LG Electronics appears set to jump into the crowded mobile chip-making business after signing a licensing agreement with ARM Holdings.
ARM officials announced the new licensing agreement April 26, noting that the deal covers not only the existing and widely used Cortex-A9 chip design but also the upcoming high-end multicore Cortex-A15. In addition, LG is licensing ARM's Mali-T604 GPU (graphics processing unit) and the CoreLink interconnect technology.
LG will use the technology in a wide range of products, from smartphones and tablets to smart grids, digital TVs and set-top boxes.
LG already uses ARM-designed chips in its products, such as the LG Optimus 2X and Optimus 3D smartphones. However, those chips are made by other manufacturers-the Optimus 2X is powered by Nvidia's Tegra 2 SoC (system on a chip), while the Optimus 3D runs on Texas Instruments' OMAP processor.
Being able to manufacture its own chips would bring LG closer to such rivals as Samsung, which offers its own processors that also are based on ARM designs.
"LG's relationship with ARM over a number of years has provided significant value to our overall business. In addition, the ARM ecosystem has provided LG with partners to help differentiate our product offering," Boik Sohn, vice president and head of System IC Center for LG, said in a statement. "The scalability of ARM processing solutions combined with the software ecosystem will enable smart, open platform systems, and drive connectivity and Web-enabled interactions. This new licensing agreement will provide LG with the next generation processor technology that will allow us to maintain leadership in display-enabled connected devices ... and drive our platform strategy."
ARM chip designs are found in most devices in such booming markets as smartphones and tablets. The current Cortex-A9 design is among the most popular used by such manufacturers as TI, Samsung and Qualcomm, and Nvidia also has signed on with ARM. ARM officials in September 2010 first introduced the Cortex-A15 design, which they said will offer five times the performance of current ARM chips while remaining within the same power envelope. ARM reportedly has begun shipping the Cortex-A15 to OEMs, and smartphones with the new chips are expected to begin hitting the market in 2012.
The mobile chip space looks to become much more crowded in the coming months. Intel is aggressively looking to position its Atom processor's use in both tablets and smartphones. Earlier this month, the giant chip maker unveiled the new Atom Z670-dubbed "Oak Trail"-which is targeting the tablet market and is 60 percent smaller than previous Atom chips. Tablet designs featuring the chip are expected to be rolling out in May.
In addition, the next Atom chip-a 32-nanometer processor codenamed Cedar Trail-will begin sampling later this year and shipping in 2012, and that will be followed in 2013 by a 22-nm version.
For its part, AMD is beginning to ramp up interest in tablets and smartphones, including reportedly looking to hire Android driver development engineers.
It's not difficult to understand the interest by both Intel and AMD in these new markets. Market research firms Gartner and IDC both reported this month that first-quarter global PC shipment numbers declined for the first time in six quarters. Meanwhile, the market for mobile devices is rapidly growing. Gartner expects tablet sales to grow from almost 70 million this year to 294 million in 2015, while market research firm In-Stat predicts 850 million smartphone sales in 2015.
At the same time Intel and AMD are looking to gain traction in the mobile device market, AMD officials said they will leverage the Cortex-A15 to chip away at Intel's dominance in the 86 server space.