ARM and TSMC become chip comrades

In what could be a major threat to the future of Intel's Atom architecture, ARM and TSMC have signed a long-term agreement with the goal of mass-producing 20nm ARM-designed chips.

Mike Inglis, executive vice president and general manager of ARM's processor division, described the agreement as "a significant semiconductor industry milestone." He explained the long-term contract "formalises a forward looking, long-term relationship between two of the industry's leading companies."

The pact will see TSMC giving ARM access to its technology nodes, extending all the way down to 20nm, while ARM provides TSMC with access to a "broad range" of processor designs. In a joint statement, the two companies said the new deal "supports the companies' mutual customers to achieve optimised Systems-On-Chip (SoC) based on ARM processors."

ARM and TSMC have a number of mutual customers, including Nvidia, whose Tegra SoC platforms are based on an ARM processor design. Similarly, Creative's Zii chip is also based on the ARM architecture and fabricated at TSMC.

The two companies hope their collaboration will result in new chips for portable devices and tablet PCs, but they also said some "typical implementations" would be targeted high performance computing.

This isn't the first time ARM has teamed up with a leading fabrication company. In February this year, ARM also announced a deal with AMD's former fabrication-wing GlobalFoundries to produce a 28nm mobile chip based on its Cortex A9 architecture.

Simon Segars, executive vice president and general manager of ARM's physical IP division, said the company's "strategic alliances with leading foundries and EDA companies," will enable a "faster time to volume production of SoCs." He added that "this new agreement assures the industry that ARM and TSMC will collectively provide IP development leadership for advanced process technologies well into the future."

All ARM needs now is wider operating system support, but that's already coming. Microsoft has recently spotted ARM's increasing popularity in a number of devices, and announced that its Windows Embedded Compact 7 operating system would support the ARM instruction set last month.