Chinese Chip Project Licenses MIPS Architecture

The academy in charge of advancing China's homegrown microprocessors has licensed the MIPS chip architecture, burying an old controversy over its use of parts of the MIPS instruction set.

China's Institute of Computing Technology (ICT) has licensed the MIPS32 and MIPS64 architectures for development of its Godson chips, MIPS Technologies said Monday.

The Godson chip line is a government-funded effort to design and market processors developed in China. The Godson's backers hope it can one day penetrate markets abroad, but devices using the chips are rare even in China. The Godson's MIPS core also makes it incompatible with the x86 processors that are made by Intel and Advanced Micro Devices and used in most PCs.

The new MIPS license, the first given directly to ICT, comes after years of talks between ICT and MIPS Technologies. Those talks once hit a snag over ICT's use of the term "MIPS-like" to describe the Godson chips, which use a modified version of the MIPS instruction set. ICT dropped the description in 2005, though it also said it had substituted its own variants in for parts of the instruction set patented by MIPS.

ICT took a step further to resolve the tension when it partnered with STMicroelectronics, a MIPS licensee, on worldwide Godson sales. Godson-based CPUs are also labeled as MIPS-based on the STMicroelectronics Web site, which refers to the chips by the commercial name Loongson.

So far, ICT has not been able to put the "MIPS-compatible" label on Godson chips it markets alone, but the direct license will change that, said Hu Weiwu, the head ICT engineer for the Godson project.

ICT has already run some of its chips through the compatibility test for MIPS, and hopes the deal will boost the independent Godson brand, Hu said.

MIPS compatibility means Godson chips will support Google's Android platform, which MIPS Technologies said this month it had ported to ts chip architecture. The port will allow MIPS-based devices running Android to access the online Android Market for free and paid application downloads.

Whether Godson-based devices become available with Android is up to business partners who put the chips into products, Hu said. A handful of Godson-based netbooks running Linux are currently available, though some Godson-based embedded products use other operating systems.

The direct license could shorten time to market for Godson chips that draw on MIPS technology, said Mark Pittman, vice president of Asia Pacific sales at MIPS Technologies. ICT will no longer have to access MIPS designs through a partner.

ICT splits work on the Godson into high-end and low-end lines. Design is complete on its first high-end chip, the four-core Godson 3, which is also the first multicore processor in the family. ICT's newest low-end chip, the 1GHz Godson 2g, is set to be released late this year.

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