IBM, ARM Partner on Designs for Next-Gen Mobile Devices

IBM and ARM, which have been working together on chip designs since 2008, are extending the partnership to include work on 14-nm processors.

IBM and ARM Holdings are expanding their partnership to include the 14-nanometer processor manufacturing process, a move to help create increasingly smaller, more energy-efficient chips for makers of mobile devices.

The extended partnership, announced Jan. 18, will help both companies in the highly competitive market to build smaller and faster processors for such devices as smartphones and tablet PCs. ARM chip designs, used by such manufacturers as Qualcomm, Samsung and Marvell, are found in the majority of such mobile devices. However, other chip makers, including Intel with its Atom platform, are looking to muscle into the rapidly expanding and highly lucrative space.

The deal with ARM comes a week after IBM and Samsung Electronics announced an expanded partnership in which Samsung will work with IBM and other partners in development new semiconductor technologies for such applications as mobile computing and other high-performance scenarios. Through the deal, Samsung scientists will work with those from other vendors as part of the IBM-led Semiconductor Research Alliance.

The goal of the IBM-ARM partnership is to create a wide range of chip technologies and processes by ARM that is tied to IBM's 14-nm manufacturing process. Such advancements will help speed up the development and release of mobile devices into the market, according to both companies.

"ARM's Cortex processors have become the leadership platform for the majority of smartphones and many other emerging mobile devices," Michael Cadigan, general manager of IBM Microelectronics, said in a statement. "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."

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, all the while hiking the complexity of chip development and lengthing the 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 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," Simon Segars, executive vice president and general manager of ARM's physical IP devision, said in a statement, noting IBM's leadership in the ISDA (International Semiconductor Development Alliance).

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

ARM is looking to hold its dominant position as the top designer of chips in the mobile computing space. At the same time, the company also is 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. ARM officials last year predicted their upcoming Cortex-A15 design will offer the features needed for chips to run in low-power servers, and smaller companies are looking to use ARM designs for data center devices.