Debian developer Jonathan Carter was recently given a MIPS64-based motherboard which he ran through its paces. The board has a Loongson processor which is intended for both general purpose and embedded processing.
The reason why I wanted this board is that I don't have access to any MIPS64 hardware whatsoever, and it can be really useful for getting Calamares to run properly on MIPS64 on Debian. Calamares itself builds fine on this platform, but calamares-settings-debian will only work on amd64 and i386 right now (where it will either install grub-efi or grub-pc depending in which mode you booted, otherwise it will crash during installation). I already have lots of plans for the Bullseye release cycle (and even for Calamares specifically), so I'm not sure if I'll get there but I'd like to get support for mips64 and arm64 into calamares-settings-debian for the bullseye release. I think it's mostly just a case of detecting the platforms properly and installing/configuring the right bootloaders. Hopefully it's that simple.
In the meantime, I decided to get to know this machine a bit better. I'm curious how it could be useful to me otherwise. All its expansion ports definitely seems interesting. First I plugged it into my power meter to check what power consumption looks like. According to this, it typically uses between 7.5W and 9W and about 8.5W on average.
The Loongson processors are developed at the Institute of Computing Technology (ICT) at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in China in conjunction with the BLX IC Design Corporation, also in China.
Earlier on SN:
Is Low-Priced Computing Stuck With an ARM/x86 Duopoly? (2019)
MIPS CPU Architecture to Become Open Source Hardware in 2019 (2018)
Linux-Based, MIPS-Powered Russian All-in-One PC Launched (2016)
Most modern desktop and notebook computers ship with Intel or AMD processors and Windows or OS X software. A few companies are positioning products with ARM-based chips as desktop computers. But the Tavolga Terminal TB-T22BT(русский ) is something different.
This all-in-one desktop PC has a MIPS-based processor and runs Debian 8 Linux software.
The computer is made by Russian company T-Platforms, which also offers an SF-BT1 processor module for those that want to build their own hardware.
Both devices use a Baikal-T1 processor which is a 32-bit dual-core MIPS P5600 processor. Like the computers, the chip was designed in Russia, although it's based on work from Imagination Technologies (the company behind the MIPS architecture).
The all-in-one desktop features a 21.5 inch IPS display, support for up to 8GB of DDR3-1600 memory, and up to 64GB of flash storage. It has four USB 2.0 ports, a PS/2 port, Gigabit Ethernet, and a fanless case for silent operation. There's also support for smart cards.
T-Platforms is positioning the TB-T22BT as a device that can either be used as a standalone computer with support for Linux-based apps such as LibreOffice and Firefox, or as a thin client system that you can use to connect to remote machines using remote desktop software.
 The translation dropdown menu did not work. Google translation
In a press release, Wave Computing has announced that the MIPS ISA will be opening up and will be free of any licensing or royalty fees with full access to its patents. This announcement covers both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions. MIPS is a reduced instruction set computer (RISC) instruction set architecture (ISA) often used in embedded systems, but has been originally designed for general purpose computing. Since 2000, an estimated 8.5 billion CPUs with MIPS cores have been shipped, by a broad range of companies. The goal of this change is for participants using MIPS to promote the architectue through providing full access to the most recent versions of the 32-bit and 64-bit MIPS ISA free of charge. The program, called MIPS Open program, will be cover hundreds of MIPS' patents, with no licensing or royalty fees.
Let's say you've got something that needs to be computerised at a slightly higher level than an Arduino, with the computing part costing less than about $100-150, and ideally less than $50 (think Beaglebone, Odroid, PCEngine, Pi and clones, Pine, etc). It looks like the only choice is between ARM at the low end and x86 at the high end. Everything else has fallen by the wayside: The last MIPS-based product was the Ci20/Ci40 from 2015 and neither the hardware nor software have been updated since, PowerPC is out there but only as high-priced SBCs and good luck finding a distro that supports it, Sparc is left with Fujitsu working on it for mainframes, and RISC-V is still a glint in everyone's eye - the few SBCs based on it cost more than a low-end server, and despite various enthusiastic press releases I can't see any timeline where I can get a $50 RISC-V device that performs the same as a $50 ARM-based one. And then there's the software support, once you leave the x86 world you've got, outside of various specialised RTOSes, Linux. A very few systems have one or two of the BSDs, often in a hit-and-miss manner, but that's it.
Has Linux + ARM/x86 killed everything else?
Following GCC 12 introducing LoongArch support earlier this year, Linux 5.19 adding the initial LoongArch port, and Glibc 2.36 adding LoongArch, LibreOffice is now the latest high-profile open-source project adding support for this Chinese processor ISA that started out derived from MIPS64.
Loongson as the company behind LoongArch contributed the native support for running the LibreOffice open-source office suite on LoongArch 64-bit hardware.