Experimental Firefox OS Build Can Run On MIPS Hardware

24 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Firefox OS ported to run on a MIPS-based tablet.

With Android and iOS dominating the tablet market, Mozilla’s Firefox OS hasn’t had much of a look in. A couple of weeks ago, in a shadowy corner of a fancy coffee house in London, I was handed a rather interesting gadget: a white, nondescript 9.7-inch tablet. It’s now getting a bit of help from ARM rival Imagination Technologies, which has ported a version of Firefox to a prototype tablet based on its MIPS chip architecture. The device has a 9.7-inch screen and a 1024 x 768 pixel display, and it runs on a 1.2GHz dual-core processor from Ingenic, including a PowerVR GPU from Imagination. In February, Imagination Technologies released the CI20 single-board computer—essentially a Raspberry Pi-like computer for developers and DIY types, but it came with a 32-bit MIPS chip at the helm rather than x86 or ARM.

Imagination says the tablet runs an experimental build of Firefox OS, but the tablet has the hardware to handle 1080p HD video playback and web-based video conferencing through apps that use the WebRTC protocol. Interestingly, the company put out a video showing the tablet in action, and while it certainly can run Firefox OS, animations aren’t exactly smooth and the touchscreen isn’t very responsive. During my brief hands-on experience with the tablet, the fact that it was a reference device was readily apparent: it felt cheap and plasticky, there was a lot of flex in the chassis, and the backlight was probably the most uneven that I’d ever seen.

The reference tablet won’t go on sale; it’s designed to generate interest among developers in the Firefox OS running on MIPS CPUs, Alexandru Voica, a spokesman for Imagination, said via email. But it’s described as a reference design, which means the company may be making the designs available to partners interesting in building their own Android or Firefox OS tablets with MIPS-based processors.

At the end of 2012, Imagination acquired MIPS Technologies, the fabless semiconductor company that owns the MIPS instruction set and designs and licenses MIPS CPU cores. Just six months later, in mid-2013, Imagination announced a new range of Warrior CPUs, with mid- and high-end cores targeted specifically at smartphones and tablets.

But since they’re mostly used in embedded and very low-power settings, it’s ARM and x86 that get most of the attention from the press and, in turn, the developers. There’s no specific reason that your next smartphone or tablet couldn’t be powered by a MIPS chip—but an architecture on its own, no matter how efficient or powerful it might be, is meaningless without the requisite consumer and developer ecosystems.

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