30yrs of MIPS: How the chipset has gone from powering PlayStations to guiding space crafts

The first commercially available microprocessor chip is 30 years old, but how has tech changed since then?

Back in 1986, a team of University researchers and Silicon Valley veterans designed the first commercially available microprocessor architecture – the MIPS R2000.

The chipset came a decade before IBM launched the world’s first smartphone. It was a 32-bit design based on the MIPS I architecture that competed with Motorola 68000 and Intel 80386 microprocessors.

In its latest blog, British-based tech R&D company Imagination Technologies describes the MIPS R2000 as facing ‘stiff competition from several other academic projects aiming to create a viable alternative to the more established CISC CPUs of the day’.

MIPS R2000 reached speeds of up to 15 MHz and contained about 110,000 transistors laid out using a 2.0 μm double-metal CMOS process node.

“To put that into perspective, a MIPS-based CPU manufactured in 2015 using a 28nm process can include 24 to 48 high-frequency, superscalar cores running at up to 2.5 GHz, large and highly-associative L1 and L2 caches, and enormous DRAM bandwidth, representing an incredible increase in frequency speed and a remarkable shrinkage in semiconductor manufacturing processes,” says Imagination’s blog.

In 1988, the MIPS R3000 was released. It has faster speeds and found its way into many workstations and servers, including the original Sony PlayStation games console.

In the present day, you will find MIPS CPUs in like likes of Tesla Model S cars to implement autopilot functionality. They are also used in smart home devices from brands such as Belkin, LIFX and Ubiquiti Networks, as well as a range of chromebooks, tablets, and other portable devices.

Right now, (and perhaps the most impressive usage) a MIPS R3000 CPU is guiding the NASA New Horizons probe to the Kuiper belt after having completed a flyby of Pluto earlier in September.

Read more about the evolution of MIPS at Imagination Technologies’ official blog.

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