination, it supported Loongson Zhongke’s claim for arbitration fees against Xinlianxin, and further ruled that Loongson Zhongke and Xinlianxin should An offset between indemnified arbitration fees, royalties and delay costs is agreed upon. This lawsuit that lasted for several years is over, and LoongArch will no longer be criticized. However, looking back, people can't help but ask, where will the MIPS architecture go after losing the customer Loongson?
The smash hit MIPS architecture The full name of MIPS is "Microprocessor without interlocked piped stages" (Microprocessor without interlocked piped stages). It is a processor architecture that adopts reduced instruction set (RISC), and can also be understood as a derivative architecture of RISC. MIPS Company originated from the MIPS project of Stanford University and is the earliest commercial RISC architecture chip. In its heyday, MIPS was known as one of the three major architectures in the world, the other two being ARM and x86 architecture. MIPS architecture chips have been widely used in terminal fields such as electronic products, network equipment, and personal entertainment equipment. Among them, in gateways, set-top boxes, etc., there should still be chips based on the MIPS architecture on the market at this stage. This was once a very eye-catching area for the realization of the MIPS architecture. In 1984, John Hennessy left Stanford and founded MIPS Technology. Since then, from 1986 to 1996, MIPS has launched a number of processors, including the R2000 chip launched in 1986, the R3000 chip launched in 1988, and in 1991, MIPS released the world's first 64-bit processor R4000. In 1994, Sony released the Play Station, the most popular gaming platform in the 20th century, which provided 3D effects that were ahead of the times. This gaming platform was equipped with the MIPS R3000A CPU. MIPS architecture chips have even been involved in the field of supercomputing. In 1997, the NEC Cenju-4 supercomputer was equipped with 1024 MIPS R10000 CPUs. When the MIPS architecture was the hottest, even Microsoft in the Wintel Alliance ported its Windows system to MIPS architecture chips. In order to cope with the impact of RISC, Intel also chose to spend billions of dollars to develop the Itanium architecture. In addition, whether it is Sony and Nintendo game consoles, Cisco routers, or NEC and SGI supercomputers, they were all equipped with MIPS chips. The ill-fated MIPS However, the business model of MIPS may not be suitable for it. MIPS adopted a model similar to that of Arm, that is, an instruction set and architecture authorization model. Due to financial problems, it was sold for US$333 million in 1992. It was given to SGI, which established MIPS Technology Inc. (MTI). Then in 1998, MTI became independent from SGI and then went public again. However, this time, MIPS no longer takes the lead in attacking the x86 architecture, but chooses to focus on embedded systems. In 1999, MIPS Company released the MIPS32 and MIPS64 architecture standards, which are the main cornerstones of subsequent MIPS development. In 2006, MIPS led a wave of open source trends. At that time, SGI gave up its MIPS architecture server business. The MIPS architecture also began to adopt an open source and open operating model, and a large number of embedded developers suddenly poured into the MIPS field. At that time, MIPS's share in the embedded market exceeded that of the ARM architecture, and it was also the embedded processor architecture with the largest share in the world at that time. Today, the lawsuit between Loongson and Xinlianxin may be the last time people discuss the MIPS architecture extensively. Looking back at the development history of MIPS, there are many reasons why the architecture went from its peak to its trough and finally fell into depression. Here are a few briefly summarized. First of all, there are certain problems with the MIPS operating model. MIPS agency authorization is very cheap, but the processor price is very expensive, which forces terminal companies to develop their own. However, MIPS does not have such a rich core configuration as Arm provides today. As a result, there is a threshold for self-research. The cost and self-research threshold make MIPS look open, but it is difficult to have the momentum of RISC-V today. The second is a strategic issue. During the operation of MIPS, the MIPS architecture has always targeted the x86 architecture and focused on the high-performance processor market. After turning to the embedded market, MIPS did not accurately grasp the core demands of the embedded market, allowing the ARM architecture to gradually become the mainstream of the embedded market with its low power consumption and high cost performance. So far, low power consumption is still a pain in the hearts of MIPS developers. The third is that the core technology is not centralized. MIPS has given Loongson a permanent authorization. In 2012, another 498 patents were sold to Bridge Crossing LLC Group (the parent company of ARM) for US$350 million. Then the remaining 82 key patents and operating entities related to the core architecture were sold to Imagination for US$60 million. Then, Imagination sold MIPS again due to the Apple order crisis, and finally changed hands several times to Wave Computing. Then, Wave Computing open sourced the MIPS architecture. The MIPS company is reborn, and the MIPS architecture continues In terms of open source and attractiveness, the MIPS architecture cannot compete with the RISC-V architecture. According to the current development momentum, it is only a matter of time before RISC-V becomes the third largest mainstream architecture in the world. Now, after the bankruptcy and reorganization of Wave Computing, MIPS has also chosen to abandon the MIPS architecture of the same name and choose to join the RISC-V architecture camp. On March 8, 2021, MIPS announced that it would implement the previous MIPS OPEN plan and officially join the RISC-V camp. At this point, MIPS and RISC-V have officially announced their merger. However, although the MIPS company itself has moved into the RISC-V camp, the MIPS architecture is no longer the company's development focus. But the MIPS architecture will not come to an end yet. There are still companies promoting the commercialization of the MIPS architecture. For example, Xinlianxin will continue to promote the iteration of the MIPS architecture. According to the company’s statement: Since Xinlianxin became the independent and controllable operator of MIPS China, it has continuously iterated IP to increase value and formed an independent and controllable “Shijiazhuang” series of IPs. CoreSilicon's authorized CPU shipments are increasing year by year, with 270 million units shipped in 2022, and cumulative shipments expected to exceed 1 billion units by 2023. Based in Shanghai, it has established a software ecological R&D center in Zhengzhou, Henan, and in Xiamen Establish an international logistics operation center. Of course, in addition to Loongson and Xinlianxin, there are other companies that have also obtained MIPS architecture authorization and can still legally produce MIPS architecture chips. For example, Beijing Junzheng also stated at the beginning of 2023 that the company has both MIPS architecture and RISC-V architecture CPU cores. However, both Xinlianxin and other companies such as Beijing Ingenics need to deal with the challenges of the general environment. The chip is only a part of the application and needs to be supported by software, development kits and other resources. These companies must also consider the risks in this regard. For the MIPS architecture, the biggest opponent in subsequent development is RISC-V. After all, the MIPS company itself has joined this architecture camp.
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