ARM Taps Into IBM's Processor Technology

ARM, along with Chartered Semiconductor and Samsung, will use IBM's processor technology to develop new types of chips based on both 32- and 28-nanometer manufacturing. The plan calls for ARM, Chartered and Samsung to develop a system-on-a-chip design that uses IBM developed technology. ARM is planning to use the technology with its Cortex processor designs that will allow for the development of new types of mobile devices such as cell phones.

ARM, along with Chartered Semiconductor and Samsung, are planning to use processor technology created by IBM's research alliance to develop new lines of system-on-a-chip platforms for future generations of mobile devices such as cell phones and other consumer electronics.

ARM and its two partners are planning to use the high-K metal gate technology that IBM, along with its research partners, have developed during the last several years. This technology will then allow ARM to design and create SOC platforms that are manufactured at both 32- and 28-nanometers. (A nanometer is one billionth of a meter.)

Chartered, Samsung and ARM announced their agreement to use the IBM technology Sept. 29, but the agreement did not specify when these new SOC platforms would actually enter the market.

While ARM will use the high-k metal gate technology to develop new types of intellectual property that will enhance the power and performance of its own Cortex processors, the company also is planning to develop new logic, memory interface technologies that will be used by IBM, Chartered and Samsung.

By using IBM's technology and research, ARM is looking to develop a new ways to enhance its chip design for a range of embedded products, including cell phones and other mobile devices. While other processor companies typically manufacture their own CPUs, ARM is developing the intellectual property and designs that IBM, Samsung and Chartered can then turn around and offer to their customers.

While ARM is widely known for its low-power chips that are used in a wide range of devices, the race to even smaller and smaller CPUs is challenging the way chip companies deal with power leakage-the electricity wasted while the chip's transistors are idle-in these very small processors. By reducing power leakage, the chip companies can also increase the performance of their processors.

IBM's high-k metal gate technology solves the power leakage problems in these small processors. Intel has also developed its own high-k metal gate design that uses the element Hafnium to reduce leakage. Intel is expected to release its own line of 32-nm processors in 2009, with 22-nm chips to follow in 2011. (IBM and its partners have not specifically detailed their method behind the development of their high-k metal gate technology.)

While Intel's processors are geared more toward notebook and desktop PCs, as well as server systems, the chip giant also has plans to push deeper into the embedded market, where it's likely to challenge companies such as ARM. Intel's goal is to unify this new embedded market around its x86 processor microarchitecture, while creating new types of mobile devices and consumer electronics. Although Intel is first concentrating on SOC platforms that use its Pentium M core, it will eventually use its Atom processor as the base of its embedded portfolio.

While Intel has done most of its research on its own, IBM has developed an alliance of partners that are working on developing chips that are built on 32-nm manufacturing. These partners include NEC, Chartered, Freescale, Infineon Technologies, Samsung, STMicroelectronics and Toshiba.