Imagination Technologies has put together its own take on the Raspberry Pi concept for the hobbyist and maker community to stimulate interest in its own MIPS processor architecture and challenge the ARM processors used in the Pi and similar boards.
The move by Imagination, which bought the MIPS processor core technology in 2013 to put the company in direct competition with ARM, follows the decision by Intel to promote its x86 architecture among hobbyists and designers through its low-cost Edison platform. The £50 Creator CI20 from Imagination combines a dual-core MIPS processor with the PowerVR SGX540 graphics processor unit (GPU), based around a system-on-chip designed by Chinese customer Ingenic.
Tony King-Smith, executive vice president of marketing at Imagination, said the decision by the developer of the core IP behind the two main processors in the SoC to launch this type of board rather than a third party “creates some opportunities, we think. It’s more powerful and richer than the other offerings out there, with state-of-the-art GPUs. But we are not doing this to compete with other boards, such as the Raspberry Pi that are out there: this is to add to the community.”
“People now want to make all sorts of cool stuff, such as robots and music streamers,” King-Smith added. “We’ve made sure we’ve got the processing and memory footprint to do rich applications.”
Although ARM-based products currently dominate the space for cheap 32bit-class embedded compute prototypes and maker projects, King-Smith claimed the lack of binary compatibility should not be a handicap: “There isn’t an ARM community as such. ARM is a CPU that runs operating systems such as Linux and Android just like MIPS. These are open-source platforms: the source is written in C and people are willing to recompile for each platform.”
Aaron Ruiz Mora, technical director of Pixel Hero Games, said his company was able to port its Spiral Episode 1 game from its initial target of the Apple iPad 2, which uses Imagination’s PowerVR GPU, to the Creator board. “We found that the MIPS-based dual-core GPU delivers very good performance.”
Initially, Imagination built the board to be able to provide hardware to support UK university courses. “It’s part of Imagination’s agenda in the UK: we need more skilled people and to enthuse more people to take STEM subjects,” said King-Smith.
The company has begun taking pre-orders from its website with shipping to consumers anticipated in January. The company hopes to expand the Creator family with other boards based on silicon from some of its other customers.