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New MIPS I6400 brings another 64-bit architecture to Android

September 2, 2014
MIPS I6400 - CPU-block_diagram-and-coherent multicore cluster

Android currently supports three processor architectures: ARM, Intel and MIPS. ARM is currently the leader, but Intel and Imagination Technologies (who design the MIPS processors) are viable alternatives. The next big area where these three chip designers will fight for a slice of the mobile computing pie is 64-bit computing.

The 64-bit MIPS architecture has been around for almost 20 years, so the company is no stranger to 64-bit computing. Today, Imagination has announced a new 64-bit processor core which is designed to scale from mobile devices to big datacenter servers. The new MIPS I-class I6400 CPU family offers mainstream 64-bit computing for a wide range of applications including embedded, mobile, digital consumer, networking and storage.

Google has announced that Android L will offer 64-bit support for all three processor architectures, including 64-bit MIPS. The I6400 also has lots of Android-specific optimizations including instructions that accelerate performance in several key areas related to Android like JIT compilation, Javascript, and web browsing. What that means is that OEMs will be able to build I6400 based smartphones or tablets that are optimized and fully compatible with Android.

MIPS I6400 - Android robot
Android L will support 64-bit MIPS processors

The MIPS I6400 offers several important hardware features which could make it an attractive option for smartphone and tablet makers. Processors can be built using multiple cores and multiple clusters of cores. Each cluster can have up to 6 cores and there can be up to 64 clusters in one chip. Just do the math! OK, we won’t be seeing any 384 core processors in a smartphone, but it does demonstrate the flexibility of the I6400’s design. The I6400 also supports hardware multi-threading with up to four hardware threads per core. Known as simultaneous multi-threading (SMT), this technology allows one core to execute multiple instructions from multiple threads every clock cycle.

The I6400 lends itself to the needs of a wide range of next-generation applications including smartphones and tablets.

The new design also includes PowerGearing, an advanced power management system. With it, Imagination’s OEMs can design processors with dedicated clock and voltage levels for each core in a cluster, while allowing dormant cores in the cluster to remain asleep when not needed.

Imagination is already working with multiple partners to build I6400 based processors and these should start to appear by the end of the year. “The I6400 lends itself to the needs of a wide range of next-generation applications including smartphones and tablets,” said Tony King-Smith, EVP marketing, Imagination. “We’ve already secured licensees for the I6400 across multiple markets.” It looks like the latter half of 2014 and the start of 2015 is truly going to be all about 64-bit devices, and not necessarily only ones powered by ARM or Intel processors.