Silicon Valley investors unveil the ‘new MIPS’ with clear IoT focus

One of the side-effects of the collapse of Imagination Technologies, sparked by Apple’s decision to design its own graphics processor, was the impact on MIPS. Imagination had acquired MIPS in late 2012 as part of a bid to offer a broad platform – comparable to ARM’s – spanning CPUs, GPUs and connectivity. But when it lost the crucial Apple business, it put MIPS up for sale at a critical juncture in the unit’s attempt to reinvent itself.

The venerable processor IP provider had failed to make much headway against ARM in the mobile market, but was building a new business around wearables processing units (WPUs) and other IoT-related designs, especially through licensees and partners in China. Shortly before the crisis at Imagination, it had netted a deal with Mobileye, Intel’s highly strategic vision processing unit.

In October, Imagination announced twin deals – selling the main company to Canyon Bridge Capital Partners for $742.5m, and MIPS to Tallwood Venure Capital for $65m (with the former deal being contingent on the latter). The separate deal for MIPS was assumed to be partly to avoid a review of the Imagination purchase by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), since Canyon Bridge is partly backed by the Chinese government. While CFIUS would have no interest in the core Imagination business, it would see the MIPS cores as strategic IPR.

Now, MIPS’ new owners and management have relaunched the company, boasting that it has returned to its original Silicon Valley home after five years as a UK-owned outfit. It is focusing on “processor innovations for a new generation of intelligent, connected platforms”, as the company now describes it. As well as seeking to prolong the life of its processor designs in their traditional heartlands of set-top boxes and broadband routers, MIPS is targeting robotics, AI, automotive, wearables, broader IoT opportunities, and even cellular modems.

While Tallwood led the acquisition, it has been joined by Paxion Capital Partners, which focuses on helping high growth technology firms to globalize. “MIPS’ foundational architecture, cores, and IP have enormous potential and align with the innovative technologies that Tallwood seeks in its investments,” said Dado Banatao, Tallwood’s managing partners and now chairman of the MIPS board of directors.

He emphasized the long MIPS heritage, since its origins in the early days of RISC processors – founded in 1984, and emerging along with Sun SPARC and other such architectures to power compact, high performance computers such as the workstations of the late 1980s.

“As the first commercially available RISC architecture, MIPS played a key role in making computing ubiquitous, and in the development of the fabless semiconductor model. We are excited to bring MIPS back to its roots in Silicon Valley and are committed to driving the company forward as it continues to play a key role in the next era of computing,” said Banato.

John Hennessy, former president of Stanford University and an original co-founder of MIPS joins the technical advisory board along with Pradeep Sindhu, chief scientist at Juniper, and Steve Fu, former chief strategy officer at Fairchild Semiconductors.