ARM and TSMC plan 20nm system-on-a-chip production

The companies have signed a long-term deal to help them get better speed and power performance from ARM's Cortex designs
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

ARM has signed a long-term deal with Taiwanese chip foundry TSMC to build very small system-on-a-chip processors, the companies said on Tuesday.

The British chip architecture firm already has a deal with rival manufacturer Globalfoundries to build its Cortex SoCs using the 28nm manufacturing process, but the agreement with TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company) will see Cortex processors built down to the 20nm scale. TSMC is the world's largest dedicated semiconductor maker with 2009 sales around three times its nearest rival, fellow Taiwanese company UMC, according to chip research company IC Insights.

"Through our industry leadership in processor and physical IP and our strategic alliances with leading foundries and [electronic design automation] companies, ARM is enabling faster time to volume production of SoCs," Simon Segars, the head of ARM's physical IP division, said in a statement. "This new agreement assures the industry that ARM and TSMC will collectively provide IP development leadership for advanced process technologies well into the future."

The companies said they would collaborate on optimising "a broad range" of ARM processors for TSMC's technology, with target market segments including wireless, portable computing, tablet PCs and high-performance computing.

"By co-developing in tight conjunction [with TSMC], we hope to get the best performance, both from a power and speed standpoint, and a complete solution to offer the customers," ARM's head of physical IP product marketing, John Ford, told ZDNet UK on Wednesday. "This covers all market areas we're working on, from the [flagship] Cortex-A9 right down to the Cortex-M0, which is one of the smallest cores we make for embedded applications like microwave ovens and sneakers."

TSMC announced earlier this week that it was to build a new $9.3bn (£6.1bn) 'Gigafab' in Taiwan that would be used to build chips down to 28nm, to cope with the rebounding demand for semiconductors.

The manufacturer also makes Intel's Atom chips, which are set to compete with ARM's Cortex SoCs in both the smartphone and portable computing markets.

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