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ARM and IBM to collaborate on 14nm processors

Jan 18, 2011 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 3 views

IBM and ARM are extending their partnership to include work on 14-nanometer processors for mobile devices. The partnership is specifically aimed at developing smaller, more energy-efficient chips for smartphones and tablet PCs, the companies say.

IBM and ARM Holdings, which have been working together on chip designs since 2008, are expanding their partnership to include the 14-nanometer (14nm) processor manufacturing process. The partnership is aimed at creating increasingly smaller, more energy-efficient chips for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet PCs, say the companies.

The goal of the IBM-ARM partnership is to create a wide range of chip technologies and processes by ARM, tied to IBM's 14-nm manufacturing process. The companies plan to align their co-development of semiconductor process, foundation Physical IP building blocks, and microprocessor core optimization, say the companies.

ARM chip designs, used by such manufacturers as Qualcomm, Samsung, and Marvell, are found in the majority of such mobile devices. However, other chipmakers, including Intel with its Atom platform, are looking to muscle into the rapidly expanding and highly lucrative mobile space as well.

Reducing time to market

According to IBM and ARM officials, mobile device customers are continuously pushing for everything from longer battery life and uninterrupted Internet to high-end multimedia and greater security in online transactions. These demands are driving the need for ever-smaller components, including chips, while increasing performance and energy efficiency.

At the same time, the complexity of chip development is lengthening design time. IBM and ARM hope to shorten that design time by creating platforms that bring together the manufacturing and design sides of the equation.

IBM and ARM have been working together since 2008 on improvements to Cortex-A SoC (system-on-chip) designs around such features as density, power consumption, and performance. In addition, ARM has developed 11 test chip designs in the 28nm and 32nm areas, and ARM recently created a Cortex-A9 chip based on the 32nm high-k metal gate technology.

While continuing to press on the mobile front, ARM is also looking to move its chip designs up the ladder, with plans to challenge the x86-based processors from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices in the data center. In December, ARM officials predicted their multicore 2.5GHz Cortex-A15 processor, which will be made with 32nm and 28nm processes, will offer the features needed to run in low-power servers.

ARM collaborates on 28nm and 20nm IP with TSMC

Last July, ARM and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) announced a long-term agreement to provide the silicon foundry with access to ARM IP for development of 28nm Cortex processors. The partnership, it was said, will ultimately result in tiny Cortex processors created via a 20-nanometer process.

Specifically, ARM will work with TSMC to develop its IP for "at least" two of the foundry's 28-nanometer processes: 28nm HP (high performance, High-K Metal Gate) and 28nm HPL (low power, High-K Metal Gate).

ARM and TSMC further said they would also collaborate on 20nm versions of Cortex processors in the future. No timetable was mentioned for either project, however.

Earlier this month at CES, Microsoft announced that it was porting the next generation of Windows to the ARM platform. Also at CES, in another victory for ARM, Nvidia announced it has licensed ARM's Cortex-A15 core for future-generation Tegra processors. Nvidia also said it has obtained an ARM architectural license, which it will use to develop a CPU that "fully integrates" a GPU (graphics processing unit).

IBM steps up mobile partnerships

The IBM deal with ARM comes a week after IBM and Samsung Electronics announced an expanded partnership. Samsung will work with IBM and other partners in developing new semiconductor technologies for such applications as mobile computing, as part of the IBM-led Semiconductor Research Alliance, say the companies.

Stated Simon Segars, executive vice president and general manager of ARM's physical IP division, noting IBM's leadership in the ISDA (International Semiconductor Development Alliance), "IBM has a proven track record of delivering the core research and development that is relied upon by major semiconductor vendors worldwide for their advanced semiconductor devices."

Stated Michael Cadigan, general manager of IBM Microelectronics, "We plan to continue working closely with ARM and our foundry customers to speed the momentum of ARM technology by delivering highly advanced, low-power semiconductor technology for a variety of new communications and computing devices."


The ARM and IBM announcement regarding their semiconductor collaboration may be found here.

Jeffrey Burt is a writer for our sister publication eWEEK.

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