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Chip firms form prpl foundation to keep MIPS architecture in the pink

Gigaom, May 22 –

In the wake of IBM’s efforts to keep the Power architecture alive via the creation of an open-source foundation and opening up the Power instruction set, Imagination, Broadcom, Cavium, Ikanos, Qualcomm and others are building an open source foundation to promote the MIPS architecture common in embedded devices.

The goal of Prpl (the website explains that they “had to call it something”) is to build out software that runs on MIPS so the instruction set remains useful as other architectures start eating away at the number of places MIPS-based processors are used.

MIPS-based processors are found inside networking gear, set-top-boxes and many industrial applications, but the architecture has been fighting hard against ARM in those markets. A MIPS-based chip is also in the tablet above, that was destined for the Indian market. The organization is more similar to theLinaro effort that ARM built to get software for the enterprise that can run on ARM chips, in that the goal will be to help software companies consolidate their efforts when they are designing for MIPS chips.

As we’ve explained before, the opportunities in the semiconductor market are expanding, but the market is also becoming more brutal. As more hardware becomes abstracted thanks to layers of software, software is becoming a greater focus both for the chipmaker’s customers, but also in even getting a chip to work. But building software is expensive, so if you are a smaller hardware maker building a router, for example, you don’t want to write a version of Linux for the ARM, MIPS and Intel’s x86 instruction set.

With a foundation, each company can contribute engineers to solve their problems and even smaller firms might decide to then pick up the fruits of those labors and use a MIPS-based chip simply because it’s slightly better for the job and the software and support are already there.