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Imagination plans new MIPS CPU, PowerVR GPU as it looks to bounce back

Agam Shah | Dec. 20, 2016
Imagination refocuses its business and looks to diversify in IoT, automotive, and VR

It's been a rough year for Imagination Technologies. The CEO resigned in February, layoffs followed in the next month, and the cloud of a takeover hung over the company with rumored negotiations to purchase the company.

The company is best known as a provider of PowerVR GPUs for Apple's iPhone and the MIPS CPU architecture, which competes with Intel's X86 and ARM. Imagination has its eyes set on a strong 2017 by taking an approach much like Intel did last year and refocusing on areas of growth, which include graphics and the internet of things.

Imagination next year will release new PowerVR and MIPS chip designs, with the goal of driving growth in those areas. Imagination is following the path set by chip companies ARM and Intel, which have refocused their business around IoT.

The chip designer has seen success in areas like set-top boxes, automotive tech, and networking, and it will continue to focus on those areas. But Imagination has the assets to succeed in emerging areas like virtual reality, and its technologies are already being used in VR headsets.

Chip design business model

Imagination has a business model similar to ARM's: It designs chips and licenses the designs to companies. Next year, Imagination will release the new Series8XT graphics processor, which will be targeted at a range of devices, including high-end phones and VR headsets.

Apple, which is a minority shareholder in Imagination, could be one company licensing the Series8XT GPU. Apple tweaked the previous Series7XT used in the iPhone 7 and has used PowerVR technology in all iPhones to date.

Imagination also wants to regain share in the mobile market as it expands the Series8XE graphics processor into low-end and mid-range phones, said Graham Deacon, senior director of business operations for PowerVR.

That's a market Imagination has lost, with competitive GPUs from ARM and Qualcomm taking share. Imagination introduced Series8XE earlier this year, and the technology is reaching low- and mid-range devices.

The goal is for Series8XT to be a harbinger of many new technologies, but all the GPUs will cram in more performance, Deacon said.

New opportunities

The PowerVR GPUs could find a place in infotainment systems and autonomous cars. There's a fair amount of research being done to tweak the GPUs for machine learning, Deacon said. There's also an opportunity in artificial intelligence, and Imagination is developing technologies and algorithms to tap into artificial intelligence uses, Deacon said.

Imagination also plans to release new MIPS CPUs in the next year. MIPS CPUs have lost market share to ARM and Intel in the IoT market, but interest remains in the CPU architecture for cars, data centers, networking, and IoT devices.


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