Less than a year ago I was getting ready to attend the TSMC 2014 Technology Symposium in Moscow, an event that brought together the elite of electronics engineers from Russia. One of the companies that I met during my visit was a newly formed group that was working on an exciting new project involving a MIPS CPU.

Today I am delighted to disclose a few more details about this project and the company behind it.

Who is Baikal Electronics?

First, allow me to introduce the group: Baikal Electronics is a Russian fabless semiconductor company that develops and markets energy-efficient processors and SoCs for computer systems and industrial applications with various levels of performance and functionality.

Baikal Electronics-logoThe project they are working on is Baikal-T1, a new communications processor using a MIPS P5600 CPU; this chip will be deployed in a number of networking-related applications such as wireless routers, home gateways and other connected devices for applications such as industrial automation.

Baikal-T - MIPS P5600 (1)

Baikal-T1 is built using 28nm process technology and consumes less than 5 W

Baikal-T1 is to become the first Russian offering for the communications market to use a MIPS Warrior CPU, boasting highly competitive properties in terms of performance, technology node and compatibility.

At the heart of the chip sits a dual-core MIPS P5600 CPU clocked at 1.2 GHz. Baikal-T1 also includes multiple high-speed (1G/10G Ethernet, PCIe, SATA 6G, USB) and low-speed interfaces (GPIO, I2C, UART, SPI). The package measures 25 x 25 mm and is manufactured on 28nm process technology, achieving less than 5 W of total power consumption – an ideal figure for fanless designs.

A block diagram of the SoC architecture can be found below:

Baikal-T1-MIPS P5600Baikal-T1 includes a dual-core MIPS P5600 CPU

An overview of the high-performance MIPS P5600 CPU

MIPS P5600 is an OmniShield-ready, 32-bit CPU from our high-performance P-class range of Warrior processors; we’re looking at a superscalar, out-of-order (OoO) design that implements Release 5 features such as hardware virtualization for increased security and reliability, and a 128-bit SIMD engine for high performance on data parallel operations.

MIPS P5600 has also recently achieved 5.6 CoreMark/MHz, the highest score per core for 32-bit licensable microprocessor IP.

MIPS P5600 Series5 CPUAn overview of the MIPS P5600 micro-architecture

Additional features of the CPU include EVA (Enhanced Virtual Addressing) and XPA (eXtended Physical Addressing), two technologies that extend the limits of traditional 32-bit architecture addressing. For example, XPA extends the amount of addressable physical memory in devices to a maximum of 1 Terabyte; in addition, as typical networking-related workloads require a larger address space, EVA extends the amount of virtual addressing to almost the full 4GB space. Therefore, the combination of these two features will alleviate a common bottleneck in software performance.

Through a close partnership with Imagination, Baikal products will be equipped with the most advanced RISC architecture available in the industry: MIPS CPUs deliver high performance at lower power consumption and smaller area than other competing processors.

One example that illustrates this is a feature called instruction bonding which is present in several generations of MIPS CPUs. Instruction bonding enables two consecutive loads/stores of the same type which access contiguous memory locations to be fused together by the instruction issue unit; instruction bonding allows a 2x boost in performance and saves bandwidth for memory-intensive operations; it can be used to accelerate multiple load/store instructions defined in the MIPS ISA.

Success in emerging markets

Baikal-T1 is not the only MIPS success story in Russia; earlier this month, ELVEES announced it will be using 32- and 64-bit MIPS CPUs for video analytics processors. In addition, Black Swift – a MIPS-based IoT dev board running OpenWrt – completed a very successful crowdfunding campaign, convincing 1,363 backers on Kickstarter to pledge more than $77,000 to help bring this project to life.

Given that reports place Russian government spending at around $1.3 billion per year in computing technology, it is very likely that many next-generation computing devices in Russia will continue to be MIPS-based.

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About the author: Alex Voica

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Before deciding to pursue his dream of working in technology marketing, Alexandru held various engineering roles at leading semiconductor companies in Europe. His background also includes research in computer graphics and VR at the School of Advanced Studies Sant'Anna in Pisa. You can follow him on Twitter @alexvoica.

View all posts by Alex Voica