ARM, GlobalFoundries Detail Next-Generation 28nm Partnership

When AMD renegotiated its x86 licensing deal with Intel last year, one of the most significant long-term changes was a marked reduction in how much of GlobalFoundries AMD had to own in order to remain within the terms of its manufacturing license. As a result of this change, AMD announced last month that it intended to significantly accelerate the financial split between itself and GlobalFoundries; we may now be starting to see the impact of that transition on the GlobalFoundries' side of the business. Today, GF announced a new strategic partnership with ARM, in which the two companies will collaborate on leading-edge, 28nm system-on-chip (SoC) designs. 

GlobalFoundries plans to offer 28nm in two different flavors: HP (high performance) and SLP (super low power). According to the company's website, 28nm HP silicon is designed to target "high performance and general purpose applications such as graphics, game consoles, storage, consumer electronics, and wired networking." SLP production is intended for low-power applications, including "cellular base band, application processors, and portable consumer and wireless connectivity devices."

"The success of the next generation of mobile products will be increasingly dependent on their ability to deliver PC-class performance, a highly integrated rich media experience and longer battery life," said GLOBALFOUNDRIES chief operating officer Chia Song Hwee. "These demands are going to require a strong technology foundation and close collaboration between industry leaders to enable an increasing number of design companies to unlock this innovation. We are working closely with ARM to optimize the physical IP and implementation of the Cortex-A9 processor with our proven manufacturing experience in high-volume, advanced technology products, to deliver a fully integrated platform for leading-edge wireless products and applications."

ARM and GlobalFoundries will focus their SoC designs around the ARM Cortec-A9 processor, which is currently the flagship of ARM's high-performance portfolio. The A9 is extremely flexible; it's currently available with 1-4 cores, a wide range of frequencies (up to 2GHz), 16-64K of L1, and up to 8MB of shared L2 (four-or-16-way set associative). The L2 and memory controller can also be clocked at various frequencies, up to and including full processor speed. We've previously covered ARM and the company's aspirations for the smartbook and netbook market segments; NVIDIA's much-discussed Tegra and Tegra 2 devices are all based on ARM processors. At present, ARM and GlobalFoundries are predicting that the upcoming 28nm SoCs will allow for a 40 percent increase in computing performance, a 30 percent drop in device power consumption, and a 100 percent increase in standby battery life. This last is worthless for all intents and purposes, but the prospect of a 40 percent performance boost and a simultaneous 30 percent power cut is quite appealing.

It's not clear when we'll actually see the fruits of this alliance on the market. The jointly released PR states that GlobalFoundries "expects to start production on these next-generation technologies in 2H 2010 at Fab 1 in Dresden, Germany." In CPU manufacturing, "production" and "volume production" are two entirely different concepts; it could take GF 12-18 months to ramp its 28nm technology.