ARM announces plans for 28nm SOC


ARM has signed a strategic relationship with GlobalFoundries for an SOC [system on chip]. The SOC will use the low-power, high-performance Coretx-A9 full suite of Physical IP, Fabric IP and Processor IP on a 28nm "Gate First" HKMG [High-k metal gate] process.

Warren East, ARM’s CEO said: "This collaboration with GlobalFoundries and their commitment to delivering leading-edge technology makes them an ideal partner to accelerate the adoption of ARM processor-based technology at 28nm." The 28nm HKMG process is optimized for minimal current leakage and making it a good choice for battery operated applications.

Earlier this week, ARM announced they have delivered on their commitment to optimizing Adobe Flash Player 10.1 on ARM powered devices as part of the Open Screen Project. Open Screen is an industry initiative of close to 50 participants working together to deliver a consistent runtime environment across mobile phones, desktops, and other consumer electronic devices.

Last month, ARM announced a new packaging for dual Cortex-A9 MP on 40nm for shipment in spring 2010. When ARM starts shipping their 40nm SOC, smartphones such as Apple iPhone and Palm Pre/Pixie will be upgrading from their present Cortex-A8 processors.

In February, a week after Intel announced their 32nm processors, ARM said they were  launching their own 32nm processors which would be ready for devices slated to be released in early 2010. GlobalFoundries announced that the company reached a double-digit yield with 24Mbit SRAM chips in their 32nm SOC process, on track for 50 percent yield by year’s end.

Robert Castellano of The Information Network told EETimes that Intel will claim 94 percent of the netbook/smartbook market in 2009. However, the market will shift by 2012, and ARM will own the less expensive smartbook devices which will be connected to the cloud. Also, the growing trend to offer subsidized computer equipment as a part of a wireless provider’s service contract for 3G and 4G is likely to favor smartbooks over netbooks.

Last month, at IDF-San Francisco, Intel didn’t have many exciting new tweaks for their Atom processor. They are trusting that their next-generation Midfield, a single-chip 32nm SOC, will be ready in 2011. When Midfield was designed, ARM at 28nm was not on Intel’s planning agenda.

Today’s announcement of Cortex-A9 on a 28nm "Gate First" HKMG process from GlobalFoundries in Dresden, just might send Intel’s Atom design team scurrying to reread Andy Grove’s book: Only the Paranoid Survive.

GlobalFoundries has its manufacturing base in Dresden, Germany, with a $4.2 billion fab under construction in New York state. ATIC [Advanced Technology Investment Co.], the Abu Dhabi’s government technology investment company that owns the majority of GlobalFoundries, is in the process of acquiring control of Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing in Singapore.

Neither ARM nor GlobalFoundries said how quickly chips based on the collaboration would be available. ARM’s annual TechCon event [October 21-23] in Santa Clara has a Keynote address titled: "Vertically Optimized 32/28nm Solution for Mobile SOC Design". We are sure that all of their recent announcements will be presented in a cohesive package for developers.

Editor’s take
From one side, this might ring the alarm bells at nVidia, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and the like – from another, and the one that is more likely, ARM decided on this move to ensure that GlobalFoundries is not a fluke and will move from optimizing their architectures to optimizing silicon, clearly showing the way forward for their customers. Cannibalizing its own partners with ARM-branded products is something that ARM will be quite vary of not doing.
Coming to GlobalFoundries, can we expect that next partnership announcement will be the ones with Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and the like?