The agreement will enable ARM to leverage TSMC's FinFET technology, which is similar to the Tri-Gate transistor architecture in Intel's current Ivy Bridge chips.
ARM took a key step in its growing
competition with Intel by teaming up with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing to
create low-power chips for mobile devices and servers that leverage 3D
transistor technologies similar to Intels
ARM and TSMC on July 23 announced an
extension of their partnership that will include creating 64-bit ARM-designed
processors starting with the 20-nanometer manufacturing process that will
include TSMCs FinFET technology that will be higher performing and more
energy-efficient than current chips.
Intel is using the Tri-Gate transistor
architecture in its current 22nm Ivy Bridge processors, a move that company
officials have said gives the chip significant performance and power consumption
advantages over the 32nm Sandy Bridge products. The Tri-Gate technology moves
away from the flat "planar" circuitry of previous transistor designs
to a three-dimensional structure, which enables more transistors to be put onto
the increasingly smaller chips and reduces electrical leakage.
TSMCs FinFET technology is similar, though
it offers two rather than three gates. Both TSMC and Intel had been working on
the 3D transistor designs for more than a decade, with Intel commercializing it
first. Intel officials and industry analysts have said the Tri-Gate technology
is an important step for the giant chip maker as it looks to take on ARM in the
booming smartphone and tablet markets, where more than 90 percent of the
devices run on ARM-designed chips.
TSMCs partnership with ARM is designed to
close that advantage and, when combined with ARMs upcoming ARM v8 64-bit
design, will challenge Intel in servers and PCs. The agreement also will enable
chip makers to get their products to market faster than they can now, the two
ARM designs chips, which are then licensed by
a host of chip vendors, including Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, Samsung
Electronics and Nvidia. Manufacturers like TSMC are then contracted by the chip
vendors to make the actual chips. These manufacturers will benefit from the new
deal between ARM and TSMC, according to Simon Segars, executive vice president
and general manager of ARMs Processor and Physical IP divisions.
"By working closely with TSMC, we are
able to leverage TSMC's ability to quickly ramp volume production of highly
integrated SoCs [systems-on-a-chip] in advanced silicon process
technology," Segars said in a statement. "The ongoing deep
collaboration with TSMC provides customers earlier access to FinFET technology
to bring high-performance, power-efficient products to market."
A number of the chip vendors, including
Nvidia, Calxeda, Nvidia and Marvell Technologies, have programs under way to
get their ARM-based processors into low-power servers. ARM and its partners see
an opportunity in the rise of massive and very dense data centers run by such
companies as Google, Facebook and Microsoft, which are looking for extremely
low-power systems to run huge numbers of transactions.
ARM also is getting interest from top-tier
systems makers, including Hewlett-Packard
both of which have announced plans to develop ARM-based servers.
The move into servers will put ARM into
direct competition with Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, whose x86-based
chipsXeons and Opterons, respectivelydominate the server market. ARM designs
are currently at a key disadvantage: They only support 32-bit computing.
However, with ARM v8, they not only will get 64-bit capabilitieswhich is
important, given that most of the key enterprise operating systems, such as
Microsofts Windows, are 64-bitbut also other features important to data
center environments, including greater virtualization support and more memory
ARM officials also are hoping that early
access to TSMCs FinFET technology will help drive early adoption of their ARM
v8 design. Systems with ARM v8-based chips arent expected to hit the market
until later in 2013 or 2014.
Analysts have said that ARM could gain some
inroads into the server space, but some have cautioned against expecting the
company to seriously challenge Intels dominance, noting that both Intel and
AMD have made significant strides in driving down the power consumption of
their server chips while ramping up the performance.
In addition, HP last month opted for Intels Atom-based
Centerton chips rather than Calxedas ARM-based processors for the first of
the low-power servers that will come out of its Project Moonshot.