ARM, GlobalFoundries Announce Extended Parternship On 20nm, FinFET Technologies

ARM and GlobalFoundries have been working together ever since AMD spun GlobalFoundries off as an independent business, but the two companies are taking steps to further expand their joint development efforts. As part of the deal, ARM has committed to creating a "full platform of ARM Artisan® Physical IP, including standard cell libraries, memory compilers and POP™ IP solutions."

We typically discuss ARM as selling licenses to various companies like Samsung, Texas Instruments, and Nvidia, but licenses aren't the company's only product. When ARM talks about physical IP, it's referring to all the other components that go into the SoC and make it tick. Need an L2 cache implementation, a bus, and a memory controller? ARM can sell you those. Need a GPU? ARM can sell you one of those, too. Qualcomm, for example, has an ARM license but designs its own SOCs. Other companies that want to save on R&D costs and bring a product to market more quickly, might prefer to opt for an end-to-end predesigned solution. The SoC won't be as customized, but you know exactly what you're getting and how it works.

This new agreement is important because GlobalFoundries' path from 28nm to 22/20nm isn't as straightforward as TSMC's. Back when 28nm was under development, GlobalFoundries, Samsung, and IBM committed to a 'gate-first' approach to manufacturing on the nascent process. TSMC and Intel, on the other hand, went for gate-last. The two approaches are not compatible, and GF announced quite some time ago that it will adopt gate-last at the 22/20nm node.

The other major part of the announcement is that GF and ARM are teaming up to ensure that the post-20nm FinFET transition goes as smoothly as possible. Intel's Ivy Bridge uses a specific type of FinFET the company refers to as Tri-Gate, and neither TSMC nor GlobalFoundries will catch up on this front any time soon. TSMC has stated publicly that it won't adopt FinFET until the 14nm node, with 20nm production expected to begin in 2014. GlobalFoundries seems likely to follow a similar trajectory, with FinFET technology shipping in volume 3-5 years from now.

“ARM technologies are at the heart of many of the world’s highest volume product categories, and we believe will only grow in importance for our customers in the years ahead,” said Mike Noonen, executive vice president, worldwide marketing and sales at GLOBALFOUNDRIES. “By leveraging our implementation knowledge and applying it to a next-generation, energy-efficient ARM processor and graphics processing unit, we believe we can jointly offer a compelling differentiation to our mutual customers that will power innovation into the next two generations.”