IBM signs licence for ARM7

Deal gives ARM entree to custom solutions market

A year ago posted 24 March 1998 IBM Microelectronics has licensed Advanced Risc Machines' ARM7 for use in its custom silicon products. The deal gives IBM's semiconductor arm access to the ARM7TDMI processor core, which includes ARM's Thumb code compression extension, which is intended to produce 32-bit performance at 16-bit prices. Although good news for ARM, which is currently preparing an IPO, the IBM Microelectronics licence doesn't mean IBM as a whole has decided to embrace ARM as a standard for low-cost and embedded silicon. According to Luis Arzubi, general manager of ASICs and embedded controllers for Microelectronics, ARM7TDMI is to be added to the group's core library "to ensure that we offer our customers a complete menu for their applications, including networking, stroage and consumer electronics." ARM's Thumb technology uses a subset of commonly-used 32-bit ARM instructions which have been compressed into 16-bit instructions. These are decompressed transparently to full 32-bit instructions on execution, in real-time without performance loss. Designers can therefore use a mix of 16-bit and 32-bit instructions, using 32-bit only when needed, and thus optimising code. According to ARM this could mean a set-top box system could use two 512K flash devices rather than two 1 megabyte ones, so costs of finished can be shaved. IBM's initial production will use 0.35 micron process technology, but a port to 0.25 micron and beyond is planned. Sampling is already under way, with volume shipments within the next two months. ®

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