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Big Blue dons oven mitts for ARM wafer bake

Samsung chip pact too

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IBM Microelectronics – the chip designing and wafer baking division of the IT giant – has inked a deal with ARM Holdings to help make sure those who license ARM chips have the processes and fabs to make them.

ARM Holdings has been collaborating with IBM Microelectronics since 2008, and it has used IBM's 32 nanometer and 28 nanometer process nodes to bake 11 test chips to give to licenses of the Cortex family of ARM chips. More recently, ARM has used IBM's 32 nanometer high-K metal gate processes to etch a complete dual-core Cortex-A9 chip. ARM is using IBM's chip technologies to help its own licensees make better system-on-a-chip (SoC) designs, which are used in smartphones, tablets, and other mobile computing devices.

Neither company said anything about the potential of creating future ARM designs for servers, but if you wanted to partner with a fab to build server chips that will go up against Intel, IBM is one of the obvious choices. The embedded DRAM for on-chip cache – which was first deployed on IBM's Power7 and z11 chips and which is implemented in IBM's 32 nanometer copper processes (called Cu-32) – was demonstrated on ARM SoC designs last November. eDRAM takes about 60 per cent less space on a chip than static RAM, and it consumes about 90 per cent less power. It is also a little bit slower, so you need more and you need to weave it close to the cores, as IBM has done with its own chips.

The collaboration agreement that ARM and IBM have extended today calls for the two companies to cooperate on chip manufacturing processes ranging from 20 nanometers down to 14 nanometers.

In a separate announcement, IBM and Samsung Electronics, a maker of ARM processors for netbooks and other devices, have extended their own joint development agreement. The two companies will be working together on basic chip research at the Albany Nanotech Complex in the New York state capitol city. The agreement covers research in semiconductor materials, wafer making processes, and other technologies relating to 20 nanometer and smaller process nodes.

IBM, Samsung, and GlobalFoundries are expected to release more information this week about their "common platform" chip making processes. Back in June, these three partners and Synopsys delivered processes for 32 nanometer and 28 nanometer high-K metal gate processes. STMicroelectronics also last year said it would be picking up the team's 28 nanometer bulk CMOS and high-k metal gate processes for its own fabs.

Synopsys sells a chip design platform called Lynx and an intellectual property integration system called DesignWare IP that will allow those who license ARM IP to implement those licenses and tweak the designs to suit their needs while staying within the chip making processes outlined by IBM, Samsung, and GlobalFoundries. ®

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