TSMC, Arm join to develop next-generation mobile chips

TSMC will get access to Arm's libraries, IP and processor designs

Arm and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company announced a partnership to enable the design of smaller chips for devices like smartphones and tablets, the companies said on Tuesday.

The partnership calls for mutual customers to be offered tools to design smaller Arm-based chips optimized for TSMC's 28-nanometer and 20-nm chip manufacturing technologies. Chip designer Arm will provide TSMC access to libraries, intellectual property and processor designs.

The companies will collaborate on designing and optimizing chips that could ultimately be used in mobile phones, portable computers, tablets or high-performance computers, according to the companies. Chips with Arm processors go into most of today's smartphones, including Apple's popular iPhone.

"One of the key challenges in delivering advanced devices is achieving the performance gains we have come to expect while also achieving battery life improvements and making devices smaller and sleeker. This collaboration is designed to help our partners achieve exactly that," wrote John Heinlein, vice president of marketing of Arm's physical IP division, in a blog entry.

Under the partnership, Arm will also provide TSMC access to intellectual property surrounding the Cortex family of processors, which are being adopted by chip makers for use in tablets and smartphones. Nvidia has already announced the Tegra 2 processor for tablets based on the Cortex-A9 design.

Neither Arm nor TSMC officials were immediately available for comment on when mobile chips with Arm processors would reach the production phase. The collaboration was announced just a few days after TSMC broke ground on a US$9.3 billion chip factory on Friday in Taichung, Taiwan. TSMC in the future will make chips using some of its most advanced production technology at 40-nanometer and 28-nanometer scales at the factory.

TSMC and Arm have collaborated in the past, but this is a broader agreement, Heinlein wrote in the blog entry.

Chip companies are consistently trying to etch smaller patterns on chip surfaces to boost performance while reducing power consumption. To assemble and fabricate the smaller chips, chip makers use advanced manufacturing processes. The manufacturing of chips based on Arm designs has been consistently moving to smaller nodes.

Arm licenses its processor technology to companies manufacturing chips and working on chip designs, such as Texas Instruments, Qualcomm, Freescale, IBM and Samsung Electronics. Arm is already partnering with TSMC's competitor, GlobalFoundries, in an agreement in which mutual customers are offered tools to design Arm-based chips optimized for GlobalFoundries' 28-nanometer technology. GlobalFoundries recently said it hopes to start making chips using the 28-nm process starting in the fourth quarter.

Arm's main competitor is Intel, which has already announced its Moorestown mobile chips for tablets and smartphones. Moorestown chips are based on the Atom processor core.

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