IBM And ARM Team Up For Speedy Mobile Processors

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

IBM and ARM are extending their chip collaboration to develop the next generation of chips for mobile devices

IBM and ARM are extending their chip development partnership, as the industry continues to demand smaller and more energy efficient processors for the next generation of mobile devices.

Both IBM and ARM have already worked together since 2008 in order to improve system on a chip density, routability, manufacturability, power consumption, and performance, but with a focus on 32nm and 28nm sized chips. Both companies are now hoping to work on much smaller chips, right down to the 14nm level.

The demand for smaller, faster and more importantly more energy efficient chips that have less of an impact on battery life is being led by the mobile sector, where the constant demand for more powerful smartphones and tablets means it make sense for two these companies, with their combination of chip expertise, to pool their resources.

Smaller, Faster, Less Power

Both companies stated that the resulting technology will “provide a suite of optimised physical and processor IP by ARM tuned to IBM’s advance manufacturing process down to 14nm; providing streamlined development and earlier introduction of advanced consumer electronics into the marketplace.”

“As the consumer’s requirements increase for high end features on mobile devices including; extended battery life, uninterrupted Internet access, high end multimedia and secure transactions the chip design becomes increasingly more challenging,” the company said.

Nowadays designers are having to consider nanometer scale effects in terms of lithography, variability, whilst meeting performance, power and area (PPA) targets across hundreds of millions of transistors. “This increased complexity potentially results in additional in-house design time,” the two companies said.

R&D Colloboration

“This collaboration will minimise the risk and barriers to migrating to smaller geometries while enabling optimised density, performance, power and yield in advanced SoC designs; accelerating the introduction of advanced electronics into the marketplace,” they said.

“ARM’s Cortex processors have become the leadership platform for the majority of smart phones and many other emerging mobile devices,” said Michael Cadigan, general manager, 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”

“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,” said Simon Segars, EVP and general manager, ARM physical IP division.

Turf Wars

The previous clear cut boundary lines between the various chip players are beginning to blur of late.

Intel is making a serious move into the mobile arena, previously dominated by ARM thanks to its $1.4 billion (£872 million) purchase of Infineon’s wireless business as well as its Atom platform.

ARM meanwhile is not sitting on its laurels and last month signalled its intention to take on Intel with its own server chips in the next five years.

And Microsoft has just revealed that the next version of Windows (Windows 8) will be able to run on ARM-based processors.

There is speculation that this could also mean Windows-based tablets running on ARM chips in the future, although Redmond will have its work cut out to compete against the fluid user interface from the likes of Apple iOS and Google Android.