Microsoft signs deal to license ARM chip architecture

The partners have signed a new licensing deal covering ARM's chip architecture used in portable devices and handsets, such as smartphones running Windows Phone 7

Chip designer ARM has announced that Microsoft has signed a new licensing agreement for the ARM architecture that is widely used in mobile phones and other portable devices, which include Microsoft's Zune media player and smartphones running Windows Mobile and Windows Phone 7.

"The companies have worked together since 1997 on software and devices across the embedded, consumer and mobile markets, and Microsoft delivers many operating systems on the ARM architecture (eg, Windows Embedded and Windows Phone)," an ARM spokesman said on Friday.

Starting in the late 1990s, ARM chips were used in most Pocket PC handhelds, such as the Compaq iPaq and Dell Axim, and in what Microsoft called "web companions" — lightweight, instant-on cloud-computing netbooks and tablets — running Windows CE.

"With closer access to the ARM technology, we will be able to enhance our research and development activities for ARM-based products," according to a quote in the statement from KD Hallman, a general manager at Microsoft.

It is not clear whether Microsoft will actually design an ARM 'system on a chip' (SoC) to compete with popular ARM-based devices such as Nvidia's Tegra — used in the Zune HD — and Qualcomm's Snapdragon. However, it now has that option.

Intel used to develop ARM-based processors, which it sold under the XScale name. These were derived from the DEC StrongARM line, as the Digital Equipment Corp team moved to Intel after the company was acquired by Compaq.

However, Intel eventually decided to develop its own line of low-power processors, the Atom range, which is compatible with its x86 range and can therefore run Windows XP, among other operating systems. The chipmaker sold off the XScale business to Marvell in 2006 for "$600m (now around £390m), plus the assumption by Marvell of certain liabilities", the chipmaker said at the time.